By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Disability and difference

I’ve got an essay (PDF) in the current issue of ArchitectureBoston on the uneasy confluence of dwarfism, disability and difference.

Why ArchitectureBoston? Because the editor, Elizabeth Padjen, asked me. And because the assignment gives me the opportunity to discuss dwarfism as a disability that is socially constructed: take away the fact that the built environment is made for people between five and six feet tall, and the disability goes with it.

Dwarfism as disability and difference is a major theme of my 2003 book on dwarfism, “Little People.”

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  1. Brian

    Interesting piece, Dan. I’m curious as to what you suggest the answer is. At the end you say you can’t expect society to go out of their way to accommodate your daughter and others like her if you haven’t, but what then is the solution? I’m also curious what you think should be done about things like door handles. Should they all be lowered so that dwarfs can reach them, even if it means the vast majority of us will have to stoop over, or should a second set of handles be installed? I’m honestly curious how you suggest we eliminate this “social disability.”

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Brian: I think we need to accommodate difference and disability to an extent, and we are. The United States is, bar none, the best country in the world for people with disabilities in terms of access and attitudes. I just mean that we can’t address every last issue.

  3. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I’ve served on my local disability committee for years, and it is my understanding that even now, 15 years after ADA, architecture schools do not include design for the disabled as a part of their curriculum; rather, it must be sought out as a certificate program after graduating.I wish these schools would make this sort of design a mandatory graduation requirement. As baby boomers age, and begin to prefer ramps to stairs, this issue will only become more pressing.

  4. Shawn Burns

    Good morning DanI enjoyed the article.I am a journalist, university tutor and political adviser in Australia.I am also a research student at the University of Wollongong and, most importantly, I am the father of a Mac, a beautiful little five-year-old boy, who has severe physical and cognetive impairments.My masters research is on the depiction of peole with disabilities inthe media, with a particular focus on the adherance or lack of it by journalists to establushed media guidelines on the subject.I’m keen to know what you think?Have there been any positive steps taken or does the nature of news not allow the luxury or time and contemplation to reporters … is it too easy to stick to the stereotype and the re-affirm the stereotype as the norm?CheersShawn Burns

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Hi, Shawn: Thank you for checking in, and congratulations on fatherhood, though I’m sorry you’re having a tough go of it.The major theme of my book is on cultural perceptions of difference. I argue that though there’s never been a better time to be different than the present, we are also on the verge of being able to eliminate difference through genetic selection and engineering. Which way will we go? Hard to say.You’ll find a free online edition of “Little People” here, so I encourage you to read it.

  6. cathy

    Dan, more than you can appreciate, I’m glad that you continue to call attention to our lack of attention to those with different needs. No perfect house or building will ever be constructed that will meet all of the needs of every different handicap, but you continue to raise consciousness about the issue. When I had carpal tunnel, all of our door knobs became levers and the electrical switches became those ‘rockers-style’ (elbow operated).When my husband had a car accident and couldn’t bend, we raised the electrical outlets. Friends with their kids in wheelchairs have made us re-think our plumbing-sinks, faucets. And appliances – where are the knobs? We’ve made great progress with ADA at least making most buildings accessible, but much more needs to be done.Please keep calling attention to the issue because clearly one size does not fit all.

  7. Ari Herzog

    I really enjoyed reading your article, Dan, as it brought out a voice and passion that I’m not used to reading on your blog.I also wanted to call your attention to a 2005 documentary, “Murderball,” which while not calling attention to your daughter’s disability, follows the lives of paraplegic rugby players.If you haven’t seen the film, you may enjoy it’s big picture message.

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