Event Recap: Accessibility, Mobility, and Design

On Wednesday, February 8, 2017, the Futures Initiative hosted “Accessibility, Mobility, and Design,” with presentations by panelists Sara Hendren (Olin College) and April Coughlin (SUNY, New Paltz). Several different kinds of mobility were described during the hour-long discussion, including rock climbing, skateboarding, wheeling, walking, and waffle-making.

A screengrab from a video excerpt of Examined Life with Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor
A screengrab from a video excerpt of Examined Life with Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor

Sara joined remotely from Cambridge, MA thanks to the wonderful assistive nature of technology and presented a few examples her collaborative work with students and people with disabilities at the Adaptation + Ability Group at Olin College. She also presented some intriguing examples of how different types of disabilities open up possibilities for architectural space and business models built on capabilities and described some unexpected collaborations between users of different wheeled devices.

A prosthesis designed for simple exercises.
A prosthesis designed for simple exercises.


Ramp designed for wheelchair dancers


A woman sitting in a wheelchair and a man both bending over to try to roll a skateboard over a sidewalk grate.

April shared memorable experiences as a wheeler and disability rights advocate and presented some of her dissertation research on the state of accessibility in the New York City public school system and the experiences of high school students with physical disabilities. Her presentation concluded with a similar question to one that was brought up in the film excerpt; do we want to make spaces accessible because the law compels us to, or do we want to design environments that include and welcome people with disabilities?

Photo of April Coughlin with students in a subway station


Graphic of NYC High Schools showing that 30% are not wheelchair accessible at all


Photo of April Coughlin asking a question about preferences for using a bathroom on the same floor of the building where you work.

The discussion continued on Twitter in the hour after the event and illustrated the breadth of the topic of accessibility (view a Storify of the event and Twitter chat here and here).


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309