English

2016 Portable wheelchair ramp - assembling drawing

En torno a la silla is a Spanish non-profit association operating from Barcelona.

Objectives

In En torno a la silla we co-create and fabricate collaboratively between people with diverse knowledges and modes of functioning with the aim of transforming and intervening urban environments, seeking to improve the conditions of accessibility, inclusiveness, and care in the urban world. We need these ideas to permeate and to articulate our environments. Hence, we design with and for diversity, seeking to create participatory design processes with the objective of building truly enabling spaces: stimulating, joyful, and restless.

The name is a pun in Spanish that might be translated as “revolving around the wheelchair’s environment”,  from “en torno” –around/on–, “entorno” –surrounding– and “silla” –chair, in this case wheelchair.

En torno a la silla’s objectives as a non-profit association are:

  • Fostering the integration of functional diversity in the design of low cost technical aids, to promote full accessibility and independent-living. This entails the promotion of user collaboration in all steps of the fabrication process, and not only either in the initial or in the testing/validation phases. That is, users are the main protagonists of the solution, being involved in the conception, fabrication, and testing of the different prototypes, choosing possible materials, formal and aesthetic aspects and informing of the basic requirements the gadgets should fulfill.
  • Promoting the production of open hardware and open-source designs, published using different free/libre open licenses. For this the association seeks to foster the experimentation and production of documentation of the process and outcome of the design process in different formats: mostly video-documentation (in digital and interactive formats) as well as tutorials and how-to manuals.  

To meet these ends, En torno a la silla undertakes the following activities:

  • hosting participatory events, workshops, and leisure activities, be it for the sake of fabrication or learning;
  • organizing, taking part, and collaborating in publications, conferences, debates, workshops, public dissemination campaigns in the media and the press, and exhibitions;
  • providing side-services to the prototype users;
  • freely licensing the documentation produced in the fabrication process, making it accessible.

 

Rationale

En torno a la silla stems from a need to think of more empowering ways of designing gadgets and objects for wheelchair users to the existing rehabilitative and medical corporate appliances, distributed in a closed dispensary or ‘catalogue’ by the public administrations. These objects turn users into passive subjects.

Thus, we  believe we need to incorporate the knowledge and the experiences of the people who use those gadgets to live independently in a diverse world. This aim entails a transformation in the assigned roles of people –experts and end users– and objects –technical aids, usually embodying the expertise of the former over the experiences of the latter–.

In En torno a la silla we design and fabricate collaboratively: there are no professionals separated from users; there is not an isolated body we need to rehabilitate, or pathologies to cure. Furthermore, we do not build perfectly finished objects. Instead, we build ceaselessly according to need and desire.

Fostering auto-fabrication we wish to make possible a life ‘out of the catalogue’, allowing: (a) to expand our network and our capabilities incorporating new technologies and other fields of design; (b) to create the necessary self-managed infrastructure to consolidate a community of users/makers being a node amongst other nodes; and (c) to promote and defend the idea of the inclusive city or inclusive urbanism.

Doing this entails not only taking care of and searching to create stronger links with other spaces, subjectivities or communities, but also articulating a space of our own to fabricate, prototype, document and reflect: a space with a digital tools workshop, with a studio to explore open documentation formats, and meeting spaces to produce processes of situated research and urban critique.

In that vein, going ‘out of the catalogue’ entails: (1) being able to rethink what to do as well as the network or the urban context in which we are placed; (2) foregrounding the need to liberate the production of knowledge –not only the knowledge implied the production of arrangements, technologies and products for urban accessibility, but also the knowledge articulating our notions of the urban and the cities we live in. As we see it, granting a more democratic ‘right to the city’ in our struggle for accessibility can only be fathomed through an exploration on ‘open infrastructures’. That is, open in an epistemic, political, technical, and economic sense.

Hence, in the association we have sought to articulate an ecosystem joining together independent-living activists, amateur makers, engaged researchers, activists and militants coming from different social spaces and experiences… where we try to put into practice what we call ‘technologies of friendship’: with this term we refer to how we experiment with our attachments through the objects, the documentation and the actions we perform. In doing them we seek to support a space to join together our different and sometimes clashing skills, aims, ideas, and intentions putting centre-stage the issue of care and how to support our everyday ways of making and thinking together.

We acknowledge that this is a frail endeavour and for us there is a strong need to think of ways of improving the sustainability of this community. Hence, enhancing the cooperation and collaboration with others is of the outmost interest of the association. We need to explore different alliances to make these efforts more distributed, joining together more people in order to make the sustainability of these projects and spaces more feasible. Thus, we foster hybrid collaborations seeking to scale up the project towards a collaborative economy format that would allow to open up the collective to more people, making possible its durability, and allowing us to develop and enhance our more experimental activities, such as the open-source documentation of the prototypes.

Team

En torno a la silla is composed of eight people: Marga Alonso Guevara; Alida Díaz; Xavier Duacastilla; Nuria Gómez; Arianna Mencaroni; Pepe Rovira; Tomás Sánchez Criado; and Rai Vilatovà. Our skills and activities are as diverse as our bodily functionings. In the collective there are makers, filmmakers, architects, anthropologists, documentators, and independent-living activists, four of them using wheelchairs.

Dossier with our main projects

Videos with English subtitles

• Special feature in La2’s La aventura del saber (public Spanish TV network Science news service), broadcasted in April 2015.

•“Any system”, one of our video-interventions showing the use of our 2013’s portable ramp, with a voice-over by Oriol Roqueta reading Leonard Cohen’s poem.

Contact info

URL: https://entornoalasilla.wordpress.com

E-mail: entornoalasilla@gmail.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/entornoalasilla

Twitter: @entornoalasilla

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