Bess Williamson, School of the Art Institute of Chicago | Newberry

Bess Williamson, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Thursday, September 19, 2019

3-5 pm

Towner Fellows’ Lounge

Chicago: City of Commerce and Design, 1890-1990 Seminar

The Politics of Design in Chicago’s History of Disability Rights, 1940-1990, Bess Williamson

This paper will look at the history of medical, design, and activist efforts to establish and improve design for disabled people in Chicago. A number of threads of design and political history intertwined in the decades preceding the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, specifically in the activities of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (now Shirley Ryan AbilityLab), a leading medical-research site; new iterations of Modernist design education committed to a Bauhaus-inspired social agenda; and the emergence of Access Living, a community-driven advocacy organization with ties to the Rehabilitation Institute. Looking at a series of design efforts and collaborations, the paper tracks the shift in design discourse around access from charitable support to civil rights.

Cost and Registration Information 

Newberry Scholarly Seminars papers are pre-circulated. For a copy of the paper, email Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.