We are disabled not by our bodies, but by the world around us. It is a social construct. Disability is nothing more than a brand, the world’s ugliest brand
And I can’t help but wonder if universal design is actually contributing to the problem. Universal design was defined in 1997 after two years of architectural innovation. And two interesting things happened. First, of the seven principles of universal design, not one even talks about beauty or aesthetic or emotional connection, which is a bit awkward when you stop to realize that for design to succeed, form must meet function.
Notice the theme? All of these products are made for children. And it worries me that entering this market through children will only serve to further infantilize us. We are not consulted in these products, nor are we deemed experts in our life experience and it creates a paradigm where disability design is either rudimentary or elementary.
This is the power of disability ingenuity. And so it strikes me as a bit misguided that companies are trending toward adaptive design for disability. It seems to me, if you design something with intent, it won’t need to be adapted. Adaptation happens at the end of the design process even after it’s been completed. But disability ingenuity is the spark at the beginning.
Social media has given rise to a newly empowered disabled voice. My friend Lawrence Carter-Long likes to say “disability’s no longer just a diagnosis; it’s a community”. And we ascribe to the social model of disability. So, there’s two primary models of disability. There is the medical model which I’m pretty sure everybody here ascribes to which states: we’re disabled by our bodies. And then there’s the social model which states: we are disabled, not by our bodies, but by the world around us. Disability’s not medical. It’s not impairment. It is a social construct. And it is this social construct that positions us as pitiable or inspirational. It is this social construct that positions us as objects of charity. It is this social construct that expects that we must either overcome or succumb; that we cannot just exist. Disability design theorists Liz DePoy and Stephen Gilson argue that disability is nothing more than a brand. The world’s ugliest brand. And perhaps it’s time for a global identity changing rebrand.
To be explicitly clear: disability is designed. And the things that you’ve historically seen as markers of disability, namely poor design, they’re changing because of us. And we’re more interested in the functionality of the product, than the ability of the user. And we want you to know that we don’t want to be fixed. We want things fixed. We don’t want our diversity and identities eliminated; we want access and equity.
The standing wheelchair is an excellent example of fixing a person versus fixing a thing. The standing wheelchair implies that a sitting body is defective. I actually find the marketing a bit defective.
So, I’m an advocate. I advocate for the dignity and humanity of good design.
People with disabilities are the original life hackers because our motivation is so high. If we don’t hack we often go without.
As a Twitter thread: Ryan Boren on Twitter: “”Notice the theme? All of these products are made for children. And it worries me that entering this market through children will only serve to further infantilize us.” https://t.co/vvQ98fTOMl”