When buying a pair of shoes, a pen, or a new car—the expectation is for the product to do the job. But you also want it to look good: stylish, current, cool. Why wouldn’t the same be true of products—wheelchairs, hearing aids, and more—designed to aid those with disabilities?
This is one of the major questions explored in the new exhibition “Access+Ability,” on view at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum through September 3 of this year. The show, which features more than 70 works, from an aerodynamic racing wheelchair to a vibration-activated shirt that allows the deaf to experience sounds, covers the wide range of innovations occurring in accessible design. It reflects how designers creating products for those with disabilities are making them not just increasingly functional and practical, but stylish.
“Why not be able to change the color of your prosthetic leg to match your style, your taste, your outfit?” asks Cara McCarty, director of curatorial at Cooper Hewitt, who co-curated the exhibition with Rochelle Steiner, curator and professor of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California. “You can dress it up, dress it down.”
McCarty is referring to a set of prosthetic leg covers designed and manufactured by McCauley Wanner and Ryan Palibroda for ALLELES Design Studio, which come in a number of patterns and colors, allowing the user the kind of choice they would get if shopping for any other item of apparel.
“Just like people add tattoos to their limbs, life-enhancing products can be yours, you can add your identity to it,” says McCarty.
From increasingly versatile canes and customized prosthetic leg covers to shirts with magnetic closures and shoes with a wrap-around zipper system, the exhibition shows how products created over the past decade are not only becoming more accessible and functional, but fashionable. Through the integration of groundbreaking assistive technologies, 3-D printing and haptic feedback, new design solutions are also extending sensory perception, providing new ways to navigate and negotiate the environment, and promoting greater access to sports and recreation. – Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Press Release
Read the rest of the article: “Smithsonian – For People Living with Disabilities, New Products Prove Both Practical and Stylish”
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Photo Credit: The Alleles Design Studio, Ltd, Victoria, BC, Canada