Bess Williams on her book about Disability and Design – EXTENDED INTERVIEW
NOTE: This is the Extended version of this interview, available only to our subscribers, or to rent or buy.
GUEST: Bess Williamson, Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the author of Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design
BACKGROUND: A young mother in New York City died in a subway station in late January. Twenty-two year old Malaysia Goodson of Stamford, Connecticut, was navigating New York City’s notoriously inaccessible subway system with her 1-year old child in a stroller while on the subway steps. She fell down the flight of steps and while the child miraculously survived, Ms. Goodson did not. Her tragic death has raised the ire of other parents who know intimately the dangers of trying to take the subway with their child in a stroller, and also especially disabled New Yorkers and activists who for years have fought for a more accessible system of public transportation.
We tend to take for granted those design features that are built in to structures and city infrastructure that we use on a daily basis: street curb ramps, elevators, automatic door openers, wide doorways, and more. But those design features were not dreamt up by forward-thinking city planners and architects on their own. They were the results of hard-won victories by disability rights activists over years.