One of my favorite design books is Design Meets Disability by Graham Pullin. It’s a book that explores the positive impact design can have on disability. For example, consider what design has done for eyeglasses, explained in a glowing review by Donald Norman:
A powerful, important book. Eyeglasses made the switch from shameful medical appliance, which is how the British National Health Service labeled them, to revered fashion item, so much so that people who didn’t need glasses would wear them anyway.
If eyeglasses can do it, why not hearing aids, wheelchairs, or walkers? Change stigmas into desirables. Moreover, as the proponents of universal design have long proclaimed, meaningful design aids everyone.
Consider the visually impaired – which means you, yes you with the perfect eyesight. If you are in a really tedious, but important meeting, do you dare sneak a look at your wristwatch or phone? No: you have to look as if you are paying full attention. You are visually impaired. So why not a timepiece that gently vibrates the time to you?
All of us have impairments at one time or another: why not design for them, helping both ourselves and those who have them permanently. But because we are all impaired one way or another. As we grow older, through both accident and age, all of us will accumulate changes in our abilities, so why not embrace the designs that help us? Make them fashion accessories, make them objects of pride.
I’ve worn glasses since I was nine years old. I can remember quite clearly getting my first pair, walking out of the eye doctor’s office on a sunny, That-70s-Show day in Leadville, Colorado. Wearing my favorite floral jeans from the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog, looking down main street of that two-mile high mining town, seeing Mount Elbert crisp and icy through freshly focused retinas. When you first get new glasses, you never realize how much you were missing until what you’d been missing is restored.
Anyway, glasses are an integral part of my identity. While I do wear contacts from time-to-time, I would never consider getting laser surgery to correct my vision. I like wearing glasses. I love getting new frames. The way I look at it, they’re like industrial design for my face; what’s not to love?
Would that every disability have a beautiful object associated with it. The thing is, designers can make that happen. By focusing on stuff that matters.
Frames pictured by Classic Specs; Lenox in Clear and Falmouth in Black.