In our team’s current endeavor (to develop a product that empowers low-income and disabled individuals to experience local, culturally immersive experiences) one of our our first quests of research is to answer the question:
How do individuals with disabilities experience culturally immersive experiences while lacking access and transportation?
Based on our initial user and business framing, we found that this is one of the greatest gaps of understanding and a question that we need answers to in order to adequately address our problem. However, in reflecting on my own able-bodied biases and preconceived ideas, I realized that the latter half of the research statement, “while lacking access and transportation,” may be unnecessarily rigid. While these two aspects are problems which make sense to me as issues that individuals with disabilities might grapple with, it could very likely be that access and transportation are not their primary struggles. In fact, perhaps the biggest issue that people with disabilities encounter is being othered by able-bodied individuals, who assume that their difference in access and transportation detracts from their experiences, for example, in culturally immersive experiences.
With that in mind, I think the best way to account for my own biases and preconceived ideas in this research endeavor is to modify our research question to simply:
How do individuals with disabilities experience culturally immersive experiences?
Based on the fact that we are attempting to understand an experience, I think the best approach to answering this question is to, as a team, go through a culturally immersive experience with individuals with disabilities as our guide — an approach situated at the intersection of in-person interviews and ethnography. While an in-person interview would allow us to inquire about the individual’s experience, it would also require us as able-bodied individuals to lead the interview, which would inevitably dilute our findings. However, this approach, when coupled with an ethnographic approach, could grant us a fairly comprehensive understanding of the user’s subjective experience and how it interacts with the physical context. Being in the field with the individual will put us on a more similar plane in terms of environment, situation, and sensory experience.
The reason that I suggest involving the entire team participating in the research process, is that the diversity of our experiences could act as a counterbalance to our inclination to generalize a single experience to an entire population of individuals with disabilities. This diversity of experience will be, in a way, a built-in control for our inability to contact individuals with every kind of physical disability. In this way, our own difference in experiences will be a sustainable source of insight as we move forward with the design, continue to reflect upon our research, and on what our users need most.