Beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’

Working with Year 5 and Year 6 students from the Manchester School of Architecture in the &rchitecture atelier has been a fantastic experience – they are very engaged (and engaging) and have been thinking and working hard on how we might think differently about inclusive design beyond it just being an ‘add-on’ and ‘retro-fit’ to so-called normal design. But one thing that keeps happening is a defaulting in conversation to the common sense  language of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Such everyday remarks construct relationships between disabled ‘others’ and the architects who design for them in a particular – and I suggest – limiting way. This use of ‘them’, however well meaning and empathetic, does two things simultaneously. First, it assumes there are no ‘them’ within architecture, that architects are obviously all able-bodied. Second, the ‘us’ becomes non-problematic. It assumes a neutral term/place, which does not have to be critically challenged. Its just normal. Only the ‘them’ need to be interpreted and designed for.

For me, the most revealing and important aspect of this is that we can only really begin to unravel how disability and ability work in everyday life by investigating the changing relations between both. Rather than seeing disability (or ability) as a straightforward representational category, we need to focus on the relational in-between spaces, that is, on changing and partial processes and practices that come to frame dis/ability in different ways through time and place.