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Disability × Maternity: A Household User’s Manual for Young Mothers with Disability

Frani O’Toole, with Liyan Zhao and Vaidehi Tikekar

What would it be like to design for help — not with a medical model but a social one? And how can design help caregivers in need of care themselves? A recently developed manual for young mothers with acquired disabilities, Disability x Maternity considers these questions offering guidelines for using space. The guidelines were co-written by Frani O’Toole and her mother Elizabeth, who had a stroke when the younger O’Toole was eight months old. O’Toole recalls how their shared household became a landscape of care, in a disabled as well as a maternal sense. Theirs was one scenario absent from public, architectural, and even rehabilitation discourse. Intended to be placed in the folders that patients received upon discharge from a rehabilitation center, the manual draws on architectural tools to sketch the placemaking advice Elizabeth O’Toole wished she had received upon returning home herself. The manual is divided into four parts: the floor, the drawers, the background, and the street. It offers first person, home-based tactical design strategies for hemiplegics like O’Toole’s mother who might receive training on Independent Living but actually find themselves responsible for many types of care.

Black and white line drawing of an adult and a toddler smiling and lying next to each other on a white grid that sits atop a light pink background.

Visual Description

A simple black and white line drawing depicts two figures—an adult and a toddler—in black lines, leaving the figures uncolored. The adult figure lies down with their right hand over their hand, smiling in the direction of a toddler. The adult figure’s head, shoulders, and top of their torso are in the frame. The toddler smiles down at the adult while holding onto their left shoulder, with their whole body included in the frame. Behind the figures is a white grid with light grey lines framed by a light pink background. A bold, sanserif X sits on the left-most row of boxes.

Black and white aerial line drawing of a person on a blanket with a child, surrounded by toys, a couch, and TV, set over a dark teal background. On the right of the illustration is a column of white text.

Visual Description

A black and white line drawing of an adult and child on the middle-left of the frame is surrounded by a dark teal background. The elements in the composition are all white, with their forms defined by thick black lines. The top-down view of the scene hides the figures’ faces and emphasizes their use of the space. The adult and a child sit on a blanket with a grid pattern that is covered with toys. On the left side of a blanket sits a basket with toys. A cane lies on the floor between the adult and a large couch. To the right of the figures and perpendicular to the couch is a TV on a stand. White text over the illustration reads, “Part 2: The Living Room.” On the right side of the spread are five paragraphs of white text that describe the way a family has adjusted to the mother’s limited mobility to ensure she can play with the child without hazard. 

Four columns of text incorporate two linear illustrations. The illustrations are a basket (on the left) and a young child interacting with pillows that sit on an armchair (on the right).

Visual Description

Four columns of black text and two black linear illustrations are set against a white background. The two columns of text on the left describe the changing role certain objects have in the daily life of a mother with limited mobility. The bottom left corner shows a linear illustration of a laundry basket, which is one of the objects discussed in the text. The two right columns of text describe the adjustments made to the furniture the mother uses that enables her to sit and move about more comfortably. The illustration in the bottom right corner depicts a small child interacting with pillows on an armchair.


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