Ramps like us, baby we were born to run

One of the most exciting facets of disability in the 21st century is the gadgets. The motorized chairs, the innovative prosthetics, the art-like ramp architecture. This innovation is torpedoing daily, as folks with disabilities enter higher economic brackets & positions of power, and as the baby boomer generation ages and moves into disability.

But that excitement is also fuelled by fear – a fear of ‘doing it wrong.’ I am invited to speak about my life as an artist with a disability frequently, in large part due to my rock n’ roll style, and casually accessible language. Language is one of the biggest reasons that barriers still continue to exist in the ways that they do. The Canadian population lives in a nation-state that has drafted this mosaic politic of celebrating diversity, but it also serves as a means of invisibilizing those very different needs and histories. If we are all different colours and we are all Canadian, than we have always been and there is nothing to atone for.

Disability is a scary one of those ‘diversities’ because no one understands it fully. I mean, you can’t always see it, everyone experiences it differently, it demands creativity, and above all, it is impossible to predict how it will be impacted by its environment, and vice versa.

The current law-enshrined recognition of disability in Ontario is called the AODA, and it is set up to ensure that progress in greater accessibility follows a linear momentum of change, implementing financial fines on those businesses and public structures that fail to comply. Beyond this legislature, rights-based disability thinking involves the relationship individuals living under the state have to the social assistance programs in the country, still largely seen by the public as drains to the economy, and a liability.

What does this have to do with post-secondary educational models? Potentially, everything. Let me introduce you to Raul Krauthausen.

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Krauthausen is a disabled man living in Berlin, who bought himself a 3D printer just over a year ago. After making various projects with his new toy, he decided to use the printer to print himself a ramp.

“I decided to print a ramp because I am a wheelchair user. I often have problems getting into places with just one step in front of the entrance. I thought it would be good if I could carry one with me on the back of my wheelchair, not too big and not too heavy.”

Krauthausen had never created a prototype for a ramp-object before, but like any savvy Google generationer, he watched how-to videos on youtube, and has experimented with 26 prototypes of ramps now with his printer.

He hasn’t been innovating alone. In addition to accessing the self-published, pedagogically participatory universe of youtube tutorials, he has been consulting with other communities regarding his ramp project on a site called Thingiverse, offering up the latest version of his ramp prototype free to download, and inviting others to share & improve upon its design.

The goal for him isn’t just the object but its means. The cost of printing his ramp is 50 euros. Because the percentage of the population to use disability related innovations, their cost is quite often invariably high, resulting in an even smaller about people that can actually afford the devices.

Ramp art & innovation is certainly a fascination of mine, not only because of its creation of access, but its figurative demonstrivity. Krauthausen’s ramp is fun & sexy! It withstands the load of his chair, while being a fun colour, and stealthily stored in his backpack. His co-conspirators on the internet even encouraged him to experiment with lego as materiality, which he reportedly accomplished in 30 hours, with over 600 lego pieces.

Another man 3D-printed a prosthetic hand for his son. For $10. This is quickly becoming the future. And with 3D printers being available for public use in many cities, it will be.

No longer needing to wait for institution to revolutionize and then meet individual needs, the individual is at once able to connect to a network and innovate in spite of isolation. And through this previously isolated reality, cyborgian dreams become realities.

Esteemed scholar Margarit Schildrick writes about the disabled body after Deleuze, citing it as the ultimate ‘queered body.’ Through an elegant unpacking of Deleuze & Guattari’s idea of assemblages, we understand that an autonomous sexual self is a myth, and in fact, a relationship with a caretaker, with a prosthetic, with a smartphone, is a demonstrability of our networked selves and current overlapping realities.

In the classroom then, to engage with social & digital media is deploy a litany of stratagems present across boundaries of physical institutional structures, less-limited by economic status, even serving to offer an interrogation of past mechanisms of innovation. The Internet possesses semblances of capitalism, however is equally as available as an anti-capitalist tool.

Disability, as I’ve mentioned, is integrally unpredictable. To ’embrace’ disability then, is to learn a fly-by-the-pants creativity that offers innovation in each seminar a student uses Skype to attend class, in each closed captioned tutorial exercise, in a learning of cultural products & practices belonging to marginalized communities not your own, but shared in a communion of education as global/local networkings.

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