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The Future Is Now at ‘Access+Ability’ Exhibition

Cooper Hewitt

Wearing the new breed of hearing aids — with style. — Hanna Agar

Trying to maneuver my friend in a wheelchair around New York City gave me a whole new appreciation for accessibility — and about 1,000 ideas for how we need to improve things for the disabled. Many of the designs featured in the rave-reviewed “Access+Ability” exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt museum in Manhattan were similarly inspired by personal experiences. At this thought-provoking exhibition, designers — including people with disabilities and their loved ones — get to display innovative solutions that make day-to-day life easier, and far better looking.

Of the many areas for improvement, an app called BlindWays can help people with visual impairment find bus stops, and a cooking prep system aids people making their own meals. The exhibit featured quite a few new takes on prosthetic limbs — some more affordable than others. This is especially helpful for younger people, since they grow out of their prostheses quickly. Other prosthetic limbs looked way more interesting than others we've seen, like works of art with bright colors and patterns. The Hands of X prostheses are custom-made works of art fashioned from wood, leather, felt, and stone.

And that's another huge shift — not trying to cover up disability. The designs in “Access+Ability” feature bold aesthetics coupled with groundbreaking tech. No more boring beige for compression socks and hearing aids — now there are bold colors that are meant to be noticed, not blend in. A hearing aid with bling? You betcha.

There were several cutting-edge pieces right out of sci fi — a skintight mobility suit that helps wearers to walk, and an "eye" connected to the tongue that helps people with visual impairment see their environment through vibrations. Not just for Daredevil anymore, the future is now.

Maryjane Fahey is the editor of Disrupt Aging