Spring 2024 Conable Lecture

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Annual Conable Lecture: Access Vernaculars: Disability and Design in Putin’s Russia

The concept of accessible design, a technology to promote the social inclusion of people with disabilities, emerged in the late 20th century in Western Europe and North America, and has subsequently been exported to a variety of global destinations as a distinctive cultural category and vernacular lexicon. Accessible design circulates in friction, and becomes meaningful in specific ways to social actors embedded in diverse changing cultural contexts. This talk draws on ethnographic research about the spread of accessible design in Russia in the 2010s to highlight the ways that seemingly contradictory or corrupt implementation still allows elements of accessible design to proliferate, in both political discourse and material infrastructure, with mixed results for actually disabled people. I argue that considering accessible design in this way offers a new consideration enduring anthropological questions about how technologies move between societies, and the ways in which the built environment reflect and express the moral politics of a society. I identify as two kinds of access vernaculars, or stories about inaccessibility, that circulated in Russia in the 2010s. The first kind of inaccess story, familiar to disability advocates in North America, centresdisability expertise and the needs of disabled people. The second kind of inaccess story mobilizes evidence of inaccessible accessible design to make broader political points about the Russian government’s failure to care for its citizens, and often circulates without disabled people’s voices. I argue that both of these kinds of inaccess stories proliferated in Russian vernacular discourse between 2010 and 2022, and demonstrate the ways that accessible design moves in global friction.

Jessica Hardin
Event Snapshot
When and Where
April 04, 2024
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Room/Location: INS-1180

Open to the Public

Interpreter Requested?


creativity and innovation
global engagement
interdisciplinary studies
personalized healthcare technology