America was once even less accessible than it is now, as historicized by Bess Williamson in her book Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design. Williamson, an Associate Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, uses her background in art and design to critique the ways that nationalism and idealism have driven material environments to reflect societal norms in the United States post World War II. She integrates analysis with historical images that exhibit how truly inaccessible this country has been throughout history, which she artfully points out as being in "response to a lack" for much of modern history (209). Throughout the book, it seems that Williamson's choice of design problems definitely calls to those which are most visually prominent for her readers, but not always those that continue to be large problems for the wider population of disabled individuals in this country.

The book begins by providing its exigence in the overview of "Disability, Design, and Rights in the Twentieth Century", during which Williamson showcases all of the accessibility features that she, an able-bodied female, uses throughout her daily life: curb cuts, ramps, buttons to open or close doors, and visual displays on public transportation, as well as pieces from design history, such as the Honeywell thermostat and Oxo Good Grips peeler. Immediately, I was struck how almost every one of the examples provided spoke almost solely to physical disabilities, save for the visual displays on public transportation. This was not the sole occurrence of this either; almost the entire book focuses on physical accessibility, which saddens this deaf reviewer since so much more still needs to be done for general accessibility, not just physical. Williamson does note that many early design changes where actually "do-it-yourself" was preferred over mass-produced, consumer-driven products well-known in modern society (71).

The first three chapters, "Progress through Prosthetics: Limbs, Cars, Houses, and the American Dream", "Disability in the Century of the Gadget: Rehabilitation and Access in Postwar America", and "Electric Moms and Quad Drivers: Do-It-Yourself Access at Home in Postwar America" recount changes made in the U.S. following the return of GIs from the front lines during WWII. Again, the accessibility features showcased are entirely focused on physical accessibility; examples include split-hook prosthetic hands and arms, prosthetic legs with leather laces or metal clips and buckles, and homes for paraplegic veterans. Williamson insightfully narrates the stories of WWII veterans and the need for accessible design, but again the scope is solely focused on images of physically disabled individuals.

The next three chapters, "Berkeley, California: An Independent Style of Access", "Kneeling to the Disabled: Access and Backlash", and "From Accessible to Universal: Design in the Late Twentieth Century" move forward in time to 1970s and 1980s America to showcase early examples of accessible design: Berkeley, California and its Independent Living Movement and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transbus project (which failed miserably), leading to information about the background of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Williamson quickly jumps from detailing the lead up to the ADA, to introducing the pioneer of Universal Design, Ronald Mace, and his work at North Carolina Central University throughout the 1980s, which called for the design of buildings and public spaces that were usable by all. The idea that accessibility features need not be hack jobs and afterthoughts was integral to Mace's design ideals.

The final two chapters "Beyond Ramps: Cripping Design" and "Conclusion: Design for All?" attempt to bring this historical review of accessibility movements into the twenty-first century in which she critiques the aforementioned focus of accessible design movements, pertaining only to physically impaired individuals. She argues that "the civic role of design remains a topic of ongoing redefinition in relation to disability inclusion" (185), yet her entire analysis and argument throughout the book related to design is completely focused on physical representations of disabilities. As a deaf person, I could imagine so many more examples of inaccessible design related to hearing that Williamson doesn't even cover: low lighting which masks peoples' faces, surfaces that deflect sounds across a space, overly large spaces in which sounds get lost, and conference rooms with odd layouts where half the attendees can't be seen well. Yet none of these design faux pas factor into Williamson's call to crip design. Her argument that "disability has been a marginal concern at best through most of design history" rings true at many colleges across the country where curb cuts or elevators in multi-story buildings are just now being installed (or still being argued against due to cost) (189). Yes, design must be concerned with how people physically access public spaces, but there should also be attention paid to how they auditorily, visually, and mentally, emotionally or psychiatrically access those spaces as well. Though Williamson provides a much-needed and appreciated historization of modern design and accessibility, the lack of the design field to acknowledge all categories of disabilities, as defined by the federal government, means that the overall argument of the text fell flat for this reader. Accessible America is published by New York University Press in hardcover, paperback, and eBook through major distributors.

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