Vol 1, Issue 2. February, 2019

Three questions with...
2018 National Fellow Sara Hendren

Your Fellow's project is going to be a book about the unexpected places where disability is at the heart of design both in everyday objects and environments. Could you tell us a little more about it and why you chose it?

The book is significantly about how the very ordinary features of the designed world are a rich index of ideas: inherited ideas about bodies and cultures and relationships and more. The steps leading to a building, the presence or absence of sidewalks, the shape of a doorknob—all of these things had to come into being as a result of human deliberation that was packed with assumptions about the human body, about a desirable life, about efficiency, cost-benefit analyses, and more.

I'm telling those stories of design to invite people to consider disability in their lives with a robust imagination: to see their own aging and the aging of their loved ones, their bodies and minds and emotions as working in concert—or at profound odds—with the built world. I'll be talking about furniture, kitchen tools, living rooms, city streets and more, where re-design is a way to ask questions. Whose bodies are normal? Where is vulnerability in every human life?

What is your process for working on a book of this nature? Are you out in the field exploring new design concepts, interviewing other design creators to find out more about their projects, working on designs yourself, a combination of these, or something else entirely?

I've spent a lot of time in the last near-decade working as an artist and designer in an engineering context, collaboratively developing prosthetics alongside people with disabilities. With my students, I've worked on things like a stage-scale ramp for wheelchair dancing—what looks like "assistive technology" or prosthetics, but is doing something more. That ramp, designed with wheelchair dancer Alice Sheppard, is creating the conditions for beauty, where disability is actually a resource: it's a constraint that, like all design constraints, produces creativity. Working on projects like this has led me into scores of conversations, academic and personal, about the designs being built by and with people with disabilities, and I wanted those stories to be heard. The stories serve as an entry-point to a much deeper series of questions about what it means to be human.

Is there is a commonly held belief about ability/disability that you frequently encounter? If so, what would you want the world to know about it that would make them think differently?

My book and my work is influenced by several decades of scholars and activists with disabilities who've been articulating a central claim: that disability is not just a condition of the body, but that it's also a socially produced condition. Wheelchairs are made for bodies with non-normative mobility, but they're also made to redress the shape of cities and buildings that have been built with stairs instead of ramps! Design is a bridge between the body and the world—public space, education, transportation, employment, and more. If we take seriously what that means, then everything changes.

I am also raising three children, one of them a son with Down syndrome, in a nominally progressive public school system. But the challenges remain for him, and they're not fixes for physical mobility or sensory assistance. I'm asking myself how and where you design for difference that's harder to name. Whose life is worth including, and to what end?

Hot Off The Press

The Uninhabitable Earth

In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await—food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe.

By: David Wallace-Wells, Class of 2019

Learn More

Say Nothing

A mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath that uses a family's story as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war and a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with.

By: Patrick Radden Keefe, Class of 2017

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Two Cents

Sarah Jackson and Bart Elmore on how they incorporate an editor's feedback when revising their work.

1: I usually have to incorporate multiple sets of reviewer feedback because of the way academic reviews are conducted. Its always a balancing act between making use of the helpful suggestions for edits and additions, diplomatically justifying excluding the less helpful ones or those that speak to issues outside the scope of the project, and staying within the hard word limit the editors expect. — Sarah Jackson, Class of 2019

2: I try and free myself from conventional habits I've adopted and really listen to the advice an editor is giving. — Bart Elmore, Class of 2017

Two Cents

Melissa Segura wrote an article for Buzzfeed News as a follow-up to her 2017 investigation, which uncovered 51 people framed for murder by the same Chicago cop. Ten men have since been exonerated.

Trymaine Lee wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about his life after a heart attack. 

Didi Kuo wrote an article for Democracy Journal about the past and future of capitalism. 

Joshua Geltzer wrote an article for Politico about preventing Russian meddling in the 2020 election. 

Masha Gessen wrote a column for the New Yorker about Trump's transgender military ban.

Two Cents
Hot Off The Press

A New America event we recommend you check out. Now.



The Great Airwaves Robbery II

Join the New America Open Technology Institute for this timely discussion on the future of spectrum auctions and 5G. Lunch will be served. Learn More

Hot Off The Press

An incredible history of the United States, taking as definitional and foundational our racism, our sexism, our colonialism—but also our aspiration to goodness.
Jill Filipovic, Class of 2019

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A definitive work on the racialization of politics, rhetoric, and policy.
Ted Johnson, Class of 2017

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Tells the true stories of three couples in Mumbai, whose lives act as prisms for the fast-changing realities of middle-class Indians.
 Lisa Hamilton, Class of 2019

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Free Swag

Fill out this tiny form for a chance to win one of five copies of The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, Class of 2019! 

(Please submit by COB Monday, February 11th to be considered.) 

Get swag!

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