The athlete Oscar Pistorius, by running in the Olympic 400 meter semi-final on prosthetic legs, has blurred the boundaries between the Olympics and Paralympics.
In Design Meets Disability, Graham Pullin advocates blurring the boundaries between assistive technology and design in general, allowing the worlds of disability and design to influence and even inspire each other. If eyeglasses have been transformed from medical necessity to fashion accessory, why can’t designers do the same for hearing aids and prosthetic limbs?
One of the people Pullin interviewed for the book was Aimee Mullins, another athlete who has competed on the Össur carbon fiber blades that Pistorius wears. Aimee is also an actor, an activist and a model, who has modeled for Alexander McQueen. She takes a broader, cultural perspective:
"[Mullins] thinks that fashion designers and jewelry designers should be involved in design for disability as a matter of course. “Discreet?” she sniggers. “I want off-the-chart glamorous!” For her, modern luxury is less about a desire for perfection as a desire for options. Her wardrobe is made up not only of different clothes that can make her feel a different way but also different legs: there are her carbon fiber running legs, various silicone cosmetic prostheses, and a pair of intricately hand-carved wooden legs."
Aimee Mullins's carved wooden legs
“I’m thinking about what I’m going to wear them with: jeans and motorcycle boots, or my Azzedine Alaïa dress if I want to feel amazing.” Her legs too can make her feel amazing in different ways: a pair of silicone legs that are several inches longer than her own legs would be, make her (even) taller and more elegant on the catwalk, while her eerie glass legs have an element of magical realism... From the perspective of the health insurance companies, Mullins says that “every single pair of my legs are considered unnecessary.” But an element of fantasy among the practicalities of everyday life is important to her. Even, as she wryly puts it, to express a certain shallowness."
Mullins’ compelling TED talk makes us question our perception of disability.
Informed and inspired by the ideas of disabled people and designers, Design Meets Disability ends with a series of speculations, pairing designers with disability-related briefs. One such is a conversation with the designer Martin Bone about prosthetic legs. Pullin writes:
"We become intrigued by the idea of relinquishing visual imitation without abandoning a reference to the feel of the human body. This implies abstraction: materials that may not feel exactly like skin but that have some of its qualities, or might be pleasant to touch in their own right. Bone is inspired by the aesthetic relationship between the structure and cover of a prosthesis, inspired to play with the contrast between hard and soft, skeleton and tissue.
Martin Bone's sketches for new combinations of materials in prosthetic legs