the baffler

While the press applauds the tech sector’s forward-thinking and sensitivity to the needs of underserved populations, the concerns of disabled people—voiced again and again and again—are disregarded. So much uncritical attention gets lavished on these seductive yet generally silly objects that the disabled design critic Liz Jackson aptly named them “disability dongles” in 2019. This concept was recently taken up again in a piece for Platypus coauthored by Jackson, along with Alex Haagaard and Rua Williams. In it, they argue that disability dongles generate feel-good content for brands that may be “promising in concept, but in actuality unattainable.” Indeed, they’re often just prototypes that designers have no intention of ever manufacturing.

In this way, disability is rarely meaningfully engaged, and efforts to build a more accessible world are abandoned in favor of high-tech Band-Aids designed to “fix” an individual person’s interactions with it. Meanwhile, disabled people develop and share hacks—which often don’t require high-tech anything—to MacGyver their way through daily life.

Though the Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988 to prohibit disability discrimination, regulations intended to ensure accessibility in new residential construction pointedly did not apply to duplexes, triplexes, or single-family homes. And the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which addressed accessibility in public spaces, public transit, and the workplace, did not propose any methods for lessening discriminatory attitudes, nor did it apply to private residential homes. Unsurprisingly, developers did not subsequently go out of their way to build housing with the disabled in mind, and by 2011, less than 5 percent of the housing stock was accessible to those with “moderate mobility difficulties,” and less than 1 percent was accessible for wheelchair users, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Only about one-third of housing is modifiable, even though roughly a quarter of U.S. adults have a disability, and more than 80 percent of disabled folks live in their communities, not in institutions.

Read more in The Baffler.

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