About Disability At Home
This website documents the ingenuity and creativity that caregivers and disabled people, including those with chronic illnesses, use every day to make home accessible. These images were shared with me during research for my upcoming book about disability and care. I spoke with 44 couples in 22 states about their daily lives. But because research began during the pandemic, I couldn’t visit in person. So, I asked for photos instead. The result was hundreds of photos I knew the world needed to see.
Many didn’t come into this knowing how to adapt their homes or how to make them accessible, but they learned through trial and error. This site shows the profound competence and capability of disabled folks and caregivers, that it can be figured out, that you can make life work, and that millions of people do it every day. I hope this gives others ideas and confidence for their own creative world-building practices at home. And of course, this site is only a few ideas, there are surely so many other ways other people do this same work everyday. Let’s work to make it easier for the millions of people across the US who are disabled and navigating an inaccessible world. To facilitate, I have included suggested search terms you can use to purchase similar items in the photo descriptions, as well as approximate costs when possible. There’s even a downloadable med sheet that one caregiver provided!
It’s time to think of disability as generative — it creates vast and various disability communities and there’s so many more out there than one might think. Indeed, there are millions of disabled people and caregivers. I want to share the bounty of collective knowledge to be found here. Let’s drop the pretense and talk plainly about getting needs met (especially when it comes to safely bathing or toileting). It’s part of life that has to be figured out; let’s do it together. It’s also of vital importance. Less than five percent of housing in US is accessible for people with “moderate mobility difficulties and less than one percent of housing is accessible for wheelchair users.” Relatedly, the Centers for Disease Control report about 36 million falls at home per year, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths—many of which could be prevented through the installation of grab bars and other simple home modifications.
These disability life hacks are also beautiful! As the activist Alice Wong noted in an interview, disabled people share a culture of hacking that doesn’t really have monetary value associated with it, but “we see value and beauty in things that people don’t really consider.” What could be more beautiful and valuable than how we care for ourselves and each other in our intimate home lives?
Home is where we make life work. These photos do the critical work of taking what is usually hidden behind closed doors and making it visible. If you’d like to read more about the critical reasons for documenting this knowledge, such as the lack of social safety nets for caregiving and the devaluing of disability and adaptation, I wrote about this project for Real Life Magazine where I discuss the many influences on my thinking about these issues, and nod to the others that have already made similar work. And my essay Care Tactics in The Baffler about this project was selected by LongReads as one of the top reads of the week! Finally, I’m indebted to a variety of people and projects that inspired this website, such as Engineering At Home, the Zebreda Makes it Work YouTube channel, and some fantastic Twitter threads on creating #AccessibilityAtHome and hygiene hacks.
The research for this project was generously supported by a Social Science Research Council Rapid Response to Covid-19 Grant, the UConn Humanities Institute Faculty Fellowship and the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at UConn. Funding to support the creation and maintenance of the website was provided by the UConn Scholarship and Collaboration in Humanities and Arts Program.
Laura Mauldin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Connecticut. Her scholarly work focuses on how science, technology, and medicine shape contemporary life and is based on the contention that disability is a political and social category that intersects with all other social categories.
Undergraduate Research Assistant
Makayla Dawkins is from the inner city of New Haven, CT. She is a senior at the University of Connecticut majoring in Gender Studies and Human Development & Family Science and completing an accelerated Masters of Public Health.
Harris Kornstein is an Assistant Professor of Public & Applied Humanities at the University of Arizona, whose research and art practice focuses on digital culture, surveillance, data and algorithms, media art/activism, visual culture, disability, and queer theory.
Fast Company: “Zip ties, plywood, and PVC tubes: How disabled people and caregivers are hacking their homes”
“Mauldin says many of these hacks and modifications solve specific problems in a way a formal product probably couldn’t. ‘It’s nothing that some high-tech corporation can come in and have this fantastic object to solve,” she says. ‘That’s not how it works because everyone’s needs are different, and everyone’s trying to craft their space in ways that work for them.’
All photos have alt-text embedded. If you run into any accessibility issues with this site, please let me know.