Michael J. Salvo
Graham Pullin's (2009) Design Meets Disability has the feel of a manifesto, moving towards universal design while recognizing its impossibility. There is, as this very webtext explains, no way to reach universal design. But there is value in the attempt and in the goal. As if to draw rhetoricians into his project, Pullin opened the text with a series of cogent definitions that are studies in brevity. Resonant design, according to Pullin, offers designers and culture-at-large a phrase for the kind of responsive, use-centered, stakeholder-involving, context-sensitive artifact creation methods he advocates.
At the heart of resonant design remains a tension between older, top-down means of providing accommodations to differently abled bodies and newer critical design interventions. For simplicity’s sake, we can call this method modern as it has universal design’s values in its heart—dominant culture and its institutions desire the ability to provide reasonable accommodations to bodies that veer from the norm. But right there power offers itself a privilege. As this interrogation has shown, power operates at the site of definition of reasonableness. And if we have learned anything from feminism or womanism, from minority, race and class-oriented rhetorics, from the subaltern, it is in the definition of reasonableness, normality, sanity, madness, and, pointedly, hysteria where the utopian fantasies of top-down, modernist thinking about accommodation—however reasonable in intent—break down. Pullin’s resonant design as key to design for disability is thus both participatory and critical:
I would like to propose the term resonant design for design intended to address the needs of some people with a particular disability and other people without that disability but perhaps finding themselves in particular circumstances. So this is neither design just for able-bodied people nor design for the whole population; nor even does it assume that everyone with a particular disability will have the same needs. It is something between these extremes, not as a compromise, but as a fundamental aspiration…..To appeal to both groups, such design would also need to embody the design quality that a mainstream market demands. (p. 93)