• Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability
    Aimi Hamraie
    University of Minnesota Press, 2017
    Aimi Hamraie

Ronald Mace, photograph of the interior lobby of Taylor Business School (marked to indicate potential retrofits), 1979, Chicago, IL. Courtesy of Barrier Free Environments.

Universal Design, a late-twentieth century movement initiated by disabled architect Ronald Mace, is usually understood in terms of flexible features, wide doorways, curb cuts, and kitchens designed with aging in mind. Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability proposes instead that Universal Design is a contemporary manifestation of "access-knowledge," one of the most politicized, yet subtle, epistemic shifts in twentieth-century US material culture. This shift from design for the average user to knowing-making for a diverse range of users, particularly disabled people, sought to redesign not only buildings and products, but also the structure of architectural knowledge production itself. Drawing upon exclusive access to the archives of Universal Design's founders, as well as primary sources from the making of ergonomics handbooks, rehabilitation research, and accessibility standards, Building Access re-examines the influence of scientific, military-industrial, and political understandings of disability on the figure of the architectural user.

Aimi Hamraie is assistant professor of medicine, health, and society and American studies at Vanderbilt University. Their interdisciplinary research combines histories of architecture and technoscience and critical feminist and disability theories to study the shifting figure of the architectural "user" in twentieth and twenty-first century built environments. Hamraie's work on Universal Design and disability has appeared in Design and Culture, Disability Studies Quarterly, Foucault Studies, Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, philoSOPHIA, Age Culture Humanities, and The Politics of Place and Space: Exclusions, Resistance, Alternatives. Hamraie has held fellowships with the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, the Social Science Research Council, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, and the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Social Policy. At Vanderbilt, Hamraie directs Mapping Access, a participatory design and digital mapping project that uses spatial representation and accessibility surveys to encourage citizen re-design of built environments.