Design Meets Disability

How art can help science augment the body, from hearing aids to prosthetic limbs

| July-August 2009

This is part of a series of stories on design and disability from the July-August 2009 Utne Reader. For more read  Building a Better Arm ,” “ Prosthetic Power ,” “ The Future of Prosthetics ,” and “ The Hype and Hope of Prosthetics .”

The book Design Meets Disability is “about how the worlds of design and disability could inspire each other,” Graham Pullin writes in the introduction. As a medical engineer, Pullin worked with engineers and health care professionals to develop technology to assist disabled people. Later, as a design consultant, he led designers in creating consumer products. “I am struck,” he writes, “by how distant those two worlds still are, yet how much more each could be influenced by the other.” His book is constructed as a series of expositions on words and phrases, laying the groundwork for such an exchange. —The Editors



The priority for design for disability has traditionally been to enable while attracting as little attention as possible. Medical-looking devices are molded from pink plastic in an attempt to camouflage them against the skin. The approach has been less about projecting a positive image than about trying not to project an image at all.

But is there a danger that this might send out a signal that disability is after all something to be ashamed of? If discretion were to be challenged as a priority, what would take its place?