The Power of ASL
A Society Supporting Language, Literacy, and
Performing Arts in the Signed Modality
A Newsletter of the Society for American Sign Language
Secrets to the Impact of ASL Hidden
in the Story of Sidewalks
By Chad Jardine
This is a story that really begins back in the 1960s.
“Curb cuts” were a design innovation featured in a story from 99% Invisible. It’s the story of how one
idea’s influence spread far beyond the original intentions of those who came up with it and those who
What in the world is a curb cut?
Curb cuts are the now-ubiquitous ramping corners of city sidewalks. Before the 1960s there were only
a handful of places using curb cuts and they certainly were not widespread.
The new approach to sidewalk design wasn’t merely convenient. Around this time electric wheelchairs
began to be more common.
Why did that make any difference?
Before self-propelled wheelchairs, the wheelchair itself was not just a tool deployed for the use of its
rider. The mobility of wheelchair riders was tied to an attendant as well. Another person was required
if they wanted to go anywhere. Motorized wheelchairs meant that, for the first time, wheelchair riders
could ditch their attendants. Self-propelled chairs meant independence.
That is until you got to the first sidewalk corner where a 6” concrete drop created an impenetrable
obstacle for wheelchair riders.
So, a small group of wheelchair-bound activists at Berkeley led by Ed Roberts campaigned for curb
cuts. They wanted something familiar to members and allies of the Deaf community. They wanted
(Continue on page 7)
The Power of ASL
Winter 2019 – Issue 16