Designing for accessibility: From Frida Kahlo’s corsets to Franklin Roosevelt’s leg braces

One in 5 Americans has a disability, whether it’s diabetes or Down syndrome, asthma or paralysis from a vehicle accident. To make the most out of lifestyles, human beings forever flip to layout. Nevada VA loan

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Built environments are one example of the electricity of accessible questioning. Small choices like shrink cuts in a sidewalk or elevators in subway stations can make the distinction between an individual in a wheelchair (or, for that be counted, with a baby in a stroller) making it to their destination thoroughly—or in any respect.

But the design of more non-public property—things we would even term “style”—rely, too. Access to low-priced listening to aids is essential, but wouldn’t it better if they have been additionally stunning? Ditto canes and prosthetics, velcro jeans and onesies with belly flaps for a child’s feeding tubes.

People have constantly lived with disabilities (Hannibal, the historical warrior, misplaced an eye fixed). But orthopedics, prosthetics, and other compensatory gear have most effective stepped forward seeing that historic Carthage—if you could find the money for it. Here, we’ve compiled the tales of a number of records’s maximum famous individuals and the latest gear they have been capable of get right of entry to.

Gottfried von Berlichingen’s iron fingers
iron palms
Technical drawings of the mercenary’s iron hands.


“Götz,” as he was not-so-affectionately known, turned into a complicated man. Both a mercenary and a poet (his important literary contribution appears to be the discovery of the phrase “lick my arse”), he fought in countless army campaigns and blood feuds at some point of his 47-year career. For most of those years, he depended on an iron proper arm.

It commenced within the 1504 siege of Landhut, while, depending on who you ask, cannon fire ripped his arm off on the elbow, or brought about him to accidentally reduce his arm off with his very own sword. Determined to keep preventing (and, presumably, writing), the 23-year-vintage Götz commissioned an iron alternative.

Iron fingers
A photo of Götz’s prosthesis.


The first replacement hand changed into a as an alternative typical five-fingered affair. It bent barely on the top of the palm to clumsily grasp a sword. But the second one hand, commissioned a few years later, turned into a severe improve. It ought to hold not most effective a sword, but the reins of a horse or even the thin tip of a quill. Its mechanical palms bent, like human fingers, at three joints, curling ever-tighter across the object in question. This early masterpiece of biomimicry served “Götz of the Iron Hand,” as he have become recognized, for the relaxation of his murderous profession—and into an extended and peaceful retirement wherein he made poetry, now not conflict.

Peter Stuyvesant’s peg leg
The final Dutch director of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant’s call (suggested “Sty-va-despatched”) remains written all across the town now referred to as New York.

Peter stuyvesant portray
Asher B. Durand’s 1835 painting “Peter Stuyvesant and the Trumpeter.”

Courtesy of the New York Historical Society

Born in 1610 in the Netherlands, Stuyvesant joined the Dutch West India Company as a young guy. He was first stationed in Brazil, then within the Caribbean, which is where, in 1644, his leg turned into crushed with the aid of a cannonball and in the end amputated under the knee. He back in brief to the Netherlands to get better, however speedy started out hatching new plans, influenced with the aid of the belief the loss of his leg changed into a sign from God that he become destined for greatness.

In 1645, he ventured to North America, with a wood peg for a leg, which he reportedly studded with silver nails. He then spent the next 20 years harassing Native Americans, suppressing religions that differed from his very own, and tending to a pear tree he introduced from the motherland.

Helen Keller’s ocular prosthesis
When Helen Keller was simply 19 months old, she contracted a life-threatening infection, probable meningitis or scarlet fever, that made her deaf and blind. As she grew, she used selfmade symptoms to communicate (and ultimately Braille, American Sign Language, and the English Alphabet), distinguished own family individuals through the sound in their steps, and study human beings’s lips along with her fingers. In maturity, she wrote a dozen books and became an global advise for women’s suffrage and the rights of employees.

Helen Keller
Helen Keller, possibly photographed at in New York City in April 1913.

Library of Congress

Looking via pictures of Keller at some stage in her lifetime, attentive visitors will word a diffused shift in the manner she become portrayed. In her young people, Keller changed into normally photographed in profile, a manner of hiding her left eye. In later pix, but, Keller faces the camera without delay, revealing hanging blue eyes. The difference was ocular prosthetics, which Keller had implanted whilst she turned into an adult.

Such prosthetic gadgets date returned heaps of years. One ancient Iranian woman turned into buried in 2,900 BCE with a watch made of bitumen paste, lined in gold to appear like the rays of the solar. For her component, Keller acquired spheres fabricated from glass. Today, maximum artificial eyeballs are a convex sheet of acrylic with the pupil, retina, or even some capillaries painted on; the whole lot is placed over an orbital implant. Typically, these gadgets aren’t medically important. The rapper Fetty Wap as an instance, made the choice to forestall using his prosthetic. But many keep to pick them for look and comfort. Others, like the glass artist Dale Chihuly, opt for eye patches.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s leg braces and cane
Roosevelt in a wheelchair
Franklin D. Roosevelt, his canine Fala, and Ruthie Bie at Hill Top Cottage in Hyde Park, New York.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library/Wikimedia

Many American presidents have had disabilities. Bill Clinton wears hearing aids and Woodrow Wilson had dyslexia. Teddy Roosevelt was blinded inside the left eye in a boxing healthy at the begin of his second time period, at the same time as Dwight Eisenhower had numerous heart attacks and strokes at the same time as within the White House, one of which precipitated aphasia, a shape of brain damage that makes speech difficult. James Madison, one of the founding fathers, had a condition now thought to be epilepsy. But possibly the president most intently associated with the rights of individuals with disability is Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Franklin Roosevelt (standing with cane) and Eleanor Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor Roosevelt.

Library of Congress

Roosevelt changed into diagnosed with polio at the uncommon age of 39. The end result changed into paraplegia—immobility that extends to the stomach, pelvis, and legs. He turned into outfitted with complete-leg unique braces, which allowed him to face. To hold upright, he additionally required a cane. When coupled with the arm of a family member or White House useful resource, the cane and braces allowed him to swivel his hips ahead and provide the illusion of strolling in public, some thing he felt changed into vital to preserving his political legitimacy. The press was complicit on this; newspaper and mag photographers agreed now not to picture him in a way that showed his physical incapacity. Secret Service retailers were advised to problem deviant pics and break any supposedly pictures that ran counter to the administration’s narrative.

Despite this, for a great deal of Roosevelt’s grownup lifestyles, he moved round in a custom wheelchair, which changed into sincerely a narrow dinner chair retrofitted with wheels.

Frida Kahlo’s plaster corsets
In one short caricature, Frida Kahlo imagined herself in a see-through dress. Beneath the outline of the conventional Mexican clothing, she revealed a tough corset retaining her upper body together, a metallic strip walking from her stomach button to her neck, her pubic hair uncovered, and butterflies hiking up her leg. “Las apariencias engañan,” she wrote under: Appearances can be deceiving.

Plaster corset
Frida Kahlo’s plaster corsets spoke to her hopes, dreams, and beliefs.

Photo: Javier Hinojosa, courtesy of V&A Publishing

When Kahlo become six years old she shriveled polio. It left her right leg shorter and weaker than her left. Then, at the age of 18, even as reading to emerge as a medical doctor, a wood bus collided with a streetcar, sending an iron handrail through her pelvis. Both legs, numerous ribs, and her collarbone have been additionally broken; three vertebrae had been displaced. The incident, which left her mattress-ridden for years, is also what made her an artist. She took up painting herself in her sickbed, using a replicate.

While she went directly to journey widely, Kahlo needed support to get around. Between 1940 and 1954, she went via 28 unique corsets, none of which regarded absolutely comfy. Some had been crafted from metal, however others were fashioned from plaster, which she painted with hammers and sickles (she was an avowed Communist) and compact fetuses (the coincidence left her unable to have kids).

That’s no longer the handiest device Kahlo used to enhance her body. In 1953, medical doctors amputated her right leg on the knee. Her prosthetic—and a few sincerely exceptional velvet platform shoes—are a part of the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” about her lifestyles and artwork. Part of the show’s aim, says Catherine Morris, one of the curators who prepared the showcase, is to expose Kahlo in all her complexities.

Prosthetic leg
Frida Kahlo’s prosthetic leg is a part of a brand new showcase at the Brooklyn Museum.

Photo: Javier Hinojosa, courtesy of V&A Publishing

“Too regularly she has been portrayed as a victim—of Rivera, of her disabilities, of her no longer having youngsters. Kahlo’s complexity is her energy and her life reports are what drove her art,” Morris wrote PopSci thru e mail. “I also assume it is important to well known that generally capable people frequently need to consider that those with disabilities triumph over them—that in some way their humanity is out of doors of incapacity. Kahlo by no means overcame her disabilities, in fact she died from them, however what she produced and the way she lived her life had been fully attached to her reviews as a person with disabilities.”

Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair
Like Franklin Roosevelt, Stephen Hawking had a custom wheelchair. The overdue theoretical physicist was recognized with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, additionally called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s ailment, in 1963 at the age of 21, which progressively paralyzed him. At first he used simplest crutches, however subsequently required a wheelchair. It additionally made it more and more hard for him to jot down or talk.

Stephen Hawking at Kennedy Space Center
Stephen Hawking photographed on a go to to Kennedy Space Center.

NASA/Kim Shiflett

For a time, Hawking spoke back to spelling cards along with his eyebrows, picking letters and words with little up and down movements. But in 1986, he used the laptop application Equalizer for the first time, which allowed him to press a switch to pick words or terms. His buddies rigged a computer to his wheelchair, so he ought to take the robo-translator with him. As he lost the capacity to use his arms, he began to use his cheek. While the software program updated in many instances over the years, the basic mechanics helped Hawking talk until his loss of life in 2018.