Using Disability to Hack Architecture

January 25, 2022

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<5 mins
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Presented by Taubman College

In 2005, Robert Adams and his young daughter were both diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral dystrophy, or FSHD, which causes muscle weakness and wasting in the upper arms, shoulders, and face. In his daughter’s case, the early-onset condition affected her body in profound ways; and she now uses a power wheelchair. Adams’ FSHD was “not as robust,” he says, “but it’s a neuromuscular disease where it progresses, plateaus, and progresses. It never gets ‘better;’ in a medical sense, but I can’t imagine life without disability.”

For Adams, now an associate professor of architecture at Taubman College and director of the University of Michigan Initiative on Disability Studies, his and his daughter’s diagnoses would change how he experienced and thought about the built environment — leading him to organize his teaching and practice around the question of how to make urban and architectural spaces what he calls “radically inclusive.” It’s an idea that goes beyond mere accessibility, Adams explains, to whether people with disability feel welcome in our cities and buildings.

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