453: Disability design

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This is a CBC podcast. Hi I'm Nora. Young this spark when we talk about inclusive design what we're really talking about is not excluding anybody. That's particularly clear when it comes to removing barriers for people with disabilities. Accessibility isn't something that just happens happens. It's about making deliberate design decisions. That won't exclude someone with a disability so today on spark explore the relationship between design and disability and why accessibility is not only good design. But also a civil right but we start in an unlikely place the cuisinart. Thank you and welcome if you follow the art of cooking or the trends in kitchen where implements a tall. You'll know that this instrument man sitting beside me on this counter. The cuisinart is become a very important fact of eating and life in the nineteen seventies. That's right the CUISINART cuisinart. Food processor goes back to the days when CBS's Peter Saskia was on television. The cuisinart was introduced in one thousand. Nine hundred seventy three and it quickly became synonymous with food processing thing. But what you may not know. Is that the cuisinart is also a great example of accessible design the designer of the cuisinart Mark Harrison was a professor at at the Rhode Island School of design and did a lot of research into disability with his students and then he incorporated that knowledge of things like manual impairment visual visual limitations. And so on into the design of the CUISINART. So if we think of this food processor that just has these two super simple buttons right calls off freight not a million tiny buttons that your little fingers have to click you know sort of a a large smooth surface a big contrast label So he incorporated this research into a product that just presents itself as sort of the the best you know suggesting that these design responses to disability produce a better product. October all this is best Williamson. She teaches design history at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. The story of the quiz art is just one example of accessible design from her book accessible America a history of disability and design so my book looks at the design responses to the idea of disability rights basically retracing the way that Americans change attitudes about disability in the later twentieth century and that there are direct design outcomes that come from that so first of all. What do we mean by the term accessible? Would you define it so accessible. I think an interesting term right because it sounds familiar but often applies very very differently. I mean even. We often talk about things like accessibility to education or health care right which aren't specific to particular population. But the way that I approach it is thinking about the physical environment and it's designed for disabled people so looking at the history of accessibility. A you outline the significance of these. Two events injured veterans returning home after World War Two and the polio epidemic. So how did these events affect the perception of the need for accessibility. Yes so a big cultural change in the way that folks in the US. And I'd say really worldwide people. Viewed disability occurred when this convergence of two populations sort of coming into the spotlight at the end of world. War Two with veterans returning Especially in the Austin in the west victorious and a polio epidemic and this created two very appealing populations right people who are seen as very deserving of lifelong success For polio is often depicted through white innocent children to have the rest of their lives in front of them. So this creates the direct connection with shifting sense that something should be done to make the public environment accessible. Yes it was not just that they're suddenly were a lot. A lot of people coming back from World War Two were who were recovering from polio. But it was the way they were seen. Can you tell me a bit more about the narrative and what that looked like for these groups yes so both of these narratives I should say are are very selective right in. Polio affects a broad range of people. Likewise our veterans who are of different races are even men and women Combat Armed Forces are considered to be men but there are some women who fallen set categories while in like like flight nurses and so on but what depicted is the young man you know sort of all futures in front of him who is being limited by why not only his physical disability but by things outside of that right by other people's attitudes there's a big push postwar for employer education eight programs that acknowledge that disability isn't just in the individual but also has a social component and then also in their physical environment so they're for example. There are these. These films are veterans and one of them who became nationally famous Harold Russell. I got my prostheses as they're called and the dock. Explain just how to work than when I came back to the would. I couldn't help flashing my new books. I wanted a drink a toast to the world with my own new hands even if it had to removed versus in an army film and then becomes one of the stars of the best years of our lives. Right these Men who have you know prosthetic limbs in many cases is and what they're doing for the cameras kind of performing all of their skills and so we can think of this in terms of kind of the ideal of of the normal man shaving smoking driving arriving Even like fighting and firing guns right are all things that technology can make possible for them. And I think there's a real sense that technology should make that possible all for them and that the government should make that happen right. It shouldn't be just sort of On them individually so you you also describe this early kind of DIY. Ingenuity of people with Disabilities Elise Hu out of necessity really had to customize household technologies to make their lives more accessible. So these include things like customized ramps mouth sticks modified cars cars. Were there examples that you came across release studio for you. Yeah I mean. This was an amazing discovery. I should say I'm not the only person who's discovered the source. I but I was really amazed by this magazine called the to J. Gazette. That was this kind of Zine for polio generation it started a Ah Polio Rehabilitation Hospital and to Ville Ohio and that but then sort of continued as this community. Publication and people are just mailing in photographs and descriptions of the things. They've done in their everyday home life And one of the things that I noticed you know. There's a particular attention to the house. As as I mentioned in the era of polio and and post war and other illnesses for example spinal cord injury people are surviving a much greater rate in this period. There is a huge huge push to create accessibility. But it's still very limited so there are no sort of public forms of access in the nineteen fifties nineteen sixties really into the nineteen seventies in the US so people are being told and rehabilitation like you should be independent. You should strive to be independent. You should strive to you. Know take up a a role of support in in your household whether it's working as a man or being sort of wife and mother for women and their houses are not built for this right so there's a tremendous amount of information sharing in terms terms of what materials make a good ramp but also a lot of these small things so there's a whole sharing about like products that are helpful like Tupperware Electric Electric Knives Different kinds of spoons and cooking utensils right. So there's this kind of alternative consumer conversation that's happening among disabled people by disabled people for disabled people. It's very sunny and optimistic but at times. They also acknowledged things like loneliness or frustration straight at not being able to participate in you know go to go to college or other Kinds of activities. So I see it as a very interesting you know. I think really the excellent document of the kind of direct engagement with technology that many disabled people had and continue to have That doesn't tend to be credited as kind of great inventor's or great designers in history. Yeah I mean some of it was sort of incredibly invented. There was one guy who basically totally retrofit his car so while Ali was in Wiltshire. Yeah there's there's some amazing cars on the one I think they're referring to this man. Yeah took an old Peugeot and basically the entire back and top off of it and installed a moving platform so he could sort of elevator himself up and then the platform also would rotate around so he could like go in reverse and be able to. Let's see and so on and of course this is like definitely not a legal vehicle on the road. Imagine perhaps he was using it to serve locally and his small town own maybe for short trips but it really speaks to the way that the automobile is a kind of mobility device as well But I also you know. That's such a part of kind of American culture of the fifties and sixties to this idea of tinkering with your car So these diy solutions certainly demonstrated creative approach but were they also in some sense a reminder that the burden was still on the people with disabilities to figure it out for themselves. I think they are I think throughout conversations around access there is always the the sense of giving you know creating a little bit of access but not creating too much. There's there's always this kind of looming danger imagined that if things are too accessible label people will not Gain the character that comes through struggle Even back to the veterans right. There's this whole conversation about giving subsidies for them to have you know specially fitted cars and it's like oh we shouldn't give it to all veterans only veterans that are missing a leg right so they can't drive or you know. It shouldn't be for blind veterans because John Courage them to have someone else drive them so there are some moments of real insight. I think into a kind of conservatism around accessibility. Also that starts from the very beginning and I think really flavors accessible design and architecture as it becomes part of legal requirements leader. Yeah so it's conservatism. And is it also also some sort of sense of like worthiness or something I think. So right there's a strong sense. I think we can also see this kind of script in in other forms of rights and sort of social openness and opportunity in postwar period for women for African Americans this rate that there's a a notion of quote unquote. self-help is a term. That's often described that in order to gain equality. You have to prove that you're worth it. I'm I'm this is something that's echoed and I I had such a fortune of working with a number of mentors who had sort of been of this generation. This sense that you have to prove yourself to have a good attitude dude In order to be considered worth the investment and that that is just so striking when we consider in what circumstances do we consider populations deserving serving of like the best of design as opposed to the bare bones of design. One of the things. You dress in your book is what we might call. The ideology of how access was talked about and accessibility was talked about in the. US context. Can you tell me a bit about that. Yes Oh and this is why you know. It's very interesting to talk about this with people. Outside side of the United States I started this project thinking of the. US is one of the as the leader on this issue because the US is the first country that had a federal nationwide wide law requiring access. The American Disabilities Act of one thousand nine hundred and in many ways the US does remain a leader in some ways when it comes to this but I would also always remember that this is embedded within a very market driven consumer driven approach design and technology right so much of access also emphasizes the individual consumer right. The idea of shopping going to the movies right war and especially working as the outcome of making access as as opposed to countries where there's a broader social security net Especially in health care and so the push may not always be recreating access so that you can create consumers taxpayers Individual workers but instead sense of sort of broad social supports. That would help children children older folks you know people have working age and so on so. That's one of the things that I find in contrast so in the. US There may be tremendous support for accessibility in offices. And at the mall. But there's not as much push for universal healthcare. I'm Nora Young. You're listening to spark. My guest is best Williamson. She is the author of accessible America. A history of disability and design now that was best mentioned the Americans with Disabilities Act enacted in nineteen ninety made the US the first country to have a federal law requiring accessibility here in Canada. The Canadian Nadine Charter of Rights and freedoms protects people with disabilities from discrimination. It took until twenty nineteen to put federal accessibility legislation in place with the passing a bill. C The eighty one and act to ensure barrier-free Canada but as best explored in her book enforcing accessibility is not easy. She found some resistance to the idea the of mandated accessibility public transit is one area where accessibility has always been crucial in your research. You also found that a transit issues created a bit of a backlash actually so what were some of the early criticisms of accessible transit. Yes so You know one of the things. I've found so notable there's a there's there's a publication in the middle nineteen sixties from the US government. That says how could there be any opposition to these changes right. They make take such small effort and they can help millions of people and I think we see this all over the place right where changes that create access and helping broader population. But there is quite a bit out of backlash right. Sort of unexpected. I think and I- pinpoint this. I'm controversy in the nineteen seventies over accessible public transit as one of the most public doc moments when this question of cost versus benefit really comes up there. It's a complicated story. Obviously but they're buses proposed that include. We'll share ramp in the front or sort of bigger and wider and more comfortable that are seen as creating the quote unquote of the future. And I they're accepted but then auto auto companies push back against them because they require a retooling on their Assembly lines and it basically kicks off a decade or more of very contentious lawsuits protests counter protests op-eds in the newspaper. And so on that are over. This question of basically is it worth the investment to retool tool and make these accessible buses. It comes down to all these tiny details like you know the wheelchair ramp in the front or the back right. Should it be one bus loss per every ten or every single bus and then Significantly should it beyond the public bus route or should there be a separate fleet of what we call Para Transit Right individual cars that pick people up door to door And these conversations. I think do a lot to shape the impression that disability access success is very expensive and very inconvenient and that requires a lot of compromise rather than that sort of generous notion like. Why would anybody be opposed to this but does that also reflect a sense when you talk about it being evaluated in terms of cost benefit that it's not really at least at that point installed as being basically he's just a rights issue? It's not really a cost benefit issue. It's a rights issue. Yes I think we still see aspects of this in conversations over access right which is always an emphasis on the idea that if you create access for certain disabled population set you'll end up benefiting everyone which I think is a very powerful design principle but it also raises the question. What about those design elements that don't benefit everyone? Are those still worthwhile. What do we have the right to to and I think that the notion of civil rights being tied to technology in this way you know was very challenging? I think in many cases I mean just as this honestly you know when you get down to the the enactment of rights can often be very challenging to whoever is in power right. I haven't considered this this population relation and so it seems wrong. It seems out of the ordinary so I think this was really a produced in a lot of waste through that conversation around public transportation. How important a role has activism and protests played both in accessibility and also getting society to see? Accessibility is a civil right I think activism activism has played a significant role particularly again as I mentioned there's there's a moment and I think you know ongoing sense of beneficent about this right. This is is a great this is quote unquote helping the handicapped raid. This is a kind of Humanitarian or charitable effort. And as a result they are often new laws and codes often. Don't come with strong enforcement because there's a sense like this is an awareness issue if we educate architects as to the best approach. is they'll just make those changes and and what happened. Is there some initial laws and codes in the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies. That are put out by the government and just are not followed and the disabled activists read those regulations. And say look you know this is what the regulation says so they they find they have to use the strong arm of the law. You know suing protesting. Oh testing sitting in. There's a month long occupation of a federal government building in San Francisco in nineteen seventy seven. That did a lot of the work to push for firm firm regulations. So there's this kind of lesson that's learned. I think which is you can't just require access you have to enforce access And this remains something. A weakness weakness of the Americans with Disabilities Act which requires access but doesn't build in kind of check and enforcement so the only way to kind of get something fixed as to individually individually complain or Su which can be a very slow process? So the Americans with Disabilities Act from nineteen ninety has had a big impact on accessibility in the US. But you you point out that some people felt that it led to this kind of tacked on access just to comply with the law so nearly thirty years later. How much has it influenced the idea of building accessibility into design goals in the first place? Yeah I mean I think you know as years go bond we. We see a lot of improvements but still you know I asked my students into our architecture and design students you know what are the superstars of accessible designed like what are the amazing buildings and there aren't many they don't. We don't have a kind kind of greatest hits of access. There are a few. I mean one. We might point to is Frank Lloyd. Wright's Guggenheim Museum right. It's not built to code. But it has this elegant ramp down the middle home and even to think of kind of aesthetically constructing building around feature like rather than having that ramp be sort of to the side hidden away. It's is really notable so we have there are a few really great buildings That are examples of this but it will be something like the top five out there and so you know we could just think in terms of cultural royal shifts It still remains relatively rare. That access is seen as something exciting and creative and kind of cutting edge architecture world as opposed to just sort of a requirement beyond architecture or more designers starting to to see accessibility as as just a value of good design. Yes and I'm actually. In some cases this is stronger in the non architectural design world. I mean certainly when it comes to graphic design the readability of materials is something that you know cuts across many different spectrums of ability disabilities to simply sort of personal preference so in our devices especially now we. We have so many more options. In terms of controlling things like large type versus small tight color contrast you know these kinds of things that become part of the array of conveniences that we have I think they're they're really not seen as you know something. That is an add onto technology but something that's built into it and that's accepted updated as something that's functioning. Well something that you can easily adjust and figure out how to adopt to your own particular interests or needs. Is there a danger. Though that we get taken with kind of cool designs rather than the sort of less sexy things like accessible subway stations or washrooms on the main floor. You know that kind of stuff. Yes I think I think so. I mean one. One thing that I mentioned in the book is the prosthetic limb. Remains this kind of wonderful object. A fascination nations something that's in films right in fashion in technology museums as this wonderful thing but the number of people well who actually use prosthetic limbs is quite small right and and Issues a personal preference may be different from that sort of technological wonder and dream and so many engineering programs youth programs using three D. printers Fashion runways and so on are fixated on this one in particular object. I always sort of joke like will we have a fashion show that involves an accessible public bus right or or just a ramp even You know the question of of you know how how certain objects come into light and what what sort of implications there are there such a wide range of attentions and I think the role of aesthetics is so powerful but we also always question you know what about the things that are. Not Beautiful. Aren't easy to design What pressures are there on certain populations to kind of find their way into the technological kind of spotlight in that way You conclude in your book that in this quote designing and accessible America still a vision left unfulfilled requires embedding design systems that can support rights and equality in ways that go oh beyond the material so what you mean by going beyond the material well ultimately you know as a design historian it's probably a challenging conclusion Liuzhou to come to but ultimately to say the objects are not it right. You kind of can't tell if something is accessible equitable just by looking at it and I think that is something that I wasn't as confident about when I started. You know I mean one of the things that is remarkable to think of is how how sort of physical all and material these issues are you know to to think of looking at something and considering like is it equitable or is it Exclusive that said you know so much of the truth of things comes down to kind of the details like what is it takes to get access to that object and particularly you know what are the underlying Sort of economic racial kind of cultural divides that keep disability in the realm of the taboo or the sort of second rate when it comes to our our planning and our creation of environments. And I think it tru truly takes both a social commitment to quality and technological commitment to finding things that work really well in order to really fulfil this so it takes kind of the commitment of going beyond just what is as I said right. Just what's beautiful or what functions. Really well toward really thinking okay. Well can we take on the more challenging parts of this and I think that takes really a social commitment best. Thanks so much for talking to us about it thanks Nahra Best Williamson teaches design history at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. And she's the author of accessible America. Erica a history of disability and design. You got more in our look at disability design designer Liz Jackson tells us about disability. Don Goals flashy but useless solutions. To problems of people with disabilities. Never knew they had what they want is they. They want access they want ramps They want elevators and what they realize is that as designers are spending more and more time trying to come up with a specific. Fix the less less. We're GONNA start to incorporate access to day-to-day lives more on that coming up. I'm nora young as a spark from your friends at CBC Radio Today we're exploring the relationship between disability and design Most designers want gain a deeper understanding of the people. They're designing four. That's why empathy is one of the first word it comes up in discussions about design thinking understand the user how they live their challenges and needs one to build empathy into the design process is through simulation simulation especially when it comes to accessibility design in these simulations design working groups try on the constraints of someone with a disability to invoke empathy but one designer from Portland. Oregon says no thanks. Amelia Abrego is a design researcher and the founder of U. X.. Night School for Amelia. Oh yeah these. Sorts of simulations can feel like stunts. That don't actually involve the people navigate the world with different abilities. These simulations include things like outings in board wheelchairs to try to be more mindful of accessibility or an activity that Amelia encountered submerging your hands in ice water to simulate motor impairments. So this is you would just take a remained tub full of ice cubes into a conference room. And I've seen this done before where you know you. You all take turns dipping your hands into you. Know Tub of Ice Cubes and then you you know squeal very abject uh-huh you say. Oh my God that's so called thing. How could anyone stand to live with arthritis when meanwhile arthritis is a really common thing? So what troubles you about this simulation as empathy As a way of trying to understand the experience of someone with a disability. Well I think the thing that concerns me. The most is that disabilities are incredibly common. It depends on how old you are. or how young you are but you know most of us are born pretty helpless and need need a lot of help at the end of life as well so you know a lot of the way that we think about. Disability is very abject meaning that we think. Oh this is somebody else else. This is somebody else's tragic problem when really disability is a part of life If we're lucky enough to live in to a ripe old age we'll probably probably experience. Some motor impairments visual impairments Cognitive impairments and this is a fact of life so if we WANNA WANNA think about disability. Let's talk about it in the context of everyday life instead of posing it as you know terrible thing that happens to other people Do Do you think these kinds of simulations could also cause someone to underestimate what someone with a disability is capable of doing. Oh definitely and there's research to show that disability simulations actually allow people to form their own conclusions which are once again not based on lived experience but through through a momentary experiment and therefore overlook the point of view of folks. who were living a living with disabilities often living well? Because that's one thing that's come up over the course of preparing this episode. Is that People disabilities often are coming up with innovative techniques and tools. And so on to to help them navigate the world around them and managed the their disability on their own. So I suppose if you're simulating that you're not having full access to that suite of innovation and tools that a person will be coming up with totally you know there's this fundamental disability rights slogan. Nothing about us without without a and people with disabilities have to be creative they have to improvise. And when you're not bringing the full range of human experience into your design process you're going to overlook a lot Empathy is the ability to understand and share. Someone's experience and it's something that gets talked about a lot in design circles but you point out that is more complex than it sounds like. What do you mean by that? Well Embassy isn't like a six pack of beer. You can bring to a party. It's something you can experience and you experience it on a spectrum and I think that we all have blind spots in our empathy fields. You know often joke imus small blonde woman and I work around a bunch of men a lot of the time and I say well you know like you. You can't understand what it's like to be a blonde woman walking on the street like if you were a blonde wig like you only that would that would only give you one a new set of perspectives. Like into my experience and my experience is different than that of another blonde woman. So you know. What are we trying to have empathy for Alec? Why is it thought of his easier to like generate vague empathy for other people than to actually listen to other focuses experiences? The answer is yes. So what's a better way to approach understanding the experiences of people with with a disability. Oh I think first of all number one just acknowledging how Hamas Hominids Eighty percent of adults over the age of forty need reading glasses as I'm a design researcher. That's my job and I think one of the things it's really hard is generating meaningful community relationships and that means having lots of contact with folks for more than transactional purposes so who are living near you and part of your life and sometimes I feel a we can all benefit from just talking to the janitor talking to the other folks at the bus. Oh stop but Talking to the other parents at our kids schools a lot more and I think you know honestly at the beginning of life and at the end of life. We're a lot more democratic attic. I make it a point transplant. Time with elder folks. I think it's really important for my line of work Folks over the age of sixty are the fastest growing growing population of Internet users. They are also you know. There are a lot higher incidences of cognitive issues of motor impairment on an other for vision issues and other form of disability in that group Similarly like young kids are very attuned to you know what it means to be inclusive of what it means to accept other people for who they are so I think thinking about the myriad ways that we all experience the world and how they can be different is so important to designers and it's something that nobody's omniscient. Nobody can anticipate all these things themselves. Something like ramps you know that that can benefit people who use wheelchairs but also people with strollers. So why is it so important to consider kind of diversity of experience when you're thinking about inclusive design. Surely I'm fairly able bodied person. But it was when I had a young child I realized that my my accessibility case was totally different Little children you know require holding and carrying and this limits your mobility ability. It means you need a ramp or a different a different path when I teach design classes often have folks go out into a neighborhood. Accessibility posssibility audit. And this man's I love to have folks walk in Pairs especially with folks who taller shorter than them or just have different perspectives. Love and I think that the physical markers of accessibility can tell us a lot. You know we. We tend to take our own experiences for granted so noticing like taking a fresh set of eyes and saying like Hey. There's a huge crack in the sidewalk. And that would be really hard to get over if you're using a mobility device or saying. Oh Hey the curb. Cut Starts at the side of the street but it doesn't pick up across the street. This shows us how patchy our infrastructure is in everyday life and it it's a good set of parallels for more digital or more immaterial material forms of design I know you've also written about approaching design from justice perspective. You know the designers should consider questions I who gets to speak and why so from in your perspective. What can design do to make sure? The voices of people with disabilities get hurt design needs to work on including a broader cross section of human so And the culture of design is often very driven by privileged white able bodied folks. So so I think there's a lot of work that designers have to do not only listening to other people but bringing those folks to the table. Amelia thanks for your thoughts on this. Thank you for having in me. Amelia brew is a design researcher and the founder of. US night school. I'm Sarah Hendron and I'm a professor at Olin. College of Engineering and teach design and disability studies. Eyeglasses are the most common prosthetic that people don't think of as prosthetics and so it's it's really important to keep talking about the kind of assimilation of eyeglasses in the culture as medical tools. That at some point crossover to become modes of fashion accessories accessories in modes of Kinda identity style. Glasses eye glasses in one symptom of success. If I can call it that is that we really think of them. As medically plants is anymore. My Name's Graham. Pollen and I'm a researcher Electra. Dj Cat which is an college at the University of Dundee in Scotland by glasses of have achieved that ubiquity and in a very ambiguous role in is still corrective that in some ways their aspirations confessional at the same time as Amelia brave pointed out disabilities are incredibly common and she said many adults over forty need reading glasses. I G- losses are so commonplace. We don't even think of them as medical assistive devices but they are just like a cane for example. So why is it. That eyeglasses are considered to be fashionable and a cane. Isn't that question about the stigma. Surrounding certain assistive devices was one that Liz Jackson spent a lot of time. Considering it's funny so I I've been doing some talks and I've increasingly been trying to write out my origin story just because I feel like in disability in order to kind of validate no date your entry into the space oftentimes. What's expected of you as an origin story? But if I were to kind of delve into that I would say the thing that brought me into the space is me acquiring disability about seven and a half years ago And for me. The question is why I had so much choice with my eye glasses and didn't with McCain loses a disability disability advocate and design strategist and the founder of the disabled list in the design world. She sees a tendency towards fixing things. But when it comes to designing for people disabilities that can be a problem. Well I think designers are increasingly seeing disability as a project and they don't really engage in the space with rigor And they you know for as much as designers really spend their life times continually learning about you know their their profession When it comes to disability they think they just know so a lot of times the solutions that come out of it or actually deeply harmful? How can that make people with disabilities feel like a project themselves? In a way I mean there's a variety of ways You know I encounter a lot of cons and you know I think hack Athans are really good a tool for designers to really hone their skills but when it comes to you know a huckaphony around disability what happens is is at the end of the day they may come up with with an over the top solution but you know all of the traction wants that Hacker Thon Ns is lost and the disabled person never actually benefits from all that. They contributed commuted to that day or those hours that week. You know. There's a variety of other ways that It can be problematic. Another one is is that designers frequently. Actually think think they're trying to fix a disabled person rather than to create access or fix a thing and what that does is it it it it further marginalises and stigmatizes the disabled person. I was really struck by. I think it was in one of your talks. You talked about a design school administrator. who was struck by like basically the first week backseat clause? Everybody wanted to design a new cane for her. Yeah I learned this really interesting thing recently. which is that on average in the United States in in in Canada I think it's about eleven percent of college populations are disabled But I recently discovered. Those numbers are much much higher in designed schools in that actually feels a bit appropriate to me right because disabled people were the original hackers. Right we spend our lives cultivating an intuitive creativity. Because we're forced to navigate a world that's not built for our bodies so of course we may be more inclined to enter creative professions For me that begs you know many questions such as what is happening to these students year. You know year after year as they're going through design school I have have a feeling these are the students that are not getting their needs met nor dropping out. And you know I I feel like these are the people who once they enter. Their professional careers are falling through the cracks. But beyond that and this is what you know it was specifically has to do with that one teacher who Dreads the beginning of every school year because students show up wanting to redesign her. Cain what those students don't realize is actually telling her they don't like hurricane perfectly happy with it and so what happens is is. It's not just the disabled designed suits. That are not getting their needs met. You have this whole other up. Cropping of designed Zayn students who are actually deeply interested into ability but have no knowledge. There's no disability studies program in their school so they don't even know what disability is and so they have no way to go all about it and so for me the thing that I really advocate for us if we can start to incorporate disability studies curriculum into design schools. What happens is you have a space for those two groups of students to actually meet and actually meet each other's needs And and to really start to build a culture and a community around it rather than just this idea of disability as a project or a topic or a fix to illustrate some of these points. You've pointed to this phenomenon of the disability dangles so what what is a disability dangle and why is it so problematic so a disability dangle is as I defined defined as an elegant and well intended solution to a you but it's ultimately useless. 'cause it's a problem that we never knew we always had so. I joked that disability dangles sir most frequently created and designed schools in there some specific design firms that really kind of create this problem so oftentimes when a new student or new design firm creates a stair climbing wheelchair What happens is the press gives it a lot of you know it gets a lot of good press and the people that created are are really kind of held up on a pedestal of this a good deed that they did but if you actually talked to disabled people they would tell you that it scares them that it's too expensive? They can't afford it you know that they simply don't want it what they want. is they want access. They want ramps They want elevators and what they realize is that as designers are spending more and more time Kinda trying trying to come up with a specific fix such as stair climbing wheelchair that's time and resources that are not allocated to actually innovating access but more than that the more that we as a society convince ourselves ourselves that Oh we can just give those people a stair climbing wheelchair the more that we do that the less that as a society. We're we're going to start to incorporate access into the day-to-day lives. And so what happens. Is those resources get pulled back and I could elaborate a little bit further so Elizabeth Goofy is She's in design. Historian story I believe an art historian Also disabled and one of the things that she noticed on her campus where she teaches is is that as the new So there's a new Accessible sign that was rolled out over the last I'd say five or six years. It is a an image of a forward leaning wheelchair user and So Uh a lot of states a lot of cities a lot of campuses and institutions have started incorporating this new sort of more active seeming Accessible silage into their institutions but what Elizabeth notice on her campus was as the campus was being loaded for incorporating this new and more active. Sign it at the same time. They were actually rolling back doc access and taking away ramps and so she had called that blue washing And so we get so caught up in our good feelings about all of this that we don't actually question what the impact is of these things. Yes yeah I I have to admit As chason list because I realized that we have profiled our share of disability dangles On SPARC. So what can be done to avoid had this kind of design approach And again I think this is this is really the thing is is most people. Most journalists designers don't understand that disability studies is. This is a field of study. It requires rigor it requires a commitment. And there's really really exciting and good and interesting work being done in the space and you know I oftentimes say question. What you think you know right as soon as I see something in a evokes around us billion and Volkswagen feeling like for me that trigger something to kind of look deeper birth and I would I would beg same view but for me it would? It would be to kind of start to show interest in the best way to styles in the Elizabeth. Duffy's in the Amy Ham. Rays of the world's Cynthia via Bennett. Josh halstead like these are all people who are doing mind-blowing work in this space and and can really educate all of us especially designers creatives people who articulated narrative on disability And I just. I wish that we didn't get so caught up in our own feelings. Yeah this is spark you are listening to spark you're listening to a spark from your friends at CBC Radio There's this idea of well. Technology can be a fix and disability. I mean something is broken. You're already sort of presupposing. The way that they move through the world my name is Merrill Alpher. I'm an assistant. Professor of Communication Studies Thaddeus at Northeastern University and the author of giving voice mobile communication disability and inequality within the technology Laghi itself. There is the you know. The cultural context individuals with disabilities have themselves not only disability as part of who they are but everybody. Nobody has a racial background. Everyone has linguistic background. Everyone has a a class and you know gender background that Intersex and interweaves in different ways as for each person and not only within that within like a disability label or way a diagnosis. So in what ways are policies enacted for for people to gain access to technology not gaining so the first part is to center the voices of individuals with disabilities in the conversations. Decisions about what technology does and doesn't do for them and the kinds of innovations but they make They make do with in how they experience technology for more people with disabilities to be themselves involved in policy decisions in technology development for individuals with disabilities to be at the table. All the real key is to is to center those voices truly Not to give voice but to truly center the voices of people with disabilities in conversations about them nor young. You're listening to spark I'm speaking with Liz Jackson. She's a design strategist and founder of the disabled list. So how do we shift. The values of design. so that people with disabilities are are not seen as just the recipients of design but actually partners in the design protests. Yeah in that. That's that's where I get stuck so and you know as I as I said at the beginning right. I got into the space because I wanted to figure out. I wanted to increase choice in the marketplace right. I wanted more choices with McCain But it didn't take me long to realize that it wasn't actually a lack of choice that was creating the problem that I was experiencing. What actually was this was a failure to attribute and to credit disabled people in design processes? We don't understand the immense value that disabled people hold in terms of game changing innovations. And if you look throughout history right who are the people who created things that changed the world will. It's almost always a disabled person right like we created the bicycle re we created the IPHONE touchscreen. That's Wayne Westerman Apple. We created cruise control. That was a blind man whose driver was making him. Carsick curb cuts the electric toothbrush. Brush email the Internet right. These are all examples of disability onto nudity. But if you were to go onto Google and you were to search design for disability you would would see that it yields more than ten times as many search results is disability design the idea that we are recipients of design has embedded itself into our language. And this this is just simply because we get get caught up in our feelings and the people in power can tell stories about how they did things that were apathetically done for us and in the process they silence us And they you know they don't actually stop stop to consider that We were actually very active in the process. you also talk about honoring what you call the friction of disabilities. What's what's the friction of disability? And how do we are. Yeah so again. A disabled person the world was not built for our bodies and so that in and of itself creates rates of friction in in design. We are so focused on smoothing out and fixing things that we never stop to consider what disabled people want and for me the thing Ah I find the most delighted our creatives who are really working to as I say on a diffraction of disability so the first person that comes to mind is an artist artist here in in New York City where I met her name is Shannon Finnegan Shan Finnegan Dot Com. Just everything she does is just delightful. she was working at an art exhibition space. In with SAIC NEW YORK. It was seven floors. It's a historic landmark. It's an old silo and she has palsy. So she you know she could get up and down the stairs once or twice a day but after that she it was done and the art didn't really start until the second floor and so you know Shannon started quickly realized like other people were showing up to this art exhibition space and they were also not able to to access the upper floors and Shannon realize. She had two choices right. The first one is she could raise hell and really stigmatize herself in the space by demanding an elevator which she was not going to get because again. This is the historic landmark. The other things we could do is that she could get creative and so what she did was is. She saw that underneath the stairs. They had this open space and she asked him if she could have it. And you can go on her website thanks this she coordinated off and she created this hilarious font made of stairs and it says Anti Stairs Club Lounge. You go in you go in the Anti Stairs Club Lounge and on the wall so suddenly realized she's making fun of people who upstairs right because it says the higher you climb the farther you fall and you look around the space and there's refreshments and there's her favorite candy and there's disability studies literature literature but I mean it's all impeccably branded like it's just this amazing adorable space and the thing. That was so interesting. Is that what I heard was at the end of that for summer there. We're actually days when more people went to the club. Lunch then went to the the upper floors right. She rendered the rest of the building obsolete. And so this is what I mean by honoring the friction of disability. Like we don't actually actually consider right things like what we call crip humor where the disabled person maintains agency in the Joe. We don't consider you know disabled sexuality. We don't consider consider the fact that a disabled person may not actually want to be brought into normal but rather they may actually feel very valuable in their lives. Exactly where they are and maybe they feel that they they have something to offer from that space and instead what we're doing is we're trying really hard to bring them into our space you know it's almost like a land grab like we're GONNA WE'RE GONNA own this space space. And so that's that's really my focus. I know that you're also the founder of something called the disabled list that's described as engaging in disability as a creative practice. Can you tell me a bit about that. Yeah so it's me and my partner Alex. Hey Alex is a Canadian Who you would love? Alex is developing this idea of again disability. Lead design is what they call it and what we're doing is we're really looking at disability. From a speculative framework not just asking what is it that a disabled person needs. But what is it that a disabled person actually wants We collaborate we can soult. We have a separate website that we call critical access access. It's critical a x dot org And what we've done is we've created a repository of disability representation in media because the thing that we realized was is that when a designer gets a brief around disability and design when they actually searched the terms disability and design the things that come up or not actually disabled people speaking about their understanding of it but rather what comes up is the brand the ways that brands to pick their interactions with us and so we felt that if we could get brands to to understand that their depictions of us are playing really harmful tropes than We could shift the stories that are told. And then shift what designers do when they receive designed briefs and and what we didn't realize going into it was well what we started doing was as we started counting the amount of words that disabled people spoke and each ad and then we went onto youtube and we would categorize categorize and analyze the comments and so one of the trends that we've certainly glean which is actually really frightening to me. Is the more words. A disabled person speaks the less believable. The AD is perceived to be and so through this actual creating a data set and this repository were starting to understand an NBA able to strategize strategize. And figure out how to make these shifts There's another so it's a two matrix of trump's there's another trope it's called diversity trump in and there's nothing in the diversity trump because there are yet to be any ads that feature a disabled person of color. It's just though advertisers. Don't think that you know black disabled people exist and so you know it's just it's been sort of wild the exciting and infuriating at the same time because like now we feel like we have something that we can use And it's just it's horrifying to realize Oh okay like this is what we have to work from but what I do know. Is that this community of people right like whoever it is That's really focused on this space of disability. The end design is growing. You know were just doing the best that we can. So how do we get to a point where there are more designers with disabilities ladies engaged in disability creative practice as you say rather than non-disabled designers thinking they designed for people with disabilities. How do we change the equation there? Yeah I fundamentally think it actually just goes back to incorporating disability studies curriculum designed schools You know for me when you when you work your way through the process the thing you realize is like okay not only. Are you creating a space. For disabled designers and non-disabled designers taken an interest in disability not only be created a space base for them to actually meet insert to work together and meet each other's needs. What happens is is once? They've worked together a few years by by working together they then enter. You know their professional careers not thinking that disabled people are designed for but actually thinking disabled people are designed with right and so I actually. That's fundamentally what I think is is the start of the process is. How do we start to cultivate this new way of viewing disabled contributions to design? And how do we nourish it. And how do we start to attract more disabled people to design. It's you know we've got to start somewhere and it's just it's going to be a slow build. Yeah Liz Liz. Thanks so much for talking to us. Yeah thank you so much. I appreciate it. Liz Jackson is the founder of the disabled

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