Symbols, Space, and Society
Designing Disability traces the emergence of an idea and an ideal - physical access for the disabled - through the evolution of the iconic International Symbol of Access (ISA). The book draws on design history, material culture and recent critical disability studies to examine not only the development of a design icon, but also the cultural history surrounding it.
Infirmity and illness may be seen as part of human experience, but 'disability' is a social construct, a way of thinking about and responding to a natural human condition. Elizabeth Guffey's highly original and wide-ranging study considers the period both before and after the introduction of the ISA, tracing the design history of the wheelchair, a product which revolutionised the mobility needs of many disabled people from the 1930s onwards. She also examines the rise of 'barrier-free architecture' in the reception of the ISA, and explores how the symbol became widely adopted and even a mark of identity for some, especially within the Disability Rights Movement.
Yet despite the social progress which is inextricably linked to the ISA, a growing debate has unfurled around the symbol and its meanings. The most vigorous critiques today have involved guerrilla art, graffiti and studio practice, reflecting new challenges to the relationship between design and disability in the twenty-first century.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
Erudite, accessible, and with an impressive breadth of reference, this engaging and highly readable book offers fresh historical and cultural perspectives on the fit/misfit binary. Focussing on how design both creates and responds to different notions of disability, it gives an at times fascinating alternative history of activism and identity through the study of the ISA - the International Symbol of Access. * Kaite O'Reilly, winner of the Ted Hughes Award 2011 * Elizabeth Guffey's search for the origins of the International Symbol of Access takes her on an unexpected path, discovering not only the history of the modern wheelchair but a new perspective on disability at the intersection of design, the body and space... and most readers will delight in following her quest. * John Radford, Emeritus Professor of Critical Disability Studies at York University, Toronto, Canada * Informed and erudite, Designing Disability shows how the analysis of a single symbol can act as a gateway to discussions of disability theory and history. Elizabeth Guffey's critical insight augments and develops our understandings of disability experiences and subjectivities. * Stuart Murray, Director of the Centre for Medical Humanities, University of Leeds, UK * From the invention of the modern wheel chair and early critiques of disabling design conventions, Guffey makes a history of the international symbol of access come alive. An original and insightful analysis that furthers our understanding of both the symbol's history and associated access debates. This book will appeal to appeal to students and academics across a range of disciplines, shedding further light not only on a symbol and its history, but also how disability continues to be socially produced. * Hannah Macpherson, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Brighton, UK * Design Incubation is excited to announce Elizabeth Guffey's latest book published by Bloomsbury Publishing, titled Designing Disability: Symbols, Space, and Society. This book describes the development of disability as an idea. Disability, accessibility, its institutionalization, acceptance, and integration is considered within the context of design history. * Design Incubation / Research in Communication Design * I encourage anyone to read this important book... it should catalyse reflection and discussion about the implications for disabled people and non-disabled people, designers and design-and provoke new directions in disability-led design. * Graham Pullin / Design for Health * The strength of Designing Disability is the way significant moments in the history of access and disability are woven together with society's perception and the design of a universal icon ... It is an impressively researched and thought-provoking text that leaves the reader wanting to closely follow the shifting social construct as history continues to unfold. * Journal of Design History *