A Magical Afternoon with Sara Hendren

Sara Hendren uses many titles: author, design researcher, parent advocate, and professor. Today, Hendren has earned a new title: wizard. 

According to Dave Bulkowski, Executive Director of Disability Advocates of Kent County, Hendren brings together people from different disciplines in an almost magical form of collaboration and innovation.

However, attendees of the Disability Remakes the World workshop did not wave a wand to solve their challenges. Bulkowski warned the audience not to leave the gathering with a vague feeling of inspiration. 

“We’re not here to fix problems,” Bulkowski said. “We’re here to ask better questions.”

One question Hendren focused on was how professional settings could better encourage employees to let their imaginations run loose. Seemingly random, off-the-wall ideas can turn out to be the start of something big. 

Beyond encouraging unbridled curiosity, Hendren called for designers to find targeted solutions suited to their particular design project. Not all innovations need to reach the large scale of Universal Design to improve people’s lives in a meaningful way. 

“Universal Design features like curb cuts are great,” Hendren said. “What else can we do?”

One example of focused intervention comes from StopGap Foundation in Canada. This organization provides low-cost, colorful ramps while acknowledging this is a stop-gap measure to creating long-term accessibility. 

Participants found themselves considering similar interventions during a series of design scenarios. They each joined a group and received a prompt focused on improving a public space such as a streetscape.

Resource scarcity defined the design process. Groups found themselves reacting to situations in which they had limited time, money, and public support to work with.

Although they encountered obstacles, each group successfully created a proposed solution. Participants shared the results of their scenario with the rest of the audience and displayed sketches of their suggestions.

The most exciting, but intimidating, aspect of the design process is how open-ended it can be. There is no one-size-fits-all design method, but one can develop the forward-thinking mindset of a designer. 

“The future is being written here,” Hendren said. 

Those looking to learn more about Hendren’s wizardry can visit https://sarahendren.com/. More information about the Absolutely Accessible Kent movement can be found at https://www.dakc.us/aak/

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