So What is Normal? The Implications of Thinking (dis)abilities for Design Education

Developing educational resources which explore different ways of engaging with issues of disability in architectural and design education and practice

Project leader: Jos Boys, Senior Research Fellow, University of Brighton. Steering group members: Barry Ginley, Disability and Access Officer V&A, Jane Oldfield, Deputy Director RIBA British Architectural Library; Cassie Herschel-Shorland, Access and Museum Design Consultant; Pamela Edwards, ex-Head of Professional Education RIBA and member, RIBA Architects for Change. Researcher for history sections: Katie Lloyd Thomas. Additional web notes by Sarah Pickthall, David Watson and Paul Redfern. Research evaluator: Sarah Pickthall. Web Design: Surface Impression. With thanks to the RIBA British Architectural Library (BAL).


This project examined how we might move beyond existing, limited concepts of ‘accessibility’ in teaching and learning about disability in UK architectural education; and developed sample on-line resources for design tutors and students who want to think afresh about disability and difference.

The project was undertaken in 4 stages:

1. Innovative research
Published as a series of theory papers by Jos Boys

Taking a disability-led perspective
Beyond Accessibility? Re-thinking the user in architecture
Challenging the ‘normal’: towards new conceptual frameworks
Occupying (dis)ordinary space (with Pam Shakespeare)

2. Historical study
A related research project, by Katie Lloyd-Thomas, exploring relationships between disabled people and architecture, historically, using the British Architectural Library (BAL) collection at the RIBA.

Stacks of Questions: accessing the BAL Collection
Researching Disability and Architecture: routes through the BAL collection
Timeline of disability and architecture

3. Prototype website So What is Normal?
Suggesting new kinds of resources on disability and architecture

4. Building a disability-led perspective
Collaborating with disabled and Deaf artists

Making Discursive Spaces