In celebration of Bess Williamson’s Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design, which was awarded the 2019/20 Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Book Prize, leading disability history scholars, artists, and designers will discuss studies of access and design history.

In the morning, “Conversations” brings together writers on architecture, space, and sound to reflect on the role of disabled activists, designers, and engineers in producing the technological world we live in. As longtime collaborators and correspondents, they also share correspondences between their work across academic fields that come together in the practices of Disability Studies.

The afternoon panel brings together Riva Lehrer, Jennifer White-Johnson, and Josh Halstead—artists, designers, writers, and creative thinkers with deep ties to activist and creative histories of disability. They share their own practices that draw on disability community and justice stories of past and present. Author Bess Williamson will moderate and invite audience discussion.

Conversations on Disability History and Academic Community (10 am–12 pm)

10 am - Welcome from Catherine Whalen (Professor, Bard Graduate Center) and Introduction by Bess Williamson (author, Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design)

10:15 am - Bess Williamson with Aimi Hamraie (author, Building Access: The Politics of Universal Design)

11 am - Break

11:15 am - Jonathan Sterne (author, Diminished Faculties: A Political Phenomenology of Impairment) with Mara Mills (co-editor, Testing Hearing: The Making of Modern Aurality)

Who Makes Access? Designer + Artist roundtable (1:30–3 pm)

Moderated by Bess Williamson. With Riva Lehrer (artist, author of Golem Girl), Jennifer White-Johnson (designer, creator of “Black Disabled Lives Matter” symbol and other work celebrating Autistic Joy), and Joshua A. Halstead (designer, co-author of Extra Bold: A Feminist, Inclusive, Anti-Racist, Non-Binary Field Guide for Graphic Designers)

Cart captioning and ASL provided. All visual material will be described.

This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 8 am on the day of the event.

The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Book Prize for the best book on the decorative arts, design history, or material culture of the Americas published in 2019 or 2020 has been awarded to Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design by Bess Williamson (New York University Press). The prize rewards scholarly excellence and commitment to cross-disciplinary conversation.

In commending Accessible America, the prize committee points out how, in a politically astute text, the author does not treat disability in isolation, but as an issue with ramifications for design more generally: “Williamson discusses seldomly contemplated objects that, although initially addressing the needs of the disabled, have shaped and continue to shape the lives of most people in the U.S.A. today, and in the Americas more broadly. As such, it is a compelling study of the relationships between people and things, and is clearly an outstanding contribution not only to disability studies but also to design studies and design history.”

Bess Williamson is associate professor of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is co-editor of Making Disability Modern: Design Histories, which examines objects, buildings, and systems that reflect changing design approaches to disability from the eighteenth century to the present.