The ADA @ 30 “Disability and Design Justice”

The Marxist art critic John Berger said: “That we find a crystal or a poppy

beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into

existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.”

Lately as I’ve thought about the ADA @ 30 Berger has come back to me. Beauty and the single life. I admit I’m less certain this is our only life. But the ADA is beauty and it does mean “we” the disabled are less alone. Who thinks of law as beauty? It’s far easier to look at a poppy. 

The law is beautiful when it advances freedom. Freedom is beautiful when it’s everyone’s birthright. Civil rights laws are about guaranteeing freedom to the newcomers in our world as well as the aged. John Locke wrote: “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom.”     

This is the heart of the matter: before the ADA the disabled had no freedom. After the ADA we’ve the right to insist on it. We’ve the right to join the millions upon millions of Americans who are insisting. 

Of insistence I’ve always loved this quote from Alice Munro: “It was a most insistent place but nobody seemed to be overwhelmed by all the insistence.” 

I’ve now said two improbable things: the ADA is a kind of beauty; the ADA is a place of insistence. 

These are things I ardently believe. 

In her new book “Design Justice: “Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need” Sasha Costanza-Chock puts together the beauty of design, the insistence of inclusion and imagination, and human rights—proposing a powerful reformation of how we think about the built worlds we live in. She outlines the formative principles of the Design Justice Network:

“Design mediates so much of our realities and has tremendous impact on our lives, yet very few of us participate in design processes. In particular, the people who are most adversely affected by design decisions—about visual culture, new technologies, the planning of our communities, or the structure of our political and economic systems—tend to have the least influence on those decisions and how they are made.

Design justice rethinks design processes, centers people who are normally marginalized by design, and uses collaborative, creative practices to address the deepest challenges our communities face.”

Reading this I sat bolt upright in my chair. 

As a blind man I’m one who is normally marginalized by design. Double entendre intended. 

That’s not the first passage to catch my eye. Sasha Costanza-Chock describes in almost withering detail her experience attempting to pass through an ordinary TSA airport screening. She’s non gender conforming. The body scanner with its AI and algorithms flags her. She becomes a public display, a crisis, a freak, a debased citizen. The built environment creates pejorative values for non-normative bodies. Don’t I know it? I’ve walked through thousands of airports with my guide dogs, always on edge, frightened of what’s coming next since the TSA is not kind, not welcoming, often untrained, many times malevolent when I show up with a dog in harness. I’ve been screamed at, pushed, yanked. I’ve had uninformed agents demand that I take the dog’s harness and training collar off—things entirely unacceptable. I’ve been pointed at and made to stand around for nearly uncountable minutes while agents confer about the ADA. One impatient woman shoved me because I was in her way and she wanted her suitcase. 

Participation in design processes is crucial just now, right here and now, for the very designs by which we live are being transformed before our eyes. 

Design justice means we are less alone. 

Let’s not be overwhelmed by the insistences.   

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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