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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


By Design

Tomorrow, Henry and I are hosting a conversation dinner on the buildings we admire with the purposes of how we wish to develop our city. It is something I used to be passionate about as an art curator with an avid interest in public spaces. Living in Canada was always gray in the winter, with mediocre architecture. North American design has often been about about economy, efficiency and utility, while beauty has been considered a frill. Only our houses of art and music that have been sponsored by wealthy families have been the most inspired -- like old cathedrals. Perhaps our universities have brushed us lightly with a molding of history here, an arched doorway there. Canada does not have a lot of history.

So I had to think about my favorite building and what I came up with was a myriad of public spaces -- many of them in Europe that I encountered while living such as the Freiburg market where I used to buy my seven-dollar broccoli on a student budget. These markets are always near the city halls and cathedrals. Cathedrals were places where the public slept, commiserated, socialized and exchanged goods. When I was alone in Europe, the Freiburg cathedral was a quiet place to think in the evening. During the day, the market hummed with voices and the smell of coffee invited breaks at umbrella-tables outlining the cobblestone square. It was a place where people gathered everyday, and where the brautwurst-stand provided a student with a cheap meal. It was this culmination of everything -- grandiosity, history, beauty, commerce and community that continues to make it a successful public design.

Whenever I am out these days, I always look for accessibility that reflects our values and our community. I look for curb-cuts, easy access for people in wheelchairs, or for moms with strollers. I always look for nature, for beauty and that which soothes us. I pay attention to the piercing noise at malls -- as I feel assaulted with beaping vehicles, music blaring from within and without stores, and the scents of many things -- all indoors. I am painfully aware of the lack of access to malls on foot, to many of our food stores. Sometimes, it's just too hazardous to walk, and in Toronto, the pedestrian no longer has the right of way, even though it is still a law.

We have built villages for cars -- not for people. When I see people think about design, I really appreciate it. From well-planned classrooms to an outdoor market, I feel a sense of relief. When I see a well-designed (barrier free) environment that soothes, rather than built with steel-like utility, I feel that the person for whom it was built was respected.

I wonder if the lack of access and thought about aesthetics not only reflects our thinking about the disabled, but also about humanity, as it doesn't seem that we truly respect ourselves and our need for each other. We certainly are not building for it.

"How is a village a village? By including young and old, white and black [disabled and non-disabled], rich and poor." -- Anonymous (brackets mine).


Blogger aspiemom said...

The older buildings are certainly not built for disabled access.

But I think newer ones are trying. Because of government codes. It's sad that they can't even think about that on their own.

10:41 PM  

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