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December 17 - 19
National Institute of Design
Shilpa Das

National Institute of Design
Ahmedabad, India

Shilpa Das teaches at the National Institute of Design - NID, Ahmedabad, where she is responsible for the Science and Liberal Arts programme. Her areas of interest include art, Indian philosophy and aesthetics, translation theory, contemporary literary, and cultural theory involving semiotics, communication studies, feminist studies, and disability studies. She has extensively published on these subjects in journals and books. At NID she also heads the Publications Department and Faculty of Interdisciplinary Design Studies. She is the Editorial Head of D/Signed - a biennial magazine of design, and The Trellis - a biennial research newsletter, both published by NID, and is member of the Board of Advisors to Pool - a design magazine published from Pune, India. Currently, she is pursuing a Doctoral Degree in the Social Sciences from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences - TISS, Mumbai, India.

www.shilpadas.com (in progress)

Design and the Disabled Body
What Designers Need to Know About Disability Studies

Examining different models of disability, we see how information disseminated and available may have a critical bearing on design decisions, processes, actions that are taken, and even social policies that are framed, especially in the Indian context. Indian designers could substantially gain from such insights, but often falter because the concerns of disability are more often than not marginalized or rendered invisible in ableist design thinking. Taking up a few examples, the paper illustrates and discusses how the discourse of Indian design is limited in its attention to disability as it invariably translates into designing the next best crutch or wheelchair. Incorporating in design thinking and practice, the substantial corpus of thought and writing that articulates the unique concerns and experiences of disabled people is a crying need that will greatly enrich both design education and practice and the field of disability studies.

The scope of study in this paper has been restricted to focus on projects taken up by both faculty members and students at the National Institute of Design - NID, Ahmedabad. I take the liberty to equate the NID experience of design with the Indian experience of design because NID is the premier design institute of India which has produced and continues to produce the largest number of designers in this country. In the last fifty years of its existence, NID has turned out more than 2000 designers in 17 design disciplines. The data is based on about 61 projects undertaken at NID on the subject of disability amounting to at least 30 years if one adds the duration of all these projects involving about 65-70 students and 30 faculty members of NID over a time span of 50 years.

The design academia in this country has already taken cognizance of the need to include universal design but needs to quicken its steps to shape and firm up pedagogy of universal design.

The paper begins with laying out the conceptual framework and moves on to analyse through this lens, some design projects undertaken by NID. It talks about the lacunae in design thinking and indeed most other professions, to involve disabled people in a meaningful way.

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