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City spaces, pace bias, and the production of disability

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How does our body shape our experience of living in a city? How do urban spaces support or undermine the well-being and agency of people with bodies of particular shapes and capacities? Most obviously, spaces may be inaccessible to wheelchair users or those with other kinds of limited mobility. But there are all sorts of other ways in which spaces can include or exclude those with different capacities. Deaf people need to be able to see one another to converse, so their ability to use spaces with narrow, single-file-only walking areas for normal kinds of social interactions is curtailed. Noisy or chaotic areas may be unusable for people with sensory processing disorders. Theaters with small seats, or hotels or hospitals with narrow beds, may be unusable by large people.More generally, Susan Wendell argues,The public world is the world of strength, performance, and production … We have built spaces around the idea that “normal” bodies can lift things, move quickly, and be available any time for ‘production.’ Public space has been structured as though no one of any importance in the public world… has to breast feed a baby or look after a sick child…. Much of the public world is also structured as though everyone were physically strong, as though all bodies were shaped the same, as though everyone could walk, hear, and see well, as though everyone could work and play at a pace that is not compatible with any kind of illness or pain, as though no one were ever dizzy or incontinent or simply needed to sit or lie down. (For instance, where could you rest for a few minutes in a supermarket if you needed to?).Wendell, 1997, 40Her point about supermarkets was especially striking to me when I first read it; everyone needs food, yet we have created physical spaces for obtaining food that are built upon ableist assumptions, and around the principle of getting people through the store as quickly and efficiently as possible, never mind who gets excluded or left behind. These. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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