Press Release

Nelson-Atkins Exhibition Access+Ability Features Latest Technological Breakthroughs in Accessible Design

Event Date: 
19 October 2019 to 9 February 2020
Kansas City, MO
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Access+Ability Merges Practicality and Functionality 

The exhibition Access+Ability, opening Oct. 19 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, will feature research and designs developed over the past decade with and by people who span a range of physical, cognitive, and sensory abilities. Visitors will view innovative tools that allow people to connect with each other and the world around them, including foldable wheelchair wheels, glasses for colorblindness, and even a robotic dog used as a therapeutic device. 

Access+Ability was organized by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City and runs through February 2020. Advances in research and technology fueled the objects and experiences in the exhibition, which were selected based on input from users, designers, caregivers, activists, researchers, occupational therapists, and neuroscientists.  

“Many of these remarkable objects, some of which are still prototypes, represent the future of accessibility design,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “There is enormous potential in these innovations that will allow people the ability to overcome everyday obstacles and give them greater access to the world around them.”

The exhibition consists of functional, life-enhancing products that have created unprecedented access in homes, schools, workplaces, and the world at large. In Kansas City, the exhibition was co-curated by Stefanie Dlugosz-Acton, Assistant Curator, Architecture, Design & Decorative Arts, and Sarah Biggerstaff, Curatorial Assistant for the Director, Curatorial Affairs. 

“People are the most important component of this exhibition,” said Biggerstaff. “One out of every four individuals has some type of disability, and not all of them are visible. We want to raise awareness, understanding, and empathy with Access+Ability.” 

More than 70 user-centered and inclusive designs developed in the past decade will be on view. Some of the objects are prototypes that have yet to enter the market, while other works are in production and available to the public. 

“This is a new way to address accessibility at the museum and also a learning opportunity for our staff and visitors,” said Dlugosz-Acton. “We have partnered with local organizations to gather resources and develop new and existing relationships. All of our programs have come from conversations with community partners and build upon the museum’s education events and initiatives.” 

Access+Ability features a range of objects, from those that assist with daily tasks, such as elegant, colorful canes and magnetic clothing fasteners, to more elaborate objects that incorporate groundbreaking technology, such as a shirt that translates the notes of a symphony into vibrations, allowing the wearer to feel the music.  

Visitors will have the unique opportunity to interact with several objects on view, such as a monitor that translates eye movement into text, a wristwatch with a dynamic braille pin display, and a digital version of a book that helps readers understand the challenges experienced by people with dyslexia. 

To celebrate the opening of this exhibition, a field day highlighting adaptive sports designed for all, including archery, power soccer, and tennis will be held on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 2–4 p.m. on the J.C. Nichols Plaza on the north side of the Nelson-Atkins. Rick Haith, recreation outreach coordinator at The Whole Person and a certified therapeutic recreational specialist and adaptive recreation and sports specialist, leads the event joined by experts and athletes for an afternoon of learning and fun. Special thanks to Mobility First and Kansas City Parks and Recreation.   

Access+Ability is open at the Nelson-Atkins through Feb. 9, 2020. 


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Earring Aid, Bedazzled, 2014. Designed by Elana Langer. Gift of Elana Langer. Photo © Hanna Agar

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