critical design lab

The Critical Design Lab draws on the methods of critical and interrogative design, intersectional feminist design theory, and crip technoscience to address thorny questions about embodiment, technology, space, and power. The lab, which houses Mapping Access, is open to undergraduate and graduate students in any discipline.

We are artists, designers, critical makers, storytellers, filmmakers,  activists, and scholars. Collectively, our interests span disability culture and arts, soundscapes, environmental humanities, gender, health, and critical urbanisms. The 2017-2018 lab cohort includes one artist-in-residence, one postdoctoral fellow, five graduate students, and one undergraduate student.

 

Meet the lab

 

 
 [Image description: an olive-skinned person with short black hair and black glasses looks at the camera at an an gle. They are smiling slightly. They wear a black-and-white checkered shirt, a green cardigan, and a bowtie made out of wood, which has a botanical look]

[Image description: an olive-skinned person with short black hair and black glasses looks at the camera at an an gle. They are smiling slightly. They wear a black-and-white checkered shirt, a green cardigan, and a bowtie made out of wood, which has a botanical look]

Aimi Hamraie

Director, Critical Design Lab and Mapping Access project

Aimi Hamraie is a critical maker, design historian and ethnographer, and professor based in Nashville, Tennessee. They are Assistant professor of Medicine, Health, & Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University. In addition to directing Mapping Access, Hamraie is the author of Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability, as well as articles in Design and Culture, Disability Studies Quarterly, Foucault Studies, Hypatia, Philosophia, and Age Culture Humanities. Their current book project, Enlivened City: public bodies, healthy spaces, livable worlds, explores the politics of livability, health promotion, and evidence-based urban design. Hamraie also runs Office Ecologies, an art-science-humanities collaboration concerned with enlivening spaces of knowledge work.

 [Image description: a light-skinned person with a brown beard and eyebrows looks at the camera. His eyes have the letters O and K painted on them with black glitter paint. He wears a backwards cap made of grey fabric. Behind him are large fronds of a plant.]

[Image description: a light-skinned person with a brown beard and eyebrows looks at the camera. His eyes have the letters O and K painted on them with black glitter paint. He wears a backwards cap made of grey fabric. Behind him are large fronds of a plant.]

Kevin Gotkin

Artist-in-residence

Kevin Gotkin is an academic, activist, and artist. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, & Communication at NYU, where his research examines disability and media in the U.S. in the late 20th century. His teaching and artistic practice currently focuses on equitable and inclusive DJ artistry. And he is a Co-Founder of Disability/Arts/NYC, an arts advocacy organization that supports New York’s emerging disability arts scene.

 
 [Image description: a light-skinned person with shoulder-length brown hair smiles at the camera while touching her hair. She is wearing a black shirt. In the background, the top of a rocky mountain is visible, as well as a few other hikers]

[Image description: a light-skinned person with shoulder-length brown hair smiles at the camera while touching her hair. She is wearing a black shirt. In the background, the top of a rocky mountain is visible, as well as a few other hikers]

Leah Samples

Leah Samples is a founding member of the Mapping Access project, which she developed with Aimi Hamraie as a Library Dean's Fellow while pursuing her M.A. in Community Research and Action at Vanderbilt University. Currently, Samples is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her areas of interest include the history of disability, medicine, and technology in the mid-twentieth century.  In addition to the Critical Design Lab, Samples is at work on two research projects. One explores the roles and experiences of families and students as participants in the production of mental deficiency in postwar America at the Elwyn Training School in Media, Pennsylvania. The other looks at the history of rehabilitation engineering in the U.S. with a particular focus on Warren Bledsoe and his influence on orientation and mobility practices, such as the long cane technique, in the mid-twentieth century.

 
 [Image description: a light-skinned person with short dark hair and red glasses looks at the camera, wearing a pink tank top. The background is bright green]

[Image description: a light-skinned person with short dark hair and red glasses looks at the camera, wearing a pink tank top. The background is bright green]

Cassandra Hartblay

Cassandra Hartblay, PhD, is an anthropologist and performance ethnographer working at the intersection with queer feminist disability studies, critical design studies, performance/art, and activism. She is a 2017-2018 postdoctoral associate at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. She was a postdoc and core member of the UC Collaboratory for Ethnographic Design (CoLED) 2015-2017. Her book project, Totally Normal, an ethnographic monograph based on long term field work with people with disabilities in Russia (especially the generation that I call the first post-Soviet generation, born in the late 70s/ early 80s), explores how the material design of the built environment is central to global understandings of a "normal" country. Her work on the the moral implications of design norms and standards in the construction accessibility ramps in one Russian city appeared in American Ethnologist winter 2017. Her ethnographic play, I WAS NEVER ALONE, explores design, disability, and social life for people with mobility and speech disabilities in Russia in their own words.

 
 [Image description: a lightly tan person with medium-length dark brown hair parted to the right looks straight at the camera. She is smiling with teeth and wears a pair of red glasses. Her photo crops below the elbow and she is wearing a grey, long-sleeved shirt with a block of black near the top. The background is white marble.]

[Image description: a lightly tan person with medium-length dark brown hair parted to the right looks straight at the camera. She is smiling with teeth and wears a pair of red glasses. Her photo crops below the elbow and she is wearing a grey, long-sleeved shirt with a block of black near the top. The background is white marble.]

Maggie Mang

Maggie is currently a first-year MA student at Vanderbilt University’s Medicine, Health, and Society. Her research interests revolve broadly around intersectional and interdisciplinary feminist scholarship, biopolitics, science & technology, and disaster politics.

 [Image description: an olive-skinned person with cropped brown hair and bangs looks at the camera at an angle. She is wearing a black-and-white striped turtleneck with her hand in pocket and leans against a white wall. There is a wooden picture frame hung on the wall beside her.]

[Image description: an olive-skinned person with cropped brown hair and bangs looks at the camera at an angle. She is wearing a black-and-white striped turtleneck with her hand in pocket and leans against a white wall. There is a wooden picture frame hung on the wall beside her.]

Rebecca Rahimi

Rebecca is a first-year MA student at Vanderbilt University’s center for Medicine, Health and Society. Her research interests center on narrative and music therapies, the medical humanities, elderly populations with Alzheimer’s and dementia and notions of culture and identity in Iranian memory. Within the lab, she plans to explore concepts of elderly identity and understandings of “home” within interstitial spaces.

 
 [Image description: a white person with shoulder-length brown hair, hoop earrings, a necklace, and a black shirt smiles at the camera. The background is a tree-lined sidewalk.]

[Image description: a white person with shoulder-length brown hair, hoop earrings, a necklace, and a black shirt smiles at the camera. The background is a tree-lined sidewalk.]

Alessandra Pearson

Alessandra Pearson is currently a graduate student in the University of Denver's Emergent Digital Practices program, where her research focuses on art/tech/disability. She is particularly interested in cultural and technological access and how they effect agency and identity. Prior to school, she spent time working at many different arts organizations, most recently at Fractured Atlas. She is also a visual artist with a love of pen drawing, but is learning to take her work off of the 2-D surface with creative coding and motion graphics.

 
 [Image description: a white person with wavy, shoulder-length dark blond hair smiles at the camera, wearing a black shirt with tiny crescent moons on it. The background is a beige wall]

[Image description: a white person with wavy, shoulder-length dark blond hair smiles at the camera, wearing a black shirt with tiny crescent moons on it. The background is a beige wall]

Lauren Jones

Lauren is a third year undergraduate at Vanderbilt University studying Medicine, Health, & Society and Biological Sciences. Her research focuses on the intersections of homelessness and reproductive justice. In the lab, her project addresses menstrual inequalities.