Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR and LitHub
A fascinating and provocative new way of looking at the things we use and the spaces we inhabit, and a call to imagine a better-designed world for us all.
Furniture and tools, kitchens and campuses and city streets—nearly everything human beings make and use is assistive technology, meant to bridge the gap between body and world. Yet unless, or until, a misfit between our own body and the world is acute enough to be understood as disability, we may never stop to consider—or reconsider—the hidden assumptions on which our everyday environment is built.
In a series of vivid stories drawn from the lived experience of disability and the ideas and innovations that have emerged from it—from cyborg arms to customizable cardboard chairs to deaf architecture—Sara Hendren invites us to rethink the things and settings we live with. What might assistance based on the body’s stunning capacity for adaptation—rather than a rigid insistence on “normalcy”—look like? Can we foster interdependent, not just independent, living? How do we creatively engineer public spaces that allow us all to navigate our common terrain? By rendering familiar objects and environments newly strange and wondrous, What Can a Body Do? helps us imagine a future that will better meet the extraordinary range of our collective needs and desires.
Sara Hendren is an artist, design researcher, and writer who teaches design for disability at Olin College of Engineering. Her work has been exhibited widely and is held in the permanent collections of MoMA and the Cooper Hewitt design museum; her writing and design work have been featured in The New York Times and Fast Company and on NPR. Hendren has been a fellow at New America and the Carey Institute for Global Good. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.