The Girl with the Purple Cane

I think this Buzzfeed piece on Liz Jackson and her petition to get J. Crew to carry stylish canes in their catalogue does a great job of explaining why the concerns of Disability Studies apply to basically everyone. We will all spend our lives moving in and out of categories of ablebodiedness and disability. Knee surgery? Guess what, you’re disabled until that knee heals. Lupus or RA? Your disability caused by joint involvement and fatigue may wax and wane, making a cane necessary sometimes, optional other times, and, on a good day, totally unnecessary. If you’ve ever had to shop for a cane out of necessity, you know why a stylish, properly-proportioned is so important.

Developing useful products for people with disabilities that are also aesthetically pleasing or attractive reduces stigma about disability and makes these products more widely available. We all use “assistive devices” all the time, even if we don’t call them that. The example of audiobooks (in the Buzzfeed article) is a great one. The food processor was also developed to assist people with disabilities and now it’s a kitchen staple. I love my Dragon Dictate software for days when my hands and wrists hurt too much to type on a traditional keyboard.

I think of a company like OXO which started out making products for people whose grip and hand strength had been reduced by arthritis. They used principles of universal design to make their products usable by as many people as possible, regardless of age, strength, or handedness. Now people who don’t consider themselves “disabled” buy their products because the tools are attractive and easy to use, and people with disabilities can go into Bed Bath and Beyond and find a whole wall of attractive, relatively inexpensive “assistive devices.”

Sign Liz’s petition if you’d like to see canes alongside J. Crew’s other stylish assistive technologies like nerdy-chic eyeglasses, unscented sunscreens, and designer wetsuits.