As I stared at the blank screen thinking of what to write or even how to start, I began to wonder if I knew enough about accessibility, then it struck me. My life for the past two years has literally been a case study in accessibility.
This is a story of how a series of events led me down the path to designing for accessibility.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility in the sense considered here refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments so as to be usable by people with or without disabilities.
In 2018, I suffered an injury that involved a limb and a few bones. Long story but here is the timeline of events.
The incident → fracture of fibula and ankle → chaos → recovery
From here on, I’ll refer to everything that happened that day as The Incident. In hindsight, it all seemed funny at first. There were so many thoughts running through my mind. Who send me message?. Why didn’t I just stay at home? My journey to recovery was both interesting & scary. It had me partially immobile i.e reduced mobility — for more than 150 days.
The scenario: A massive outdoor tent collapsed on a number of people. There was no emergency response plan or incident plan that accounted for that situation.
Honestly, the event wasn’t well thought out or planned (who organizes an outdoor event in the middle of the heavy rainy season?.) The event organizers had no clue what to do, who to report to or how to administer first aid. (At the very least, there should have been first aid.)
At this point, I was in shock and wasn’t thinking of anything else. Pain wouldn’t let me think. The first 20 minutes after the incident were a blur, everyone was confused and had no clue what to do next. I discovered Nigerians lack empathy — yes, even designers.
Lesson learned: The second shock for me came when I realized how poorly designed events and event venues were. It was a struggle getting to a safe place. I had to climb a flight of stairs, navigate a crowd of people, limp in the rain to get into a ride to the hospital.
- As an event organizer, create a robust plan that caters for before, during and after your event taking into consideration as many good and not-so-good scenarios as you can.
- Design, review & share this information with your potential event goers. Make this information easy to understand within the context of your event.
Now, the hospital is another story. Where do I even begin? The doctor who rudely told me I could lose a limb or the insanely complex layout of the overcrowded hospital.
To give you an idea of how crazy it was, imagine walking with crutches, the equivalent of 200m every hospital visit (three times a week, for 5 months). Why? I had to get x-rays done, go back to get my results and sometimes stand as I waited to see the doctor.
What did I do? I adapted. Started out complaining but I had it lucky. After several visits, my diagnosis revealed I would have to live with partial mobility for just a few months. Other patients weren’t so fortunate.
Living with reduced mobility kicked me in the guts and gave me a front row seat to the accessibility issues people face everyday.
Lesson learned: In this vast world, humans vary and a lot of people are differently abled. People whose disabilities aren’t temporary should not have to adapt to a badly designed world. As we design the world around us, we should learn to design systems that are inclusive of everybody.
- As you start thinking of a design solution. Think of humans. Interact with real people. Who would your solution affect IRL? “Who” is a broad spectrum and on that spectrum lies an infinitely complex combination of human beings.
- Make conscious efforts to be kind to people who are dealing with these issues. Empathy shouldn’t be a switch you turn on or off. You can get better by deliberately practising it. Disabilities come in different forms. If you are unsure of someone’s status, simply ask with kindness & patience.
Looking back and giving the circumstances, I believe things couldn’t have turned out better than they did. It has been two years since the incident and I still have my crutches and cane as a visual reminder. A lot of things have changed since then.
Most importantly, deliberate design drives me now. I’ve been given a new opportunity. I’ve been at two different spots on the “who” spectrum and it has made me more conscious of what I design, its impact and the quality of life it brings to different people.
Here are four key things I learned and you should also consider when designing for accessibility.
- Accessibility at the core is all about interaction. How people interact with other people, with technology and the world around them.
- Accessibility is not a barrier. It fuels creativity because you are inspired to think and innovate really unique solutions that cater to everybody.
- Accessibility based planning can be normalized across all organizations. Start small and work your way up. Work & education is easier for everybody when accessibility takes root in these systems.
- Accessibility is not usability. Accessibility is strongly related to universal design. It is about making things accessible to all people (whether they have a disability or not).
I am by no means an authority on design or an expert on the matter. The contents herein are a product of my thoughts and a culmination of my experiences as a person and a designer.