Making Modern Disability: Histories of Disability, Design, and Technology

Type: Call for Papers
Date: May 1, 2016
Location: Delaware, United States
Subject Fields: Childhood and Education, Health and Health Care, Human Rights, Public Health, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology
Call for Papers

Making Modern Disability: Histories of Disability, Design, and Technology

A Conference at the Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware

October 28, 2016

On October 28, 2016, the Hagley Museum and Library will host a conference to explore the history of modern design and technology with regard to disability. While devices adapted to the needs of people with disabilities can be found throughout human history, industrialization created distinctive circumstances for the material lives of the disabled. On one hand, people with sensory, cognitive, and physical disabilities were often those who struggled most to adapt to modern material life with its rationalized work routines, standardized products, and inaccessible architecture. On the other hand, modern design culture was one of improvement. Designers, architects, and engineers proposed ways to adapt products and sites for users of varying abilities, while people with disabilities and their families found creative ways to improve access for themselves. Legal and policy efforts such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also spurred change in the 20th century as they defined access to architecture and technology as a civil right.

We ask for papers that examine specific histories of material culture and disability, considering how technology both responded to and defined disability in modernity. How is the very definition of disability contingent on modern material life and its built-in assumptions of ability? Who are the agents of change – producers, designers, users, activists, policymakers? And how do we research the history of disability in technological cultures that did not acknowledge the existence of disability or the rights of the disabled?

Papers should be historical in nature and focused on the modern period (approximately 1750-present). Topics may include, but are not limited to, national and international cultures of design and disability; the influences of ideologies including eugenics, Disability Rights, neuro-and biodiversity; and the effects of law and policy on design and technology for the disabled. A focus on archival material and object examples are especially appreciated given Hagley’s rich offerings pertinent to this topic, including the papers of Marc Harrison and Richard Hollerith, two American industrial designers who promoted the principle of Universal Design in the late 20th century.

Interested scholars should submit abstracts of 300 words accompanied by a 1-page CV to Carol Lockman at by May 1, 2016. Travel support and lodging will be provided for presenters at the conference.