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ACCESS + ABILITY AT THE COOPER HEWITT

THE COOPER HEWITT, Smithsonian Design Museum has a thoughtful exhibit focusing on accessibility and inclusive designs developed for and by people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities. The Cooper Hewitt, in Manhattan, is the first of the Smithsonian museums to be located outside Washington, D.C.

The Cooper Hewitt’s Access + Ability exhibit is on view through September 3, 2018. The museum’s website describes the exhibit featuring more than 70 works. Tidbits here are gleaned from the exhibit.

The physically challenged can be stylish as well as capable. This and other images from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

The exhibit is divided into three sections: Moving, Connecting, and Living. Several of its designs are straightforward, yet effective: magnetic closure replacing buttons on clothing, shoes with wraparound zippers, prosthetic leg covers in a variety of colors and patterns that offer individuality. Other innovations are more complex.

SoundShirt. Clothing with embedded sensors and actuators offer the experience of music to the hard of hearing or deaf. Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz designed the SoundShirt and SoundSkirt for CuteCircuit.

This prototype SoundShirt isn’t just high style; it’s hi-fi as well.

Sixteen sensors correspond to orchestral strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, etc. The clothing’s fabric translates the sounds into tactile sensations for the wearer.

Racing Wheelchair. Paralympic athletes Tatyana McFadden and Chelsea McClammer worked with BMW Designworks in designing this racing wheelchair.

The BMW Racing Wheelchair features optimized aerodynamics, stability, and ergonomics.

Its design efficacy helped McFadden and McClammer earn four medals at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Voting Booth. Los Angeles County, IDEO, Digital Foundry, and Cambridge Consultants collaborated in the design of an inclusive voting booth accessible to all types of voters.

The prototype Los Angeles Voting Booth, its production planned for the 2020 election.

The voting booth is compatible with those in wheelchairs, or with limited vision or hearing, or for whom English is a second language, or anyone challenged by new technology. (And doesn’t that include many of us?)

PillPack. Designed by Gen Suzuki and those at IDEO, the PillPack manufactured by Power On simplifies life for those of us taking multiple medications.

The hypothetical Mr. Smith gets his daily meds in pop-up pouches.

Medications are presorted and identified by color, with pouches labeled for day and time of each dosage. (This sure beats my complex geometric array of once-daily, twice-daily, and once-weekly meds.)

Emma Watch. This prototype wristband, developed in 2016 by Microsoft researchers Haiyan Zhang and Nicolas Villar, uses haptic vibration technology to give those with Parkinson’s Disease a steadier hand.

The prototype Emma Watch doesn’t give the time; it gives legibility.


Haptic technology was discussed here at SimanaitisSays. The word comes from the Greek, ἅπτικός, pertaining to the sense of touch. The Emma Watch senses human tremors and offers feedback in response to minimize their effect.

The Emma Watch prototype. Image and more details from Computerworld.

Microsoft News Centre UK describes the invention of the Emma Watch. In fact, there is a real Emma, Emma Lawton, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and whose acquaintance with Haiyan Zhang encouraged development of the device.

The Emma Watch is only one of the more than 70 innovations, either prototypes or already in production, that are part of the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s Access + Ability exhibition.

Though a continent apart, I’m glad to have visited it virtually. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

One comment on “ACCESS + ABILITY AT THE COOPER HEWITT

  1. jlalbrecht64
    January 30, 2018

    Hard to tell from the picture, but the voting booth should be a desk with a screen/headphones for help in all languages supported and a printer that spits out two pieces of paper. One piece of paper is the paper ballot to go into an envelope and then into the ballot box, and one is a copy for the voter.

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