Design Meets Disability

Design Meets Disability

By Graham Pullin

How design for disabled people and mainstream design could inspire, provoke, and radically change each other.





How design for disabled people and mainstream design could inspire, provoke, and radically change each other.

Eyeglasses have been transformed from medical necessity to fashion accessory. This revolution has come about through embracing the design culture of the fashion industry. Why shouldn't design sensibilities also be applied to hearing aids, prosthetic limbs, and communication aids? In return, disability can provoke radical new directions in mainstream design. Charles and Ray Eames's iconic furniture was inspired by a molded plywood leg splint that they designed for injured and disabled servicemen. Designers today could be similarly inspired by disability.

In Design Meets Disability, Graham Pullin shows us how design and disability can inspire each other. In the Eameses' work there was a healthy tension between cut-to-the-chase problem solving and more playful explorations. Pullin offers examples of how design can meet disability today. Why, he asks, shouldn't hearing aids be as fashionable as eyewear? What new forms of braille signage might proliferate if designers kept both sighted and visually impaired people in mind? Can simple designs avoid the need for complicated accessibility features? Can such emerging design methods as “experience prototyping” and “critical design” complement clinical trials?

Pullin also presents a series of interviews with leading designers about specific disability design projects, including stepstools for people with restricted growth, prosthetic legs (and whether they can be both honest and beautifully designed), and text-to-speech technology with tone of voice. When design meets disability, the diversity of complementary, even contradictory, approaches can enrich each field.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262162555 368 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 114 color illus.


$49.95 T ISBN: 9780262516747 368 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 114 color illus.


  • Design Meets Disability may be compared to Donald Norman's (1988) Psychology of Everyday Things, which showed how research in cognitive psychology can inform commercial design. Similarly, Design Meets Disability explains how commercial design principles can be used to make more personally identifiable and valuable assistive technologies. As important as Norman's book was to technology design, Design Meets Disability could have a similar impact within the AT field.

    Augmentative and Alternative Communication

  • The book... acts as a manifesto by condemning many of the existing products designed for people with disabilities, and challenging designers to use their skills to develop inspiring alternatives.

    The New York Times


  • There is huge potential for innovation in the daily lives of disabled people. Graham Pullin's timely and inspiring book describes a wide range of design challenges; many of these sound niche at first but have broad potential. What are needed are off-the-wall thinking, design craft, and engineering brilliance—plus disabled people as expert co-designers.

    John Thackara

    Designer and author of In the Bubble

  • This book will change your emotional response to disability forever, as you discover that designs can celebrate a medical necessity, as in elegant and fashionable eyewear from Cutler and Gross, or openly express functionality, as in the carbon fiber running legs sported by Aimee Mullins. Graham Pullin creates this change with seven chapters that are rich with examples and luscious images, combining deep thinking with a light touch. In the second half of the book he presents us with a fascinating collection of his favorite designers, leaving us yearning for the meetings between design and disability that such rich talent might generate, given the opportunity.

    Bill Moggridge

    Cofounder of IDEO and author of Designing Interactions

  • As a teacher of design through the lens of disability, Graham Pullin is without peer.

    Hugh M. Herr

    MIT Media Lab