The Dire Need for Inclusive Design

Three weeks ago, I started a class project with two classmates at SVA. We are working with CityBridge’s LinkNYC to research and recommend ways in which their technology can bring value to local communities in NYC. Our team all shared a common interest in accessibility for the blind and our main focus is to design a technology that makes wayfinding and navigation easier. To date, we’ve visited healthcare organizations and conducted interviews to reveal the pain points that 60,000 blind and 360,000 visually impaired people endure each day in NYC.

Last night I had the privilege of attending a Meetup called a11ynyc — New York City Accessibility & Inclusive Design. They advance digital accessibility and inclusive design by bringing together NYC’s accessibility community to share ideas, best practices, and our experiences. The featured presenter for the Meetup was Diversability, a social movement that fosters community to connect, showcase, and empower people of all abilities doing amazing things.The event was exceptional, but to be completely candid, I was not internally prepared to face the people we had been designing for over the last three weeks.

photo credit: Joly MacFie

After a blind woman in the audience left the room to find water for one of the panelists who complained about being parched, I quickly realized how radically self-reliant and tight-knit this community was. People were helping each other throughout the entire event. This experience left me feeling humbled and thrilled to get back to the drawing board to iterate on our findings.

The security guard popped his head in the room to give the seemingly habitual five-minute notice that the building was closing. The Meetup group ended at promptly 6:50pm and everyone filed outside. I started to mingle and was introduced to a woman who was familiar with LinkNYC and interested in the work I was doing. While the conversation was brief, she left me with a chilling statement:

“We are afraid that we are going to be forgotten.”

I was at a loss for words — it was an emotional moment for me. I mean, I had gone in hoping to get some insights for a class project, but caught a vantage point of someone’s life that unsettled my being. This statement speaks volumes to two problems regarding accessibility:

  • There is a horrific flaw in the process in which we design cities, products, and services.
  • The disabled community has been excluded from conversations about how the world should be designed.

The call to action is to become an ally of the disabled community. We must raise awareness amongst designers to consider the whole spectrum of disabled people when designing the next service or product. Here are three small steps I am taking to become an ally:

  1. Talk and listen to people with disabilities. If I have biases about people with disabilities, I will confront them by speaking with someone who is disabled.
  2. Work towards designing for inclusion. On my commute and throughout the day, I will look for design flaws in the city that exclude people who have disabilities. By mentally logging those pain points into my sub-conscious, I will become a more conscious designer.
  3. Advocate for functionality that includes all. I will take the time in the discovery phase of projects to create the opportunity and feasibility for the disabled to use the thing that I am bringing into the world.

Before this project, I knew very little about accessibility. I’m grateful to have discovered this community and look forward to developing a relationship with it. I welcome any comments or suggestions on how to become an ally for the disabled community as a designer.