Enable: Reflection Time!

This piece is a supplement to my project Enable, which can be viewed here.

Enable, a campaign concept created by a team of four (including me), is a nonprofit organization that aims to address issues of disability inequality by providing workshops and accessibility training to nonprofit organizations that serve marginalized communities.

[image description]: a flat layout of various Enable merchandise including 3 pins with the Enable logo in blue, yellow, and red, our workshop accordion, a t-shirt with the enable logo in red on the front right, our Enable brochure, and 6 stickers with the Enable logo in blue, yellow, and red.

Creating Enable challenged me on a both professional and personal level. I began working on Enable pretty recently after I started identifying as a disabled individual, which meant that the research we were doing, the interviews we were conducting, and the deliverables we were making all held extreme personal significance for me.

When my team and I were first brainstorming topics to choose for this project, I was hesitant to choose any topic related to disability. At the time, I’d been working through a lot of internalized ableism as well as ableist microaggressions in my personal and academic life and I was afraid that working in depth with disability-related issues would cut too deep.

However, working on this project has given me new resolve to dive deeper into disability work, even with the ableism that it brings. Coming out of Enable, I was determined to be more open about disability, have more conversations about access and ableism, and overall build a community of disabled folks and (able-bodied) people that I could trust.

Enable also gave me the opportunity to bridge my two passions: design and community engagement. Being able to create design solutions that could tangibly impact my community allowed me to feel the importance of creating meaningful work that aligned with my values.

In this article I will explore what went smoothly, what was challenging, and what I would change about Enable.

What went smoothly?

1. Workshop curriculum

[image description]: 4 vertical rectangular posters in red & white, yellow & white, blue & white, and white & yellow. The titles of the poster read, respectively, “intro to disability & access”, “access barriers for disability at intersections”, “invisible disability”, and “access in action: what does it look like?”

Since I was pretty involved in community organizing, I’ve participated in, created, and facilitated many workshops. I was familiar with:

  • what could realistically be achieved during the time allotted for the workshop
  • what activities would keep participants engaged during the workshop
  • & methods of would keep participants engaged even after they left that space

2. Team communication

With the help of Timothea’s secretary skills (assigning us different tasks with deadlines), our constant communication through Facebook messenger, and detailed meeting minutes, we were really able to keep on top of the workload. Our final project was judged by a panel of designers, and I was proud to say that they were all impressed by the consistency of visual design and content throughout all of our deliverables, despite being designed by 4 different people.

What was challenging?

1. Narrowing down our topic

[image description]: flow chart / brainstorming map, text reads “disability activism = bay area (berkeley) → culture around disability arts production & activism / access. HOW DO IDEAS TRANSLATE → move outside of bay area → bay area is rooted in progressiveness but radical politics don’t move well to central valley. BUT ideas around disability don’t have to be centered in radical politics → how can politics be evolutionary instead of revolutionary. IDEA #1 whitewashing disability / i.e. representation (but also an actual ANALYSIS) / idea of invisible disability → disability isn’t always hyper visible how do we work around that. example housing and disability → how does everything that someone is factor into the social problem of housing → bc these are access issues → not “does this building have an elevator” it’s about: how will the landlord perceive me * will they offer me a place based on that. IDEA #2 immigration & disability → rhetoric around immigration is that immigrants should be allowed to stay bc they’re productive members of society → how does that rhetoric apply to non productive bodies? how does ableism factor into that?

Disability was and is such a huge topic. We had so many ideas in the beginning, from the intersections of disability x specific marginalized identities (ex immigration), to the whitewashing of disability.

We made our final topic choice, “beyond accessibility,” because it was surface level enough that we could reach an audience that had minimal awareness of disability issues, while not so surface level that we felt our campaign lacked potential and impact (ex of surface level campaign: teaching folks not to use certain disability slurs).

2. Branding

As designers, I feel like we’re really entrenched in the aesthetics of minimalism and techie / startup culture (think sans serif text, gradients, bold complementary colors). It was difficult to create branding that was familiar and friendly (i.e. adequate and acceptable for a nonprofit environment) while still standing out from other businesses in a way that didn’t alienate our target audience. We spent over 5 hours choosing the color scheme alone!

3. Interviews (time crunch!)

We had 7 weeks to complete this entire project (from choosing a topic to preparing all the deliverables). Thus, all our interviews were scheduled and conducted within a week of us deciding we needed interviewees to back up our information. Fortunately, it was relatively easy to find a diverse set of interviewees for both disabled folks and nonprofit employees.

4. Creating a board game

Board game design wasn’t something my team or I had tried before, and as a result, we ran into a lot of pain points.

VISUAL DESIGN: I was in charge of the visual design but I grossly underestimated how difficult it would be. The biggest challenge was arranging the slides and ladders in a way where they still looked proportionate but didn’t obscure any of the spaces completely (which was deceivingly NOT easy).

[image description]: chutes and ladder board game with pink and white tiles numbered 1–100 with blue and purple stairs and orange and yellow slides. and envelope is next to the board with a similar aesthetic that reads “unable enable”

CONCEPTUAL DESIGN: My team and I poured hours of brainstorming and critical thinking into the board game concept. Creating our board game was a delicate balance of the following two questions:

  • How simple can we make the board game while still portraying people’s lived experiences in a nuanced / non essentialist / non offensive way?
  • How realistic can we make our board game without making it too complicated? In other words, can we effectively design a learning experience through this board game without making it so overly difficult that the player wouldn’t even be able to play it?
[image description] board game cards: red “persona cards”, yellow “privilege situation cards” and purple “access barrier situation cards”

The final concept for our board game included:

  • 3 types of cards: persona and situation cards for access barriers (slides) and situation cards for privileges (stairs)
  • Before starting the game, players will draw a persona card that includes various marginalized identities.
  • When player reaches a slide, they will draw an access barrier card. When player reaches a set of stairs, they will draw a privilege card.
  • The card will let the player know if they go down the slide or up the stairs based on their identities.
  • We had 8 personas in total: 2 with 2 marginalized identities, 2 with 3 “, 2 with 4 “, and 2 with 5 “. The identities we included were racial identity, gender identity. sexual orientation, income, religion and citizenship status.
  • We had 8 of each situation cards, based on categories of discrimination. we picked housing, food, transportation, and education because those were the areas we specifically asked about in our interviews with disabled folks.

My partner for this specific project, Emily, and I took the liberty of imagining and creating hypothetical situations for our various personas to go through, even though we didn’t relate to many of the identities. We sought help from friends and took our insights from our interviews to create these situations, but I imagine many of them to be flawed because of the lack of time and resources that we had.

What would I change?

The biggest improvement we could’ve implemented, if allowed more time to gather and reach out to resources, was the amount of audience testing we did on our deliverables, specifically our board game and workshop curriculum. It would’ve been immensely helpful to get a larger sample of interviewees for both disabled folks and nonprofit employees.

Changes to: board game

  • Found people that actually related to the identities we were putting into our personas and interviewed them about their experiences as well as asked them for feedback on our content
  • Implemented user testing with our board game. I.e. had people play the game again and again and again to catch our design mistakes, find pain points to clarify, etc
  • Expanded on the game, to include more personas and more situations that would help increase the nuance of our game.

Changes to: workshop curriculum

I would’ve like to actually implement and facilitate these workshops to an audience of nonprofit employees to determine the usefulness of our curriculum. Some questions that would’ve been helpful to ask are:

  • What are nonprofit employees already aware of in terms of accessibility? what previous knowledge / foundation do they have?
  • Where are there gaps in their knowledge?
  • Is there any part of our curriculum that is unclear? Needs more clarification?
  • What part of our curriculum do / did the nonprofit employees benefit most from? What parts were they most engaged in? Enjoyed the most?

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I want to acknowledge the gaps in this project’s design, but still congratulate my team and myself for being able to complete a project of this scope in just 7 weeks. We worked tirelessly to make our visions come to life, and despite Enable’s flaws, I want us to be proud of our creation.