February 24, 2004

The Stuff of Legend and Universal Design

Wonderful legends abound on Christendom's Patron of Travelers -- St. Christopher. What interests me is not so much his history but his widespread appeal.

According to the story, Christopher was a man who helped travelers cross a river. The story continues that at one point he carried Christ himself, appearing as a young boy, and was transformed by the experience.

Stripped of pious detail, this is a story that illustrates the new paradigm definition of disability succinctly -- and long before its modern formulation.

Someone of lesser functionality (the boy who, in relative terms, is disabled by his youthful physical immaturity in this environmental context) is enabled to participate in society (travel). That is, his handicap -- the environmentally-imposed barrier to his inclusion in society -- is removed. The "universal design" response is not an object or a piece of technology but a person. This person, living within the design and engineering constraints of his era, has chosen as his societal role to be the human bridge at the river crossing.

I think it is also fascinating that the legend recounts the transformation of St. Christopher. Christopher is the solution designer who, in the process of engagement with the design problem is permanently changed (to the extent that he even receives his new name meaning "Bearer-of-Christ").

Anne Galloway's discussion on network vs. community offers a further level of analysis.

The transformative interaction (resulting in the conversion of Christopher) described in the legend is the story of the creation of community. The story teaches that community is the sustainable design solution.

And the affirmation of community is what gave this story its enduring populist appeal. The Patron Saint of Travelers is not St. Christopher the Hero but St. Christopher the one who has found the value of action within community.

Posted by rollingrains at February 24, 2004 02:44 AM | TrackBack