INCLUDEnyc Voices

The Limitless Future of Accessible Design

When INCLUDEnyc's Executive Director Barbara Glassman asked if someone would like to visit the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum to record a podcast with Director of Curatorial Cara McCarty, I jumped at the opportunity. I had visited a few times prior and it is a wondrous, creative, and magnificent place; a brilliant example of how far-reaching imagination coupled with pure talent can make objects come alive with purpose.

Cooper Hewitt was renovated some years ago under the direction of the museum's former director, Dianne Pilgrim, who herself used a wheelchair. She had to enter the mansion through the service area, and was determined to create a warmer welcome for the museum's guests. Ms. Pilgrim’s personal experience helped put the museum on the road to perfect both physical and programmatic accessibility. Cara continued the museum’s path towards accessibility. By using the creative spirit of a new generation and the tenets of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Cooper Hewitt’s featured designers have created everyday objects that are not only accessible, but also beautifully designed, a rare combination.

There are currently two exhibitions on view focused on inclusive design, both of which should be seen by anyone who benefits from, works in, or just loves great design. The first exhibit, Access+Ability, features over 70 innovative designs, including a voting machine that is accessible to people with disabilities, prosthetic leg covers that add style and flair to prosthetic limbs, and the SoundShirt, which transforms music into vibrations for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. This exhibit, which is open until September 3, 2018, showcases products, projects and services developed by and with people with disabilities that expand their ability to lead independent lives and engage more fully in the world.

The second exhibition, The Senses: Design Beyond Vision, makes us use our senses in new and “textured” ways. We are invited to smell, touch, and hear objects that impact our lives in alternate formats. One of the most breathtaking pieces is a simple chair, whose front legs are cut to a slight angle. The Tip Ton Chair, designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby (2011) and manufactured by Vitra, is a perfect example of form and function. For anyone who needs to move around while sitting, such as a child with autism or ADHD, this chair allows users to slightly reposition themselves, giving a sensation of movement. This is an object so well thought out, yet so straightforward in its design, that I could only imagine classrooms full of them.

I have revisited the museum’s exhibitions and each time come away with a new understanding of the role that thoughtful and precise design can play in our everyday lives. The objects are all profoundly beautiful and prove that the future of accessible design is limitless.

Go, touch, smell, hear, look, and enjoy a NYC gem!

- Ruth DiRoma