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Episode 03

Sara Hendren is an artist, designer, and writer who teaches design for disability at Olin College of Engineering. On this episode of the PFF Podcast, Sara discusses some of the key arguments of her forthcoming book, What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World, from the affordances of ordinary objects such as ramps to how disability opens up new perspectives on the design of cities and the built environment. Learn more about Sara’s book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/561049/what-can-a-body-do-by-sara-hendren/.

Transcript

Welcome to the Piaggio Fast Forward podcast. Join the conversation by subscribing to the PFF podcast at https://www.piaggiofastforward.com/podcast.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Welcome to the Piaggio Fast Forward Podcast. I'm your host, Jeffrey Schnapp, Chief Visionary Officer for Piaggio Fast Forward. And today I have the pleasure of speaking with Sara Hendren who's an artist, design researcher, writer and professor at Olin College of Engineering. Sara's work on collaborative public art and social design projects, engages the human body technology and the politics of disability. She also co-founded the Accessible Icon Project, and co-created a digital archive of low tech prosthetics. Sara's work has been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Vitra Design Museum, and is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art And the Cooper Hewitt Museum.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Her first book on the unexpected places where disability is at the heart of design in everyday objects and environments is forthcoming from Riverhead/Penguin/Random House in the summer of 2020. At Olin College, she's also the principal investigator on a three year initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation to bring arts experiences to engineering students and faculty. Sara and I have known each other since her days as a Master in Design Study student at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. So I'm especially pleased to have her join us here on the PFF Podcast. So welcome Sara.

Sara Hendren

Thank you. Good to be here.

Jeffrey Schnapp

I know from our contacts dating back to Harvard that you have a longstanding obsession with ramps and inclined planes. So I thought we might start our conversation talking about a very concrete expression of the sorts of design interests that you have.

Sara Hendren

Yes. The inclined plane is a simple machine and so it belongs in the family of simple machines that are everywhere still in our everyday life, so leavers and pulleys and screws, and if you pass by a construction site now you'll see those doing their handy physics work. And the inclined plane is a particularly magic machine, I think because it's the alteration of force across a surface just by its shape. So it looks rather passive in terms of its form, we just think like a cut on the diagonal, but in fact the way that it alters force makes it much easier to go up and down a ramp by that acceleration and resistance than for instance the brute force that it takes to go up a step or not. So I'm quite entranced by perhaps, especially in the digital software age I remain entranced with that simple physics, not least because it does a political physics in the built environment.

Sara Hendren

So as a design researcher and as the mother of a child with disabilities, I think a lot about accessible passage through this contemporary city and if you look everywhere, you'll see at many street corners in many global cities of the world what are called curb cuts, which are nothing more, nothing less than the edited place where the sidewalk meets the street. That is the edited city at work. That is a profound gesture of making it possible to go through the city in a wheelchair, on a skateboard, using a stroller with a baby strapped to your chest. Like I have done so often. So the inclined plane in those cases has been rolled out in a way that we don't see it anymore. Many of us don't see it anymore. We take it for granted we wheel our luggage over it as we hop into the subway.

Sara Hendren

But it is the inclined plane nonetheless that had to be retrofitted onto cities after a lot of activism by the disability community. And so I love to think about just the simple beauty of those physics that are reliable every day and the profound work that they do socially in cities. So I work in the politics of disability and I work especially on ways in which the assistance of prosthetics and other edits like the inclined plane, how those are hiding in plain sight. And so I started an investigation into the inclined plane awhile back when I was at Harvard GSD. And I thought, well, how can I wake up this sleeping politics again. And I really do think of it as a slumbering situation.

Sara Hendren

So and that's what art and design does when it does best really it draws a big new arrow around something that we take for granted and then maybe we see it a new, so I designed a series of ramps that are both designed for skateboard use and for wheelchair use and those tend to be two kinds of city users that never get thought of in the same space. I mean truly never. I think the narrative of skateboarding is virtuosic athleticism and the narrative of wheelchair use is that it's somehow a diminished form of walking.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Maybe I could ask you to talk a little bit more about this fascinating conjunction between two different modalities of use that seem so remote from one another, as if opposing models of mobility or use of public space. Are there other objects, other examples of design solutions that are hiding in plain sight that come to mind that you think of is comparable to the case of the ramp?

Sara Hendren

In the built environment at the city scale?

Jeffrey Schnapp

Yes.

Sara Hendren

Where multiple users are implicated, curb cuts tend to be the canonical example of what's called universal design: in other words, where you tackle a so-called extreme user case--wheelchair access for example—and the solution adopted turns out to benefit a lot of other users from bicyclists to people pulling wheeled luggage and carts of groceries to pushing strollers. I think of elevators, the mere fact of elevators being attached to subways. That was also a hard fight and a lot of folks initially argued, “I can't believe we're to spend the money to retrofit what had been stairwells down into subways and who will ever use them?” I mean, people really said this at the time when they were first implemented”

Sara Hendren

“so few people will use them”. Well, if you find yourself, for instance, lugging heavy gear; if you find yourself temporarily using crutches… I can't tell you how many emails I get every year from people writing things like, “I just discovered all the ramps and the elevators in the world because I just sprained my ankle.” The result? They spent six to eight weeks relying upon elevators to manage subways. The kneeling bus is a really interesting innovation: the way that a bus can lower its front right corner from 13 inches off the ground to 9 (I think that’s right) which is another wheelchair accommodation. But for anybody with rheumatoid arthritis or someone walking with small children who need to take a step onto the bus, the adjustment turns out to be really quite useful.

Sara Hendren

I'm also thinking about the way in which the Boston subway is quite automated in terms of using the turnstiles and re-upping your Metro Card. But what's interesting is that, in order to compensate for that automation, there are now red-shirted officials that stand on the platform, which is a much better way to provide general assistance on the platform. That need for a sentient human never goes away. So I think about people with cognitive disabilities. I think about tourists. I think about older folks using public transportation who no longer need to purchase a ticket from the ticket booth, but they do need directional help as well as assistance and safety. So I think of the dropping in of that human person as a design choice, right? A service design choice we would say in the design field.

Jeffrey Schnapp

I find interesting in your work this focus on solutions that are, if not in plain sight, ready at hand; solutions that don't require heavy forms of infrastructure or manufacturing capabilities, but rather can be communicated in a simple way, put into practice, deployed adaptively without enormous complexities. How does that focus of your work express itself? Is it a code of design values that you try to apply to the kinds of problems that you tackle? That's the first part of the question. The second is you teach in a school of engineering, what is it like to try to convey those values to your Olin students?

Sara Hendren

Those are two really good, big questions. In the first case, I've just laid out for you what a lot of folks in design who think about mobility tend to point to as the best case scenario. For some that represents the entire trajectory of what design is about. I celebrate those things and participate in and benefit from them as indicated by my project on ramps. But, in fact, my disposition is not always favorable to the universal scalable widget. That is a 19th century form of manufacturing logic that I actually don't think we live with anymore. So let me explain what I mean by that. I have a project called “Engineering At Home,” which is a curated archive of the low tech tools that a woman named Cindy uses every single day of her life.

Sara Hendren

And Cindy at 60 had a heart attack and an extended coma and lost both her lower leg limbs and nearly all the 10 digits on both hands. You can imagine what that meant to her body. She qualified for “the best that money can buy” in engineering terms: an $80,000 myoelectric arm replacement arm. Had to go through the training full of hope for this thing. And it turned out that what was supposed to be a universal arm replacement was actually cumbersome, heavy, hot, too slow for the kinds of things she wants to do. So meanwhile, Cindy, who we would never think of in 2020 as a “maker” in our maker space language, nonetheless became a maker in the sense that she started to assemble the simple tools that she actually needed. So she got a $0.99 plastic peel and stick hook that she puts on top of the peanut butter jar so that gives her the leverage and the torque that she needs to open peanut butter... To perform her kitchen daily-ness.

Sara Hendren

So people respond, “Well, sure, that's a great idea and quite ingenious; people do tinkering all the time, but does it scale?” That's what they always want to know. But this is a “gotcha question”: one that seems to me especially inappropriate in the age of diffuse digital manufacturing. There's simply no reason why that idea can't be shared digitally as a disposition to make and remake our built environments. So let me give you one other example, which is the cardboard carpentry work of the Adaptive Design Association in New York City, which makes low-tech furniture, temporary furniture, highly bespoke cardboard, chairs and stands and other supports for children with disabilities of all kinds. And it is a design at a reasonable scale, hundreds per year, each one bespoke. And so people again react to these folks with objections like: “well, one chair for one person, what kind of importance can that have for the rest of the world?”

Sara Hendren

But they share tools, they share techniques, they make what they make out of triple wall cardboard, which is a thing you can either buy or you can make yourself. Cardboard is a global supply chain material. They do it with Elmer's glue, wooden dowels, like a quite simple set of tools. But so what that means is that there are labs in Ecuador and there are labs in India that do those same things. It's what Ezio Manzini called Diffuse Design where local folks use the network capabilities of digital knowledge sharing to make highly localized and even low tech solutions that are appropriate to their moment. I just find it bizarre that people enforce this binary between bespoke design for a single customer and “real” design which must massively scale.

Sara Hendren

When you consider the liberty we have acquired thanks to the availability of domesticated manufacturing, DIY tools, and digital technologies, you realize that we can make a lot of custom things appropriate to what we want and need, even as individuals. That was a long answer to the first part of your question. It's really hard to sell engineers on this, of course, because even in 2020 young people have bought into the myth that scalability is the only way to think about impact. (Software culture continues to perpetuate this myth.) Maybe the myth is true if you are thinking about success entirely in terms of quarterly earnings. But for engineers who want to think about impact in terms of greater equality and freedom, human flourishing or who are willing to entertain alternate models for businesses, thinking outside of the universal scalability box can be illuminating.

Sara Hendren

So I work with students to make objects that are highly bespoke customized prosthetics, not because I think they're all going to go and do that in their careers, but because I'm trying to hand them an experience of thinking about the body differently and thinking about accessibility differently and helping them to ask different questions about what engineering can do.

Jeffrey Schnapp

The question of asking questions seems a particularly important function within the context of a school of engineering because asking questions implies attention to the local, the particular, the differentiating, not just to that which is standard and maybe even universal.

Sara Hendren

That's exactly right. And I mean the quality of asking questions is not endemic to engineering. Young people get into engineering precisely because it feels quite satisfying to see the world in terms of problems and then to seek solutions. It is a quite earnest search for impact and solutions. As an artist in an engineering school, I am trying to help students dial back for a moment from what seems like the obvious solution to make sure that their questions are really the ones that are worth asking. For instance, trying to poke at the premise of scale and to ask themselves what would actually be an engineering intervention into the world and what would it be? Would it be a product? Would it be a service? Would it be a way of working?

Sara Hendren

I mean the Adaptive Design Association isn't in the business of peddling a product. They are modeling a disposition toward a labor model. To help students ask: where is the engineering and when does it happen? Where does their really beautiful will to reconfigure the world, to pry open its workings, to try to think of it as malleable lead? That is the beauty of engineering, after all, but where can they best drop that in? Right now there's still just a tidal wave of incentive for to think in terms of problems and solutions. And I think that history shows that a lack of good questions gets us into lots of trouble fast before we have the capacity to dial back.

Jeffrey Schnapp

So, on the one side, teaching inside a school of engineering you're opening up these horizons, applying pressure, posing questions, maybe even uncomfortable questions, while, on the design side, your work is positioning itself critically with respect to certain current, relatively common models of design practice. In the case of the argument of the book, I was wondering if you could tell our listeners a little bit about how you think about this relationship between the design of everyday objects and environments in relation to disability as a particular lens that applies some pressures that are perhaps not those that we commonly associate with design practice, whether it's at the scale of objects or the scale of cities.

Sara Hendren

Let me provide listeners with a couple of examples that bridge my laboratory practice involving students with some of the stuff that is documented in the book. A friend of mine came to me a few years ago who is a little person: she has a form of dwarfism. She's an art historian and a curator, so she frequently has to deliver talks and, as you can imagine, her body is out of scale with the typical lectern at the front of the room. In auditoriums with a lectern up in front, she's out of scale with respect to that object. And so she said, "I really need a lectern that is portable and collapsible, that I can take with me when I travel to give talks." And so, with my students, we designed a three-step, foldable lectern for a person of short stature.

Sara Hendren

This was a case in which we had to solve a problem, right? The solution had to live up to all kinds of standards of sturdiness and have a lightweight strength-to-weight ratio: very traditional sorts of engineering challenges. But a question was packed into these challenges: who is the world designed for? I mean just that: the question is literally packed into that material object. So when you see Amanda walk to the front of the room, get introduced, and then unfold that lectern, she is actually bringing the room to herself. And that's a moment in which a question comes alive in a way that helps us to see our everyday world differently. Again, the design object that will scale is an object for asking questions. And I myself have equal parts of my brain in need of that reframing work that art does it at its best and the very pragmatic and useful work that design and engineering do so well.

Sara Hendren

So my book What Can a Body Do? - How We Meet the Built Environment is based on a series of stories, reportages, and analyses of disabled people: people who, by the way, call themselves disabled and not “differently abled” or “especially challenged.” (We can talk about that if you like.) What disabled people are doing is at the root of remaking the world in a profound way that benefits other people (as in the case of curb cuts) and this provides a basis for rethinking their own built environments. Another case in point. So I know a man who was born with one arm and was outfitted, like Cindy, with probably a half dozen prosthetic arms over his childhood and has never found a universal arm to be useful for him. He had a newborn baby whose diaper he needed to change and that is a two-handed task.

Sara Hendren

So for five bucks he built himself a little holster out of soft cord and felt that would hold his baby's ankles while he changed the diaper with his one hand. Again, that's a bespoke object. That's one example. But curb cuts are a historical example. And then there are cases like that of my friend Steve who received a diagnosis of ALS and knew that his mobility was going to be severely reduced. Steve designed a residence for himself here in Boston where he could live and other people with ALS and MS could live in a replicable, scalable model residence: a residence in which all the doorways are automated by a tablet that's mounted on his wheelchair.

Sara Hendren

He can open and close all the doors. He can turn the HVAC and all of his media on and off. He can do a whole lot with a greatly enhanced degree of independence thanks to highly automated and high-tech electronic solutions. So the book provides a tour through what happens when a body meets the world and people engage in deeply creative but also urgent efforts to figure out how to reorganize the world’s structures.

Jeffrey Schnapp

This is such an original perspective and, within it, seems to be embedded a provocation, an invitation, a solicitation addressed to designers, people who think about the structure of spaces, urban planners, and others to attend to not only the possibilities for difference, but maybe to rethink the rigidity of some of the standard solutions. I'm curious in particular about architecture and the design of cities because we typically associate both of them with fixity, with forms of construction and making that endure over extended timescales. This seems inherently in tension with a model like yours that is focused so much on immediate use, on need, on the ability to make an environment work under particular circumstances. Do you ever think about how one would design a house that was a pliable, interpretable environment that didn't have so many built-in obstacles to adaptation and customization?

Sara Hendren

I think you're absolutely right that the built environment has built into it what I think Clarissa Hayward and Todd Swan call thick injustice. This applies to infrastructure too. The literal material thickness of it makes it intractable and difficult to trace the ways in which those injustices occur. So, it is an interesting space and yet what I find in my work is that there are tiny moves that make cities more porous all the time. I'll give you one of my favorite examples. The Hogeweyk Dementia Village in the Netherlands is a locked facility for memory care; inside it is a model village actually with working grocery store, restaurant, barbershop, gym… all this stuff to simulate a city life for the residents who live there. But the key thing that's really interesting about this place is that there's a restaurant into which residents can come at will, but that also is porous enough to be actually open to the town nearby.

Sara Hendren

People who have no direct investment in the folks who live there with dementia come and have lunch. They have been conditioned to expect that there will be people wandering in who may be confused and who may need some redirection. But the latter lead their lives in a semi-public sphere. So the population of the Town of Weesp in the Netherlands, where the village is housed, can both lead their own lives and make room for people who are living with a distinct condition that normally would sequester them out of the public eye, but who need the reaffirmation of care and the normalcy of their own routines. Meanwhile, there are benefits. I saw this myself when I was visiting Hogeweyk: a mother with a toddler and a baby was teaching her children how to be kind to people who have a slippery grasp of the real.

Sara Hendren

It's like a two way restaurant. To me that is a beautiful example of the way that you can actually intervene in cities. There's a whole program of architecture called visitability standards--not visibility but visit-ability—that provides codes by which people can actually retrofit their houses. Not to be 100% ADA compliant, but to have at least one bathroom that has a 36 inch clearance, for instance, and one no barrier entrance. It's a way for people, especially in our country with the now-aging baby boomer generation, to take the houses that they already live in and think, “Okay, if I do need a wheelchair or a cane at some point, what are the five key moves that I could make?” Or, “If my parent is going to come live with me for some protracted period of time, what are the key architectural things that I could do without resorting to a fully new structure that obeys those codes?”

Sara Hendren

So that's a way, again, to think about the porosity of code and code compliance. I'd also point to the Green Man Plus Program implemented in Singapore at some 500 intersections. If you are a senior citizen or a person with a disability you can get this Green Man Plus affordance on your METRO card whereby, when you call the signal at a pedestrian crosswalk and push the button to cross the street while hovering your card over that signal, the standard signal will expand your time to cross the street by between 9 and 13 seconds (depending on width of the street). Think about the elastic flexibility of a crosswalk timing that is so beautifully done. In other words, you hover the card, you walk across the street with the extra time you need, and then the crosswalk actually reverts to its default that keeps traffic running.

Sara Hendren

Compare this with Manhattan where there have been a number of crosswalk signals that have been permanently extended to deal with demographic changes. So where the crossing time had been 23 seconds, it's now set at 41. Fine, the Singapore example seems to me a more nimble and flexible use case where the city breeds and contracts and expands as needed. The street's not going to change. The width of the street's not going to change. The traffic flows are probably not going to change. But the street can move a little bit toward people and that's where, again, the charge to engineers and designers is to think as flexibly as possible about the ends that they are trying to achieve and where the inherited structures might bend a little bit rather than dreaming up new utopian structures along the lines of “out with the old and in with the new.” How can we benefit from the self-organizing structures in the way Jane Jacobs talked about regarding cities’ growthe and intervene yet again with some of our values intact?

Jeffrey Schnapp

That's a great transition point for a topic I'm eager to converse with you about. As you know Piaggio Fast Forward is a technology company. We build robotic vehicles that move the way that people do and that means “move” in many different ways and that includes navigating the fixed features of the urban landscape and driving the design of cities towards the values we believe in.

Jeffrey Schnapp

I'm curious to hear your thoughts as to what level of confidence you have regarding some of the more technology-intensive future prospects for creating intelligent machines that interact with people while addressing the specificity of their individual needs (not assuming universal standardized needs) or that could have a substantial impact on their quality of life, on people's ability, for instance, to move around the world. There's obviously a technocritical strain in your work, but you also seem quite open to those niches where instead technology can become a key lever. So I want to shift the conversation a little bit over in that direction because, of course, it's a direction that interests me greatly.

Sara Hendren

Yes, of course. What I say in my book is that the hard thing to do is to “critique and repair, critique and repair”; it's possible to have all your wits intact as a person who makes things that pose questions and also to seek pragmatic solutions all day long. I love working in an engineering school because of the bias towards the pragmatic. I feel these politics acutely because I'm the parent of a child with Down Syndrome whose relationship to assistance will be constant for his entire life span, not to mention the derivative dependency (as we say in the disability community) that accrues to me as his mother. And that's not an uncommon family ecology with respect to the way we care for each other and how we build a world to make that care happen.

Sara Hendren

Now, I should say that I am very sanguine about the way that iPads, for instance, have proved a liberatory technology. And I mean that in the truest sense for people like my friend Steve who has ALS. That touch interface that allows you to interact with a finger but also with a stick that you hold in your mouth: the flexibility of that portal to the world cannot be overstated. Same thing is true for my autistic friends and their kids who might be nonverbal. So, even if discipline specific analysis is fundamental, it's wrong to throw rocks at technology just because… So with that in mind, what do I want? I want a desirable future and I want it in every form that it comes in.

Sara Hendren

So, yes to Cindy's peel stick hook; yes to cardboard furniture; yes to very smart crosswalks that grow and change. Yes, for my son, I will want apps that provide security for him long-term. Absolutely. And smart interventions as well. There used to be this term called “appropriate technology” that people don't use anymore because it had a vaguely colonialist overtone as if always alluding to people who live in poor or resource-poor situations who get simpler technology de facto. But I think the spirit of appropriateness is one that we could recover and reinvest with some new meaning, which is: just how closely can we attend to what's called for and how can we use the affordances that we have? So, in your case, the smarts that are desirable and just enough ( but that don't have just everything that we can do just because we can). Is it ok if I talk about these features in your work?

Jeffrey Schnapp

Sure, no problem.

Sara Hendren

So, for instance, in the case of the gita robot, I can imagine 10 engineers being very interested in bells and whistles: what gita could do, added complexity, and so on. And what it takes is a very close analysis of human behavior and human values that is less tricked out for what fascinates technologists and very closely hews to what people are actually trying to get done. And, then, to see that as a sophisticated and dignified way of interacting with technology. Not all that we can do, but just enough. So, for me, it's high tech, low tech… bring whatever it is! Let's ask ourselves what we're trying to do and let's use all the tools available.

Jeffrey Schnapp

That's a wonderful set of reflections and one that is indicative of some of the battles we fought on our own design team around what's a feature set that shows off the wow effects of the technology, on the one side, but addresses what people really need. We struggled to establish those base needs as the foundation to ensure that the device doesn’t becomes a toy or a demonstration piece for technologies rather than having an impact on the quality of people's lives.

Sara Hendren

That's exactly right. And one of the things I try to say in the book and in my work is something that disabled people and scholars have said for a long time, which is that, even the phrase “assistive technology” is a redundancy. If young designers and engineers saw themselves as also getting assistance every day from all the tools that they use, they might imagine the things that they build as on a continuum and not on a separate planet. In other words, if you see yourself on that same plane, right, as an extended human body getting what it needs, then you're not thinking in patronizing terms like, “Well, we're just dumbing down our interface for the people who aren't tech savvy, or this generation will think this and that generation will think that.” Those things aren't actually the case. History doesn't bear that out.

Sara Hendren

It's like Steve with ALS being a very sophisticated user of the iPad. You don't need to swell the piano music in the background and think of him as being “rescued” by that technology. He's getting assistance… and so are you. So build your world for assistance that is always dignified and elegant and is providing people with the kinds of assistance that they want. I have very little patience for the attitude of assistive technology. I use that term with my students as a shorthand, but there’s that presumption that hovering somehow way over there is that specialty of rehab engineering that's called Assistive Tech.

Sara Hendren

So what you all are trying to do, I think, is to see the array of human tools and extended technologies as living in this abundance and then trying to draw out use cases that have been not so well attended to: the idea that carrying 45 pounds of cargo is hard for a lot of people… in a way that's another hiding-in-plain-sight use scenario. It's like the last mile problem when it comes to folks who need to, or are trying to decide whether to use their car or the subway when there's a little barrier. Could we intervene in that barrier? Would that make for a more flexible porous city?

Jeffrey Schnapp

I very much appreciate your point regarding the redundancy that's built into the notion of assistive technology. Because, after all, what is a technology in the first place? And the notion that the assistive or assistance is required only by a small sector of the population violates common sense as well as observable social behavior in almost every domain.

Sara Hendren

I mean, there's a reason why anthropologists identify key moments of human civilization with tool use, right? Because tools are organized behaviors of the human to plan its actions. So we can quibble all day about cyborgs and the gist of technology or about what's human and what's mechanical, but the plain fact is that we're all getting help. Those kinds of divisions illustrate non-disabled people's eagerness to separate their own bodies from those of someone like Steve. That's where we go wrong, right? That's where we miss all kinds of ways that we could make a more dignified life for a lot of people.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Yes. And this was something that was certainly important to us in the development of the gita robot (which is the first product that we've created). The notion that a solution that's good for person X could also be a great solution for person Y and that they are not mutually exclusive. Precisely, one of the vehicle’s key features are smart behaviors that are adaptive behaviors triggered by human behaviors. It's the human interface that, in a sense, drives that process. So it's very much about human augmentation and extension, which is to say a relationship that's an interactive one, where the adaptation is happening on both sides. In a sense it's not unidirectional.

Sara Hendren

That's exactly right. And I think that that's why I prefer the term adaptive technology: not because I'm obsessed with getting the language right but instead to tell the truth about how the body always adjusts itself to the world. And the world might also adjust itself to bodies. That choreography is actually a deeply true state of the human. That's why disability is so interesting: in fact, it arrives for everyone over the course of a lifespan that is no more, no less than made up of periods of human dependency. And I do mean, yes, interdependence, but also pull out the plain fact of dependence--the way we enter the world, the way we often exit it, and lots of interim states in between. Can we be affirmative about that and to see both the urgency and the naturalness and beauty of it?

Sara Hendren

And that's what's hard to hold together: not to romanticize our need for assistive tools but to let it be part of what makes us human and accept the extended body as a natural state. That's a little bit more philosophically minded… I think designing those features into gita is really interesting because of the way it's housed and covered, all the color and material choices, all those interactions. Each one of those makes something possible, sends a message to its viewer and user but also to who's watching it on the street. That's what makes design so interesting, right? The fact that material things are an index of ideas, from the most high-minded to the most practical.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Indeed, and when is What Can a Body Do? coming out?

Sara Hendren

In August 2020.

Jeffrey Schnapp

Well, we're looking forward to seeing it in the world. And thank you so much: I've really enjoyed this conversation.

Sara Hendren

Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Thank you for listening to the Piaggio Fast Forward podcast and come back soon for further lively conversations about walking, light mobility, robots and the design of neighborhoods, cities, and towns. The PFF podcast is hosted by Jeffrey Schnapp, sound engineering by Robert Allen, narration by Ryan Harms, produced by Elizabeth Murphy, web designed by Jerry Ding. Intro music is Funkorama by Kevin MacLeod. End music is Your Call by Kevin MacLeod. Special thanks to Tory Leeming. To learn more about PFF and gita, please visit piaggiofastforward.com.