I am a design student presently enrolled in an ethics course titled “The Social Contract and Its Limits” and we studying the different mechanisms used to construct civil society — Rawls’ Theory of Justice is included in this course. Because social contract theory addresses the principles of justice, and consequently, morality, it can certainly be applied to the field of design as a way to inform design decisions. When I saw this article, I got excited; not enough designers make these considerations!
I would argue designers should not only use the Veil of Ignorance to imagine individuals with physical impairments, but also extreme technological limitations. According to the Pew Research Center, seven percent of Americans in have limited options for online access and no broadband service at home. Considering the 2014 population of 318.9 million, that is 22,323,000.
What is the experience on my website for an individual who only has access to the internet via an iPhone 4 and a 3G network?
For individuals in a position of extreme poverty, how can the government improve access to social welfare systems by designing better public websites?
One of the limitations (and travesties) of Rawl’s approach is he has a Kantian understanding of the person. This is to say, in order to be party to the social contract and to have a claim to justice, you must be a rational human being and contributing member of civil society. This means individuals with cognitive, mental or physical impairments, who are unable to meet these conditions, are excluded from the contract. While it seems like the Veil of Ignorance is a perfect mechanism to address the needs of those individuals, it fails to do so in the end. This is the critique of Rawls by Martha Nussbaum, who wrote the Capabilities Approach as an alternative.