Aimi Hamraie

(pronounced “amy” “ham-raw-ee”) (they/them pronouns)
I am a designer, researcher, and disability justice organizer. 
I write about disability, accessibility, and technology.
I’m a disabled, nonbinary, SWANA/diasporic Iranian.  
I teach at Vanderbilt University, located on the original homelands
of the Cherokee and Chickasaw people. 
I make things and plant trees.


I also direct the 

Critical Design Lab

and host the Contra* podcast on disability and design.  
I am a new member of the U.S. Access Board
and a 2022 USA Artists Fellow in Media.

Contact me via Email or Twitter   
Click to view my CV



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Bio / Media Kit


Aimi Hamraie (they/them) is Associate Professor of Medicine, Health, & Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, and director of the Critical Design Lab. They live and work on the original homelands of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Muscogee (Creek) people.

[Image description: Aimi Hamraie, an olive-skinned Iranian person with short dark curly hair, smiles at the camera. They wear rectangular glasses and a blue button-up shirt. Behind them is a blurry green background]


Contact


Email: aimi.hamraie@vanderbilt.edu
Twitter: @AimiHamraie
For speaking or consultation requests, please visit the Requests page.

Headshots


Download headshots and image descriptions


One sentence bio


Aimi Hamraie (they/them) is a disabled SWANA designer and design researcher based at Vanderbilt University, and author of Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability (2017). They are a member of the U.S. Access Board and a 2022 United States Artists Fellow 

Bio, academic


Aimi Hamraie (they/them) is Associate Professor of Medicine, Health, & Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, and director of the Critical Design Lab. Hamraie is author of Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and host of the Contra* podcast on disability and design. They are a member of the U.S. Access Board and a 2022 United States Artists Fellow. Hamraie’s interdisciplinary academic research focuses on accessibility and built environments. Trained as a feminist disability scholar, they contribute to the fields of critical disability studies, science and technology studies, critical design and urbanism, critical race theory, and the environmental humanities. Hamraie’s research is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Smithsonian Institution, the Mellon Foundation, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Arts, and the National Humanities Alliance. They are quoted by the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, National Public Radio, the History Channel, the Huffington Post, Art News, and others.


Bio, public


Aimi Hamraie (they/them) is Associate Professor of Medicine, Health, & Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University, and director of the Critical Design Lab. Hamraie is author of Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and host of the Contra* podcaston disability and design. They are a member of the U.S. Access Board and a 2022 United States Artists Fellow. They are quoted by the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, National Public Radio, the History Channel, the Huffington Post, Art News, and others. Hamraie’s critical design work focuses on disability arts, digital media, tactical urbanism, fashion, participatory mapping, and landscape design. Hamraie is a certified permaculture designer and herbalist, with particular interest in anti-racist and disability-justice centered practices. They have worked as a community organizer in disability justice, anti-war, labor, racial justice, and immigration justice struggles, and co-founded the Nashville Disability Justice Collective and Nashville Mutual Aid Collective.


Bio, arts


Aimi Hamraie (they/them) directs the Critical Design Lab, a multidisciplinary and international collaborative of disabled artists, designers, and design researchers. They are a 2022 United States Artists Fellow and host of the Contra* podcast on disability design justice. With Cassandra Hartblay and Jarah Moesch, Hamraie co-curated #CripRitual, a multi-site exhibition of twenty-five disabled artists at the Tangled Arts and Disability and Doris McCarthy Galleries in Toronto. Hamraie’s creative practice spans social practice and design (wood, leather, textiles, architecture, and landscapes). Their intellectual and creative work is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Smithsonian Institution, the Mellon Foundation, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Arts, and the National Humanities Alliance.


Accessibility Rider


All events must have an accessibility plan. When requesting an event with me, please describe your accessibility plan in this Event Request form. I do not participate in events that do not advertise available accessibility, including ASL and CART, and  plan a budget for this from the beginning. 

If you are requesting a podcast recording, please include your plan for simultaneous release of the text transcript with the episode. I highly encourage all podcasters to adopt protocols for accessible podcasting
, and make transcripts available for all episodes.

For in-person events, my access needs include: fragrance-free policy (included in the event publicity); presentation space without LED or flourescent lighting (window lighting is great); presentation space without loud buzzing sounds; breaks between events; no more than two events per day; lodging (when applicable) organized in consultation with me to ensure accessibility; and a text-based itenerary of all events sent at least three days prior to my visit. I cannot do events that do not have these forms of access in place.

RESEARCH / DESIGN


Knowledge production is a matter of justice. What we know (or think we know or claim to know) shapes the worlds we make. So if we want to change the world, we need to know differently. 

Click for my
CV.

[Image description: Book cover appears on right. Image description: White text on blue background reads, “Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. Aimi Hamraie.” Background image shows line drawings of wheelchair users extending their arms into space, accompanied by dimensional notations]

  • How does disability restructure the world?
  • How does knowledge about bodies shape built and digital environments?
  • How does disability culture configure new design protocols and processes?
  • What are the possibilities of disability design justice?

I address these questions by drawing on a range of tools: archival research, oral histories, ethnography and participant observation, design-research, critical design, art criticism, and cultural studies. Typically, I focus on the period between the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth century and much of my research focuses on the U.S. As a diasporic person and second-generation immigrant, I bring a critical perspective to research on U.S. exceptionalism and nationalism in disability rights. I also bring perspectives as a nonbinary, disabled person of color to my research on urban environments and spatial inequalities. 

I have studied phenomena as diverse as Universal Design; assistive technology; urban design; parks and greenways development; permaculture and regenerative design; urban tree cover; active transportation; social movements and disability activism; critical design; bicycles and wheelchairs; architecture and the human sciences; everyday environments; histories of medicine and statistics; disability in relation to race, class, and gender; and critical approaches to mapping university environments.


Books


Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability (2017) 

A critical history of the Universal Design movement, from design for the normate, flexible user-centered design, disability-centered design, and design for all. 

Crip Technosciences (in-progress)

Crip technoscience studies has emerged as a sub-field of Science and Technology Studies and Disability Studies. This book examines its theoretical foundations and emerging methodologies, drawing on practices of disability-led design. 

Enlivened City (forthcoming, under contract)

Twentieth-century urban designers adopted the language of “livability” to describe urban spaces built around a specific imaginary: the dense, walkable/bikeable, enlivened public space. This project draws on archival research, participant observation, and interviews to examine livability as a discourse and set of affective imaginaries shaping the “urban good life.” This research builds on collaborative work on Sustaining Access with Johnna Keller and Margaret Price.

Special Issues


Crip Technoscience
,Catalyst: feminism, theory, technoscience (co-edited by Kelly Fritsch, Aimi Hamraie, Mara Mills, and David Serlin) (5.1, 2019).


Design / Socio-spatial practice


The difficult intersectional, interdisciplinary work to be done includes within one frame the spaces of the political economic and the ontological, the battles of the activist and the epistemologist, the tracings of the historian and the artist.
—Beatriz da Costa and Kavita Phillip, Tactical Biopolitics

My work in socio-spatial practice combines elements of interactive engagement and intervention from social practice (art) and spatial practice (architecture) with a focus on justice and world-building. I am interested in the material and conceptual opportunities that socio-spatial practice affords, not only for scholarly inquiry but also for the iterative project of creating a world that nourishes and sustains us. Socio-spatial practice offers opportunities to materialize interdependence as a relation, ethos, and locus of expertise. In this sense, I understand socio-spatial practice as a justice-building endeavor, a project of building access. I am particularly interested in projects that push beyond profit-driven motivations for design and innovation to challenge what we know (or think we know) about bodyminds and their relations to built and social space.


How I work


My research process derives from disability experience and neurodivergence. My attention is distributed and itenerant. I work on multiple projects simultaneously. I begin with large databases, unsorted archival collections, wide-ranging conversations, and years of inquiry. From there, I map connections and tell stories. If you ever made a clothes-hanger mobile in elementary school for a book report, you may have a sense of how this works. But text is linear and the way we tell stories is often confined by this format, so design is also an important part of my research process. Making things helps me understand how our collective knowledge claims shape material realities. A lot of my design practice, which you can read about on the Critical Design Lab website, involves replicating and adapting existing protocols in pursuit of disability design justice. You can learn more about how I came to these methods, and how I think about them in relation to justice, on the Who Taught Me page. I play with socio-spatial practice as it intersects the environmental humanities with colleagues in Office Ecologies

TEACHING 


PHILOSOPHY


Core values: generosity and accountability 

Practical committments: critical inquiry; experiential, project-based, and student-directed learning; evaluation based on real feedback and accountability; interdisciplinary toolkits and skills-building; feminist and critical disability pedagogy; making things weird to make educational structures more apparent

Teaching methods: literary and media criticism, textual analysis, archival analysis, epistemology, switch-side debate, design charrettes, participatory cartography, web design, peer review, accessible design, social practice, co-production, and mutual aid. 


TEACHING AND FACILITATION TOOLKITS


  1. #EugenicsSyllabus
  2. Disability Culture and Technoscience Syllabus
  3. Mapping Access Syllabus
  4. Critical Design Lab teaching resources
  5.        Plan a slow semester
  6.        Collaboration agreement template 
  7.        Accessibility agreements: a consent-based approach


SAMPLE SYLLABI


MHS Graduate Colloquium. MHS 300, Vanderbilt University, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019

“Designing Healthy Publics”; Public Health and the Built Environment. Vanderbilt University, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018

Bionic Bodies, Cyborg Cultures. MHS 242, Vanderbilt University, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015.

Theories of the Body. MHS 290, Vanderbilt University. Fall 2013, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019.

Introduction to Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies: Feminism, Disability, and Medicalization. WGS 100, Emory University. Fall 2012.

Introduction to Women’s Studies: Gender, Architecture, and Geography. WGS 100, Emory University. Fall 2010.





REQUESTS




1. Book an event (such as a talk or workshop).

2. Request accessibility consulting services.

3. Request academic mentorship or service on your thesis or dissertation committee via email

4. View advising agreements.

5. Request a letter of recommendation.

WHO TAUGHT ME 


The organizing principle of my work is that knowing, making, and right action are always-entangled tools for conjuring justice. This way of thinking has many genealogies. Here is an incomplete list of the ones that shaped me:

Solidarities
1. Multi-generational, inter-household, gender norm-defying, disability-centric familial formations; parenting as distributed responsibility; cousinhood as a defining (but possibly non-biological) ethical relation; mutual care and solidarity; rituals of escalating hospitality; everyone is an herbalist and every food is medicine; every conversation is comprised of jokes told and translated in multiple languages simultaneously.

2. Decolonial SWANA people helped me understand, amongst other things, the layered impact of imperial conquest, displacement trauma, the Cold War, nuclear waste, the sturgeon, the sea, the mountains, the eryngium, rice, colorism, oil extraction, and liberal models of race on my body.

3. Hacking and tinkering, designing otherwise, a family of designers, collaboratives of MacGyvers taught me that I can maybe try to make that.

4. The hard work of building relationships based in accountability and generosity has taught me that every relationship, whether personal or professional, is designed on its own terms, hopefully through mutual respect. Iterative relationship design is our work in the world. The real and metaphorical seeds that are planted and replanted and saved and shared. The lessons they teach about time and distance. Familial stories of intuition and dreams shaping generation-changing trajectories–intuition as diasporic, refugee survival praxis in the face of displacement and dispossession.

5. Policy debate, and everyone who coached, taught, judged, or partnered with me, and everyone I had the honor of coaching taught me that it can feel good to pay attention. A community that is totally imperfect at accountability and nevertheless driving into it with full force. The trust it takes to argue constantly and share resources while arguing about fairness and accountability. The lab structure as a space of camaraderie and co-mentorship.

6. The moon, its temporalities, its consistency, its lessons about legibility and illegibility. My grandfather taught me about planting by the moon. The springtime–its consistency and many celebrations.

7.  Anson Koch-Rein taught me to eat on a consistent basis. A most life-giving gift.

8. Raquel Velho continues to show me what showing up looks like. She also taught me how to make Pão de Quiejo. 

9. Ken MacLeish and Laura Stark have shown me the lessons of scaling collaboration based on friendship and interdisciplinary research.

10. Sara Schuster weaves worlds of plants and magic and organizing that I am lucky to be part of on a consistent basis.

Epistemologies
1. The genealogy of critical race theory and intersectional feminism as responses to critical legal studies, especially the work of Patricia Williams, Derrick Bell, Kimberle Crenshaw, and Mari Matsuda. (Critics and policymakers attempting to outlaw reference to these academic theories should kindly read the scholarship before attempting to engage).

2.  For the constant pedagogical work of disruption and rememberance, Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives.

3. Transformative Justice activists and practitioners, including Miriame Kaba, Mia Birdsong, Leah Lakshmi Piepszna-Samarasinha, and Mia Mingus, for lessons on how to keep showing up for each other.

4. Murphy, especially their work in Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty and the Economization of Life. And Seizing the Means of Reproduction, which helped me make sense of the overlaps between scientific and design protocols. Also the ways they model accountability while receiving the Society for Social Studies of Science Fleck Prize in 2019.

5. Sara Safransky and Tasha Rijke-Epstein teach me about scholarly mutual aid. And cities!

6. Shannon Mattern has taught me about complexity and experimental form as ways of being in the world.

7. Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Things shaped how I was thinking about “access-knowledge” in Building Access. Karen Barad’s concept of onto-epistemology helped me to map out the very noodle-y diagrams in my head and give them some words to live in.

8. Deboleena Roy introduced me to feminist technoscience through her mentorship and her graduate courses on “Making Difference” (on race, gender, disability, and science) and Synthetic Biology (a model for art-science-making-doing collaborations). Her project of “asking different questions” shapes everything I do.

9. Beth Thielman continues to remind me that disabled people have been doing the work far longer than anyone has given us credit for.
Praxis
1. Sara Hendren and Graham Pullin introduced me to  critical design.

2. Critical Design Lab has taught me that carving out spaces for weird work is possible. The idea for a lab came from the lab structure at summer debate camp, and from humanities labs like Jentery Sayers’s MLab and the Humanities Action Lab. It built on experiences working with Deboleena Roy’s pedagogical model of critical theory + pipetting + science-art collaborations. The Critical Design Lab has emerged through the collective efforts of Leah Samples, Kevin Gotkin, Jarah Moesch, Cassandra Hartblay, Kelsie Acton, Josh Halstead, Louise Hickman, Maggie Mang, Rebecca Rahimi, Alesandra Pearson, and Lauren Jones.

3.  Kevin Gotkin taught me how to make a podcast and is a constant source of exciting crip design iteration.

4. Alice Wong showed me that archiving disability stories is an anti-eugenic practice.

5. David Serlin taught me how to write a book proposal and edit a special issue.

6. Mia Mingus introduced me to the idea of disability justice and is teaching me about transformative justice. 

7. Stacey Park Milbern got me thinking about applications of disability justice in space, home, and city.

8. Moya Bailey introduced me to Mingus’s work and taught me about #hashtagactivism.

9. Alison Kafer taught me about politicizing disability and access activism.

10. Mara Mills models generosity and accountability in her work and scholar-activism. She also taught me how to edit a special issue.

11. I learned a lot about writing from Eric Hayot’s Elements of Academic Style.

12. Louise Hickman and Shannon Finnegan’s Captioning on Captioning film very clearly demonstrated for me why you need to provide access copies to captioners ahead of an event.

13. Laura Mauldin told me about why “certified Deaf interpreters” are important.

Misfit
1. My first exposures to disability access were familial and spatial: homes and technologies adapted by family members who were engineers or designers as they became disabled. The ingenuity and artistry that shaped their designs. My own participation in the evolution of these spaces. The skills I learned for adapting my own worlds. 

2. Disability culture taught me the pleasures of crip joy, abundance, generosity, knowledge-sharing, resource redistribution, the willingness to tinker, the willingness to say no, taking care and giving care. Autistic culture taught me that it is okay if all of this makes me exhausted; there are other ways of doing things.
Chronically ill people, folks with chemical injuries, and food-allergic people taught me to measure energy, allocate energy for calling ahead, ask for help, wear a mask, pack my own food, and limit travel.

3. Folks with ADHD and the resources of Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity helped me learn how to plan my time effectively.

4. Alice Sheppard taught me that access is an aesthetic.

5. Rosemarie Garland-Thompson, her normate and misfit. Her generosity and consistency. Her introduction to the field of disability studies. She also taught me to write a job letter.

6. Barbara Penner’s observation (in Bathroom) that accessibility guidelines emerged in the Jim Crow era inspired the “All Americans” chapter of Building Access.

7. Bess Williamson shared primary sources that were important for both of our projects, when we were young graduate students working on a very similar topic. She continues to be a model of collaboration and generosity. She introduced me to ANSI A117.1 and Timothy Nugent. Her work on disabled tinkerers and on the history of curb cuts shaped my thinking about crip technoscience.

8. Joy Weeber let me into her home, taught me about access activism, and let me look at Ron’s stuff under the stairs.

9. Nirmala ErevellesTanya Titchkosky, Margaret Price, Jay Dolmage, Remi Yergeau, Carrie Sandahl, Robert McRuer, Elizabeth Ellcessor, Mia Mingus, Stacey Park Milbern, and others taught me about critical access. Sara Hendren and Graham Pullen taught me about critical design.

10. Corbett O’Toole’s discussion of the Bancroft Library archive’s collections on the disability rights movement shaped my thinking about crip technoscience.

11. Ed Steinfeld, Ronald Mace, and Elaine Ostroff taught me about epistemic activism.






Accountability 
1. Activist responses to the Iraq war, Students and Workers in Solidarity, Occupy, the Nashville Feminist Collective, the Nashville Disability Justice Collective, the Nashville Mutual Aid Collective, and other spaces centered in organizing, strategy, and facilitation as care work taught me that no is a complete sentence and that it is okay to take a break.

2. Trees taught me that there are better ways of doing things. Share the fruit.

3. Lichens taught me that I can exist without you, but it’s better when we collaborate.

4. My uncle shares lessons on taking care of the soils that have fed my family for generations. He is the last one left to do this care work and access to the land is threatened every day. I do my diasporic best to retain the memory of his practices in the soils and trees that I care for, as well. Starhawk and Charles Williams at Earth Activist Training taught me about permaculture. Starhawk and Pandora Thomas taught me about social permaculture and alternatives to white dudebro versions of this movement. But permaculture is nevertheless fraught, often appropriative of Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous leaders’ critiques of permaculture (read more in “Whitewashed Hope“) are essential to pointing out the flawed approach of regenerative agriculture to the concept of planetary survival.

5. My students remind me several times a week that I need to be more clear in giving directions, and I really appreciate the opportunity to continue practicing asking for what is needed.

6. Sarah Snyder teaches me about how to be an anti-racist herbalist and how to examine systems from all perspectives. 
How do we note, cite, thank, and otherwise show evidence of our influences? I asked this question here, in a way, and this page is an imperfect form that emerged to do this work.