(Page 3 of 3)
So much for “us” versus “them.” As Kaufman loves to say, the disabled “is the only minority anyone can join at any time.”
There are, of course, cheerier thoughts to consider, but Kaufman is not trying to depress anyone. He is, quite literally and in a big way, trying to change the world.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence, where he studied disability issues, Kaufman immersed himself in disability and aging studies at the University of Chicago, earning master’s degrees in psychiatric social work/human development and in public policy. Then he entered Columbia University and earned another master’s in cultural anthropology and a PhD in applied anthropology.
Armed with these credentials and fueled by a rare passion, Kaufman founded Disability Works, Inc., a small firm that helps corporations, government agencies (including the IRS and FEMA), and educational institutions to “think creatively about disability and aging issues.”
“I’m a social entrepreneur,” he explains. “I see myself as both an advocate and an educator.” Kaufman looks at different areas within an organization—from recruitment to retention and from management to marketing—to create a better life for the people within that organization.
“My focus,” Kaufman says, “is to give people with disabilities the tools to interact with the world around them and provide greater independence.” “But these issues,” he adds, “have an effect not just on people with disabilities but on all of society.”
That’s why Kaufman urges his clients to embrace Universal Design when they’re planning a new facility (or responding to a lawsuit). Universal Design is not yet ubiquitous, but it has already improved the quality of your life in many ways.
Consider the vegetable peeler. Today, many kitchen utensils have fat, plastic handles. Originally, these handles were introduced as “assistive devices” for people with gripping limitations, but now there’s a “big grip” utensil in nearly every kitchen drawer. Not because the population of grip-challenged Americans has ballooned (although it has grown), but simply because they’re easier to use—no matter how strong your grip. Consider the volume control on a public telephone. It’s there for the hearing impaired, but if a fire truck roars by while you’re talking, you’re going to crank it up—no matter how good your hearing.
And consider the curb cut (that little ramp at the end of the sidewalk). Originally, they were installed to help people in wheelchairs get around, but if you’ve ever pushed a baby stroller you know how handy they can be.
Design that improves the quality of life for all. How enlightened.