Selections from my past few weeks of continuous D&I learning and writing.
Design for Humanity
I’m a big fan of Design for Real Life. Author Eric Meyer now has a Design for Humanity course.
Designing for humans is tough. We design for millions, but every interaction between our work and a user is personal, and we aren’t taught to take care with those interactions. I created this course because I want everything we design to meet the real needs and wants of real people.
If you want a set of tools for stress-testing your work to make sure it’s as human-centered, compassionate, and inclusive as possible, this is the course for you. I’ll show you how to approach designing for your users, and I’ll provide a set of tools and processes to stress-test your design work to make sure it’s as human-centered, compassionate, and inclusive as possible.
I’m autistic with chronic, neuropathic pain. Cannabis and harm reduction are important and very personal topics to me.
The drug war’s perverse notions of addiction, addicts, and coping limit our vocabulary, stifle our empathy, and harm us all-especially those with neurodivergent operating systems and those enduring poverty and structural racism and ableism.
Survivorship Bias and Harassment
Thread on survivorship bias in tech.
Survivorship bias, or survival bias, is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that “survived” some process and inadvertently overlooking those that did not because of their lack of visibility.
Source: Survivorship bias – Wikipedia
Autism disclosure and professional life
But I’ve found that a potentially “safe” way to broach the topic is by way of bringing up “sensory sensitivity” and “sensory processing” terminology first. After all, people who don’t know they’re on the spectrum assume they’re neurotypical, and certain terminology is more palatable for them than other terminology. Sensory issues tend to be much more agreeable terms in the neurotypical world.
I then began to list characteristics, asking them in the form of questions, to all of which the person nodded, with increasing vigor with each subsequent question. Eventually, the person and their partner actually laughed and high-fived each other as if to say, “finally! Somebody gets it!” (And this person is not one who had been likely to laugh or high-five anyone, especially in front of a healthcare professional.)
I played a tennis match of yes-no in my brain. I hadn’t yet mentioned the terms Asperger’s or autism yet; should I, or shouldn’t I? After much internal back-and-forth I finally thought, “screw it; bring it up.”
So then came the magical question: “what do you know about Asperger’s/autism?”
And the dialogue proceeded from there, as I listened carefully to their answer and clarified the truths, gently adjusting their previously-held notions (which weren’t entirely negative). Then I listed off more characteristics in plain, everyday language, also to which they nodded enthusiastically.
I mentioned that a lot of us get misdiagnosed with what I call the “Usual 5” (and there may be others): depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, and OCD, before we realize that we’re actually Aspergian/autistic, and that the spectrum condition actually explains all of the others, negating and replacing those other labels, which had been reluctantly accepted but never fully embraced, because they didn’t seem to fit.
I stated clearly that my “theory” about what was going on with this person was not, in fact, a diagnosis, but simply the former: a theory, an idea. Nothing more. And I added that if they wanted to investigate this further, that I recommended the following steps:
- Start with the self-quizzes; they’re not diagnostic, but they ask simple yes/no questions, and provide a quick, easy, no-cost starting point to see if the subject was even worth pursuing further
- Based on the score, then they can do several things, one of which is to search for blogs written by Aspergian/autistic adults, especially ones of their same gender, to see if what they say resonates with them
- Either instead of or immediately after reading the blogs, they can search for the positive attributes of Asperger’s/autism; knowing this person, going straight for the diagnostic criteria first might cause anxiety or depression, with all of the “impairments” and “difficulties” and “restricted” this and “insufficient” that. If interested, go for the happy stuff first.
- At any point, if they’d like to pursue an official evaluation, I know just the right specialists, and I’m more than happy to make the referrals.
Desistence, Gender Dysphoria, and Neurodiversity
Thread on desistence and gender dysphoria.
I updated Neurodiversity and Gender Non-conformity, Dysphoria and Fluidity with selections from an article warning against “blaming” trans identity on autism. Respect intersectional identity.
To blame trans identities on autism is to say that autistic people cannot understand or be aware of their own gender. If an autistic person cannot know they are trans, how can they know they aren’t? How can they know anything about themselves?
When a person’s gender is doubted because they are autistic, this paves the way for removing autistic people’s agency in all kinds of other ways. If we can’t know this central aspect of our identity, we surely can’t know how we feel, what we like, or who we are. In short, it implies that we are not truly people, and that our existence, experiences, and identities are for other people to define. This is just another facet of dehumanising autistic people, and gender is certainly not the only area in which this happens.
In itself, the very urge to find a ‘reason’ that someone is transgender is a result of believing that being transgender is a problem, and that it would always be better not to be. The fact that clinicians like Zucker are focused on why someone is transgender, instead of focusing on what kind of help they need and how to best provide it, demonstrates clearly the belief that it is fundamentally bad to be transgender.
Not only that, but the belief that it’s even theoretically possible for anyone besides the individual in question to know what someone’s gender is. That’s just not how gender works! No-one really understand what gender is, or what it means, or where it comes from. The only thing we know for sure is that it’s internal, subjective, and personal. You can’t prove or test someone else’s gender any more than you can prove or test their favourite colour. The idea that it can be tested is constantly used to invalidate trans people. Our genders are doubted or disbelieved if we fail to adequately ‘prove’ ourselves to everyone else – if we express too many or too few gender stereotypes, if we are too old or too young, if we claim to be nonbinary or our description of our identity is too complicated or confusing.
The best option is to allow someone to explore their feelings, support them in gaining self-understanding, and accept their identity whatever it turns out to be. It is not complicated, and it’s only scary if you are still holding onto the belief that being either autistic or transgender – or, perish the thought, both – is a terrible thing to be. Which it’s not. I am, along with countless others like me, living proof of that.
Ableist autism parents
This thread offers #ActuallyAutistic perspective on ableist autism parents.
And here’s an in joke.
Oh how we wish for good alt text flow on Twitter.
Companies and government institutions that use data need to pay attention to the unconscious and institutional biases that seep into their results. It doesn’t take active prejudice to produce skewed results in web searches, data-driven home loan decisions, or photo-recognition software. It just takes distorted data that no one notices and corrects for. Thus, as we begin to create artificial intelligence, we risk inserting racism and other prejudices into the code that will make decisions for years to come. As Laura Weidman Powers, founder of Code2040, which brings more African Americans and Latinos into tech, told me, “We are running the risk of seeding self-teaching AI with the discriminatory undertones of our society in ways that will be hard to rein in because of the often self-reinforcing nature of machine learning.”
Many people seem to believe that decisions made by computers are inherently neutral, but when Tay screeched “race war now!!!” into the Twitterverse, it should have illustrated to everyone the threat of algorithmic prejudice. Without careful consideration of the data, the code, the coders, and how we monitor what emerges from “deep learning,” our technology can be just as racist, sexist, and xenophobic as we are.
Source: Racist in the Machine
For more on algorithmic bias, algorithmic exclusion, and data ethics, see this collection of links.
Dig into project-based and self-directed learning, and you’ll find psychological safety. Dig into privilege, and find psychological safety. Dig into voice and choice, and find psychological safety. Dig into creative teams, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and Employee Networks, and find psychological safety.
Psychological safety is necessary to building creative, collaborative teams. We’re learning that in the industries I inhabit, and I see that same learning happening in the self-directed learning space. Students and workers don’t want to leave their real lives at home. They want to design for their real lives–in psychological safety.
I updated my post on Projects, Teams, and Psychological Safety with more resources, including a couple videos and quotes from a couple studies. Reflect on your career through the lens of psychological safety.
Performance terror. We’ve all known a classroom, meeting room or stage where we didn’t feel safe doing something we were quite capable of doing.
“As a college professor I encourage students to read their work aloud, but I never insist on it,” said Carey. “Sometimes those who are uncomfortable doing it will volunteer on their own because it’s their decision rather than mine.”
“I centered my instruction on the lives, histories and identities of my students. And I did all of this because I wanted my students to know that everyone around them was supporting them to be their best self,” said Simmons.
A supportive culture, sustained advisory relationships, and teaching strategies that create positive learning all promote psychological safety.
“Every child deserves an education that guarantees the safety to learn in the comfort of one’s own skin,” said Simmons.
Every child deserves an education that guarantees the safety to learn in the comfort of one’s own skin.
I centered my instruction on the lives, histories and identities of my students. And I did all of this because I wanted my students to know that everyone around them was supporting them to be their best self.
So while I could not control the instability of their homes, the uncertainty of their next meal, or the loud neighbors that kept them from sleep, I provided them with a loving classroom that made them feel proud of who they are, that made them know that they mattered.
There is a better way, one that doesn’t force kids of color into a double bind; a way for them to preserve their ties to their families, homes and communities; a way that teaches them to trust their instincts and to have faith in their own creative genius.
Further, Kahn argued that people are more likely to believe they will be given the benefit of the doubt—a defining characteristic of psychological safety—when relationships within a given group are characterized by trust and respect.
Jonathan Mooney: “The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed”
This fantastic talk is full of social model goodness. Highly recommended.
You don’t need somebody to fix you. You need somebody to fight for you, and with you.
The myth of normal is what’s broken.
Disability industrial complex is all about what people can’t do. We spend most of our time trying to fix what they can’t do. When all we do is fix people the message we give to them is that they are broken.
We have created a system that has you submit yourself, or your child, to patient hood to access the right to learn differently. The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.
Mooney’s books Learning Outside The Lines: Two Ivy League Students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD Give You the Tools for Academic Success and Educational Revolution and The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal are in my reading queue.
Speechless did a great job addressing inspiration porn. Props. I updated Inspiration Porn, Growth Mindset, and Deficit Ideology with clips from and discussion about the show.
ABC’s “Speechless,” a sitcom about a family with a son who has a disability, tackled why it’s often offensive to call people with disabilities “inspirational.” And it’s done so, so well.
“Inspiration porn” is a term used to describe a common tendency in which able-bodied people condescend to those with disabilities by suggesting they are brave or special just for living. Ray DiMeo, a character in “Speechless” who is the younger brother of a teen with cerebral palsy, explained it perfectly in Wednesday night’s episode:
“It’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people,” he said.
To which his brother, JJ, who has cerebral palsy, hilariously adds: “I blame Tiny Tim.”
While these sorts of simplistic attitudes may seem harmless, if misguided, they can have real consequences in a world where disabilities are stigmatized. Research even shows stigma can lead to damaging health care consequences.
What’s more, these kinds of portrayals render the person who is disabled as a side character only revered for what they provide to others.
My Gimpy Life
While discussing Speechless and the social model, I recalled this great web series from a few years ago.
The awkward adventures of a driven actress (Teal Sherer) trying to navigate Hollywood in a wheelchair.
Pipelines, Privilege Economy, Contingency Economy, Post-employment Economy
I updated The Pipeline Problem and the Meritocracy Myth with selections from Sarah Kendzior’s The View From Flyover Country regarding the privilege economy, contingency economy, post-employment economy, and unpaid internships. This structural, systems thinking is necessary to confronting injustice and exclusion.
Creativity – as an expression of originality, experimentation, innovation – is not a viable product. It has been priced out into irrelevance – both by the professionalization of the industries that claim it, and the soaring cost of entry to those professions.
Today, creative industries are structured to minimize the diversity of their participants – economically, racially and ideologically. Credentialism, not creativity, is the passport to entry.
“What the artist was pretending he didn’t know is that money is the passport to success,” she writes. “We may be free beings, but we are constrained by an economic system rigged against us. What ladders we have, are being yanked away. Some of us will succeed. The possibility of success is used to call the majority of people failures.”
But creative people should not fear failure. Creative people should fear the prescribed path to success – its narrowness, its specificity, its reliance on wealth and elite approval. When success is a stranglehold, true freedom is failure. The freedom to fail is the freedom to innovate, to experiment, to challenge.
To “succeed” is to embody the definition of contemporary success: sanctioned, sanitized, solvent.
To which the 30-something, having spent their adult life in an economy of stagnant wages and eroding opportunities, takes the 20-something aside, and explains that this is a maxim they, too, were told, but from which they never benefitted. They tell the 20-something what they already know: It is hard to plan for what is already gone. We live in the tunnel at the end of the light.
If you are 35 or younger – and quite often, older – the advice of the old economy does not apply to you. You live in the post-employment economy, where corporations have decided not to pay people. Profits are still high. The money is still there. But not for you. You will work without a pay rise, benefits, or job security. Survival is now a laudable aspiration.
In the post-employment economy, jobs are privileges, and the privileged have jobs.
Unpaid internships lock out millions of talented young people based on class alone. They send the message that work is not labor to be compensated with a living wage, but an act of charity to the powerful, who reward the unpaid worker with “exposure” and “experience”. The promotion of unpaid labor has already eroded opportunity – and quality – in fields like journalism and politics. A false meritocracy breeds mediocrity.
Education is a luxury the minimum wage worker cannot afford. This message is passed on to their children.
Young Americans seeking full-time employment tend to find their options limited to two paths: one of low-status, low-paying temp jobs emblematic of poverty; another of high-status, low-paying temp jobs emblematic of wealth. America is not only a nation of temporary employees – the Walmart worker on a fixed-day contract, the immigrant struggling for a day’s pay in a makeshift “temp town” – but of temporary jobs: intern , adjunct , fellow.
Post-recession America runs on a contingency economy based on prestige and privation. The great commonality is that few are paid enough to live instead of simply survive.
In the post-employment economy, full-time jobs are parceled into low-wage contract labor, entry-level jobs turn into internships, salaries are paid in exposure, and dignity succumbs to desperation.
The problem in America is not that there are no jobs. It is that jobs are not paying. America is becoming a nation of zero-opportunity employers, in which certain occupations are locked into a terrible pay rate for no valid reason, and certain groups – minorities, the poor, and increasingly, the middle class – are locked out of professions because they cannot buy their way in.
During the recession, American companies found an effective new way to boost profits. It was called “not paying people”. “Not paying people” tends to be justified in two ways: a fake crisis (“Unfortunately, we can’t afford to pay you at this time…”) or a false promise (“Working for nearly nothing now will get you a good job later”).
In reality, profits are soaring and poorly compensated labor tends to lead to more poorly compensated labor. Zero opportunity employers are refusing to pay people because they can get away with it. The social contract does not apply to contract workers – and in 2013, that is increasingly what Americans are.
American ideology has long tilted between individualism and Calvinism. What happened to you was either supposed to be in your control – the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” approach – or divinely arbitrated. You either jumped, or you were meant to fall. Claims you were pushed, or you were born so far down you could not climb up, were dismissed as excuses of the lazy. This is the way many saw their world before it collapsed.
They cut and blame us when we bleed.
When people are expected to work unpaid for the promise of work, the advantage goes to those immune from the hustle: the owners over the renters, the salaried over the contingent. Attempts to ensure stability and independence for citizens – such as affordable healthcare – are decried as government “charity” while corporate charity is proffered as a substitute for a living wage.
Faust’s is an inspiring tale – and one beyond the comprehension of most young graduates in America today. “Don’t trust the boomers!” warned Paul Campos in a 2012 article on the misguided advice the elder generation peddles to their underemployed, debt-ridden progeny – including gems like “higher education is always worth the price” and “internships lead to jobs” – and Faust’s rebuke proves him right. What is most remarkable about Faust’s career is not its culmination in the Harvard presidency, but the system of accessibility and opportunity that allowed her to pursue it. Her life story is a eulogy for an America long since past.
Participation in these programs and internships is often dependent on personal wealth, resulting in a system of privilege that replicates itself over generations. McArdle compares America’s eroded meritocracy to imperial China, noting that “the people entering journalism, or finance, or consulting, or any other ‘elite’ profession, are increasingly the children of the children of those who rocketed to prosperity through the post-war education system. A window that opened is closing”.
Mobility is but a memory. “The life prospects of an American are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in almost any other advanced country for which there is data,” writes economist Joseph E Stiglitz in an editorial aptly titled “Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth”.
This is not to say that hard-working elites do not deserve their success, but that the greatest barrier to entry in many professions is financial, not intellectual.
The “lifetime of citizenship, opportunity, growth and change” Drew Gilpin Faust extolled is something most Americans desire. But it is affordable only for a select few: the baby boomers who can buy their children opportunities as the system they created screws the rest.
While the start and end dates of the millennial generation are up for debate – and the idea of inherent generational traits is dubious – people of this age group share an important quality. They have no adult experience in a functional economy.
Millennials are chastised for leaning on elders, but the new rules of the economy demand it. Unpaid internships are often prerequisites to full-time jobs, and the ability to take them is based on money, not merit. Young adults who live off wealthy parents are the lucky few. They can envision a future because they can envision its purchase. Almost everyone else is locked out of the game.
It is one thing to discover, as an adult, that the rules have been rewritten, that the job market will not recover, that you will scramble to survive. It is another to raise a child knowing that no matter how hard they work, how talented they are, how big they dream, they will not have opportunities – because in the new economy, opportunities are bought, not earned. You know this, but you cannot tell this to a child. The millennial parent is always Santa, always a little bit of a liar.
The children of the millennials have been born into a United States of entrenched meritocracy – what Pierre Bourdieu called “the social alchemy that turns class privilege into merit”. Success is allegedly based on competition, not background, but one must be prepared to pay to play.
“This reliance on un- or underpaid labor is part of a broader move to a ‘privilege economy’ instead of a merit economy – where who you know and who pays your bills can be far more important than talent,” writes journalist Farai Chideya, noting that this system often locks out minorities.
By charging more for a year’s college tuition than the average median income, universities ensure that poor people stay poor while debt-ridden graduates join their ranks. By requiring unpaid internships, professions such as journalism ensure positions of influence will be filled only by those who can pay for them. The cycle of privilege and privation continues.
One after another, the occupations that shape American society are becoming impossible for all but the most elite to enter.
My father, the first person in his family to go to college, tries to tell me my degree has value. “Our family came here with nothing,” he says of my great-grandparents, who fled Poland a century ago. “Do you know how incredible it is that you did this, how proud they would be?” And my heart broke a little when he said that, because his illusion is so touching – so revealing of the values of his generation, and so alien to the experience of mine.
Source: The View From Flyover Country
Lean In and Deficit Ideology
Kendzior also writes about Lean In, which I’m working into a “Lean In and Deficit Ideology” post that will join my Structural Ideology > Deficit Ideology narrative.
The assumed divide between mothers who work inside and outside the home is presented as a war of priorities. But in an economy of high debt and sinking wages, nearly all mothers live on the edge. Choices made out of fear are not really choices. The illusion of choice is a way to blame mothers for an economic system rigged against them. There are no “mommy wars”, only money wars – and almost everyone is losing.
For the average married mother of small children, it is often cheaper to stay home – even if she would prefer to be in the workforce. It is hard to “lean in” when you are priced out.
Corporate feminists like Sheryl Sandberg frame female success as a matter of attitude. But it is really a matter of money – or the lack thereof. For all but the fortunate few, American motherhood is making sure you have enough lifeboats for your sinking ship. American motherhood is a cost-cutting, debt-dodging scramble somehow interpreted as a series of purposeful moves. American mothers are not “leaning in”. American mothers are not “opting out”. American mothers are barely hanging on.
Careers in this economy are not about choices. They are about structural constraints masquerading as choice. Being a mother is a structural constraint regardless of your economic position. Mothers pay a higher price in a collapsed economy, but that does not mean they should not demand change – both in institutions and perceptions.
The irony of American motherhood is that the politicians and corporations who hold power do have a choice in how they treat mothers and their children. Yet they act as if they are held hostage to intractable policies and market forces, excusing the incompetence and corporate malfeasance that drain our households dry. Mothers can emulate them and treat “choice” as an individual burden – or we can work together and push for accountability and reform. This option is not easy. But we are used to that.
Source: The View From Flyover Country