Elizabeth Guffey will present at the Modern Design History Seminar on Wednesday, October 23, at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “‘The Right to Live in the World’: Design or Disability.”

Building on the seminal writings of Jacobus ten Borek and his 1966 assertion of “the right to live in the world,” this talk looks at the underdiscussed subject of design, civil rights, and the law. From the construction of ramps to the use of Braille signage, design has played a significant role in implementing the Americans with Disability Act. In the last thirty years, our designed environment has been subtly—but significantly—reshaped by this law. But just how universal are these changes? And how much was the ADA—and its design culture—shaped by a distinctly American understanding of citizenship, independence, and “rights”?

Elizabeth Guffey works at the intersection of art, design, and disability studies. Her book Designing Disability: Symbols, Space and Society (Bloomsbury, 2018) argues that designs like the International Symbol of Access or “wheelchair symbol” can alter the environment, making people more disabled or less, depending on the design’s planning and use. She is also Founding Editor of the academic journal Design and Culture. Guffey currently heads the MA in Modern and Contemporary Art, Criticism and Theory at the State University of New York, Purchase College.