The Future is Inclusive: Takeaways from SXSW 2019

Emma C Siegel
6 min readApr 17, 2019
Counter-clockwise from top left: Neil Pasricha presenting on stage about trust; Jared Hirata and me visiting the Twitter House; a fleet of dockless scooters on the streets of Austin; me with the SXSW sign; Bill Nye asking an audience question at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Talk; musician Mobley performing

At South By Southwest (SXSW), I took the opportunity to immerse myself in a wide variety of sessions throughout the Interactive conference track to better understand the human experience and the future of the digital, societal, political, and cultural landscape.

I synthesized some themes from the sessions I chose to attend: inclusion, the future of our society, and what it means to design an inclusive future.

Here are some of the highlights:

Building a Pathway Toward Financial Inclusion

Photo: Theresa Bedeau, Jose Quiñonez, Hannah Calhoon, Kevin Park

Theresa Bedeau, Capital One; Jose Quiñonez, Mission Asset Fund; Hannah Calhoon, Blue Ridge Labs; Kevin Park, Capital One

  • To understand and respect people and the challenges low-income people face, we need to meet them where they are, not where we think they are or should be.
  • Low-income people are generally seen as secondary users; products are not designed for them and how they think about money.
  • We don’t need to make one product that works for everyone. Products should be smart by deploying the right tech for the right people at the right time.

More info:

Is America Ready for Universal Basic Income?

Photo: Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang, 2020 US Presidential Candidate (D)

  • As manufacturing jobs get automated away and human labor becomes less essential to the economy, we have to reshape the economy so humans are worth something beyond economic input.
  • Universal Basic Income: give people $1000/month to give them worth beyond market value — they can use it to start businesses, pay off student loans, etc. and define their own sense of meaning. UBI is capitalism where income doesn’t start at zero.
  • “We have to get our shit together before the next time the economy takes a turn.”

More info & recording:

The Future is Fluid: How Gender and Sexuality Has Changed

Photo: Phillip Picardi, Alok Vaid-Menon, Leyna Bloom, Robyn Exton

Leyna Bloom, model and activist; Robyn Exton, HER; Phillip Picardi, Out Magazine; Alok Vaid-Menon, artist and activist

  • Humans fling to community because we are lonely. We connect to others not by sameness, but by embracing our differences.
  • Society tells use how men and women are supposed to act, it’s hard to break out of those boxes and just be oneself. Gender needs to be removed from institutionalized identity.
  • Being an ally has become rife. To really be a genuine ally is not just talking — it’s through doing, understanding, and advocacy.

More info & recording:

How Women are Rebuilding a Man-Made Internet

Photo: Greta Mcanany, Alex Williamson, Andrea Barrica, Lauren Tracy

Andrea Barrica,; Greta Mcanany, Blue Fever; Lauren Tracy, Blue Fever; Alex Williamson, Bumble

  • “Machines can do data but only humans can do empathy.”
  • Because the internet was created by men, content bans are gendered and limit female sexuality education & information.
  • “We’ve created a digital space where people feel open to being authentic by setting expectations for how users should act on a platform.”

More info & recording:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the New Left

Photo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative For NY’s 14th Congressional District

  • “We view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude but ambition as youthful naivety.”
  • “It doesn’t feel good to live in an unequal society.”
  • “Capitalism is an ideology that prioritizes capital — profit above all else. Democratic Socialism puts democracy and society first, before capital. Right now, we’re dealing with the consequences of putting profit as our priority.”
  • We need to focus on collective identity, not just that of the individual.
  • We have been taught that we don’t matter so we don’t feel motivated to make change. We need to change the idea of self — that worth is based off being a human, not based on one’s circumstances. “I matter and my dignity is not up for discussion.”

More info & recording:

RIP Lesbian Bars: Creating Space For LGBTQ+ Womxn

Photo: Sarah Marloff, Anita Dolce Vita, Kelly Frances West, Michelle Daly

Michelle Daly, Lesbutante & The Boss; Anita Dolce Vita, dapperQ; Sarah Marloff, Where The Girls Go ATX; Kelly Frances West, Lesbutante & The Boss

  • As humans, we are not a monolith. We have many identities. Each characteristic is just one part of our identity — they’re not mutually exclusive.
  • We need to create spaces for people to feel comfortable and safe and to find their community. These spaces need to be inclusive regardless of sexual orientation but also of gender presentation.

More info & recording:

Tikkun Olam: How Faith Informs Social Justice

Photo: Jeffrey Marsh, Rev Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, Blair Imani, Milana Vayntrub

Blair Imani, Muslims for Progressive Values; Jeffrey Marsh, author and activist; Rev Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, Zent Records, Milana Vayntrub, Can’t Do Nothing

  • “The essence of compassion is seeing the humanity in the others.” –Marsh
  • “I don’t expect institutions to love me. I have my grandmother for that and she’s been dead for 35 years.” –Sekou
  • We are expected to perform a certain way based on the boxes society puts us in. Whether we like it or not, we each represent the communities of which we are a part.

More info & recording:

Equitable Design for Persons with Disabilities

Photo: Lindsay Garet, Cassy Gibson, Ryan Easterly

Ryan Easterly, WITH Foundation; Lindsay Garet, Sidebench; Cassy Gibson, Sidebench

  • Socio-political model of disability: focus on social barriers rather than personal ability. “Stairs make the building inaccessible, not the wheelchair.” Culture turns human traits into disabilities. Disability only hurts functioning to the extent that culture lets it.
  • The absence or impairment of a trait is only considered disability when everyone is expected to possess it. Disability is not personal human condition; disability is a set of mismatched human interactions.
  • Innovation is found at the edge, not at the complicit middle. When we design for the hypothetical average, there is a disconnect between process and outcome.

More info:

Accessible Transportation for All

Photo: Maria Town, Bonnie Epstein, John Zimmerman, Vincent Valdes

Bonnie Epstein, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority; Maria Town, Mayor’s Office For People With Disabilities City Of Houston; Vincent Valdes, U.S. Department of Transportation; John Zimmerman, Carnegie Mellon University

  • Emerging technology creates opportunities for universal mobility. However, many new assistive technologies exists but lack of government assistance makes them financially inaccessible.
  • People with disabilities from rural areas may be forced to decide between friends and family or accessible opportunities in cities.
  • “Automation will have the same bias that humans who build it have: an ableist bias.”
  • People with disabilities are natural adapters, always creating new hacks to solve problems. How can those innovations be scaled and monetized?
  • Urban planners cannot let conceptions of how transit has worked in the past to inhibit a human-centered approach of innovation for the future.

More info & recording:


Did you also attend SXSW 2019? Tell me about your favorite session in the comments!



Emma C Siegel

Inclusive design & research. Currently @Adobe Creative Cloud. Previously @Workday, @Google. (they/them)