Accommodations: Individualized Responses to Structural Design Problems

Yet on a programmatic basis, disability policy and other social programs remain enmeshed, even at their best, in accommodation models, where specific proven needs or deficits generate specific individualized responses. What might it look like to shift our framing of the social safety net to a universal model?

Source: I Shouldn’t Have to Dehumanize My Son to Get Him Support | The Nation

This captures an aspect of accommodation models that really frustrate me. They encourage individualized responses to structural design problems. Instead of designing by default for “proven needs” well-known in disability and neurodiversity communities, accommodations models require individual episodes of forced intimacy, repeated over and over and over for the rest of your life. We should treat each episode of forced intimacy as a stress case that puts our designs to the test of real life.

Our industry tends to call these edge cases-things that affect an insignificant number of users. But the term itself is telling, as information designer and programmer Evan Hensleigh puts it: “Edge cases define the boundaries of who and what you care about” (http://bkaprt.com/dfrl/00-01/). They demarcate the border between the people you’re willing to help and the ones you’re comfortable marginalizing.

That’s why we’ve chosen to look at these not as edge cases, but as stress cases: the moments that put our design and content choices to the test of real life.

It’s a test we haven’t passed yet. When faced with users in distress or crisis, too many of the experiences we build fall apart in ways large and small.

Instead of treating stress situations as fringe concerns, it’s time we move them to the center of our conversations-to start with our most vulnerable, distracted, and stressed-out users, and then work our way outward. The reasoning is simple: when we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

Source: Design for Real Life

School IEPs are a treasure trove of stress cases and structural problems currently treated individually. Let’s design for pluralism instead of putting us through a soul-chipping accommodations process that, at best, patches over bad design driven by “artificial economies of scarcity”.

What you can’t know unless you have #disability is how all the paperwork chips away at your soul. Every box you tick, every sentence about your “impairment” and “needs” becomes part of the narrative of your identity…

Source: Gill Loomes-Quinn on Twitter

Bascom tells me that experiences like ours happen because disability service systems are never designed to support people with disabilities but are “about managing access to scarce resources. We start with the assumption that these resources are limited, so you have to prove over and over again that you need them more than anyone else. If we as a society invested more resources in supporting people with disabilities, we could redesign our systems accordingly.”

Source: I Shouldn’t Have to Dehumanize My Son to Get Him Support | The Nation

Invest in care, and design for real life.

Previously,

Erasing the Edges: Inclusive Design, Disability Dongles, and Inspiration Exploitation

Mood: Our appeals to design for the edges have been translated into disability dongles and inspiration exploitation.

Framing accessibility as an edgy marketing slogan without centering disabled people is problematic.

In disability-centric designs, there’s a very specific way that internal grassroots efforts are sold to the powers that be. Executives are pitched on the mass appeal of accessibility, on the basis that by designing for a disabled person, everyone benefits. This highly simplistic view has become one of the core tenets of so-called inclusive design. And while there is a traceable history of this phenomenon, when pursued as a corporate strategy, it risks causing more harm than the design solves. This harm happens through a four-part process:

Source: Why won’t Nike use the word disabled to promote the Go FlyEase shoe?

Those four parts are:

  • Inspiration Exploitation tropes
  • Disability euphemisms
  • Disability erasure
  • Product inaccessibility (often financial)

Design is tested at the edges. I believe and advocate that. Thus, it is supremely deflating to have it reduced from an acknowledgement and confrontation of structural realities to a four-part gloss that erases and excludes the edges.

For FlyEase to have a future, it needs to honor its history by finding a way to appeal to disabled consumers beyond tokenistic representation or inspiration. It would require a campaign that demonstrates a commitment to learning about what disability is, rather than merely promoting accessibility to reach mass audiences. And if we’ve learned one thing as disabled design critics, it is that stories inform the way we design. Disabled people are the original FlyEase consumer. It’s about time Nike stops erasing us.

Source: Why won’t Nike use the word disabled to promote the Go FlyEase shoe?

My dyspraxic kid has used FlyEase for years. They are a good design and not a disability dongle, but the marketing not only fails to center the right people, it erases them.

There is no path to inclusive design that does not involve direct confrontation with injustice. Who do your product and your marketing center, and do they confront injustice?

Just Sayin’

Design for real life.

Design for pluralism.

Solve for the infinity.

Foreground complexity as the baseline.

Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.


Design is tested at the edges.

Compassion is not coddling.


Human cognitive diversity exists for a reason; our differences are the genius – and the conscience – of our species.

To face the challenges of the future, we’ll need the problem-solving abilities of different types of minds working together.

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.

Difference is not our deficit; it’s our operating system.

Diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher. Fear difference, you learn nothing.


The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by diagnosis.

Written communication is the great social equalizer.

To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world. Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators.

Noncompliance is a social skill.

Laziness does not exist.

It’s not about behavior.

If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context.

Design learning where there is no option for oppression.


There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity.

Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems.

You cannot counter structural inequality with good will. You have to structure equality.

We are all accountable to the urgent work of building a more just, more equitable world.


By focusing on the parts of the system that are most complex and where the people living it are the most vulnerable we understand the system best.

When we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

Everything we do publicly can be made more inclusive and uplifting with intersectionality, and everything we do can become exclusionary and oppressive without it.

When we build things – we must think of the things our life doesn’t necessitate. Because someones life does.

A mismatched interaction between a person and their environment is a function of design. Change the environment, not the body.


Putting care—not just care work, but care—at the center of our economy, our politics, is to orient ourselves around our interdependence.

Care is an organizational structure needed to keep our nation running. It’s, by definition, infrastructure.

Care work makes all other work possible.


Fix injustice, not kids.

Free, life-changing, and available to everyone.

Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.


Nothing about us without us.

We exist as friction.


Embracing pluralism is good citizenship. Democracy demands equal accommodation.

Default to open.


Do not be the oppressor.

People suffer, and when they do, it’s for a reason.