Being healthy means that we can do a lot of things by ourselves. We can buy our groceries, go to restaurants, use public or personal transportation, even climb the mountains and use any device we need. We feel empowered, confident in the future. We have a world designed for us, even if we don’t realize that.
Now imagine having a disability, let’s say your right leg is broken. Instead of taking five minutes to go to the shop to buy milk it would take you over thirty minutes and a lot of frustration. There is no way you could easily open the door, everyone stares at you while you’re trying your best to enter the shop. You start looking for alternatives, maybe ask for help. But all this builds up. There comes a time when you don’t have the mood to join your friends at a party because it gets too hard, you don’t even know what public transportation would serve you and google maps doesn’t have this route info for your country. You start to feel isolated, depressed, angry. Left out.
We tend to take our health for granted, but the truth is that there is no human being who doesn’t experience disability during his lifetime. It may be an accident, becoming a parent or old age. None of it defines a human being. We’re all looking to enjoy life, to connect with others, to do meaningful work. To express ourselves.
Designing for disability means to consider edge cases, situations that are rare and don’t make the case for profit. At least not immediately, because, otherwise, there is evidence that constraints lead to innovation. Typewriters, keyboards and the flexible straw are just a few examples.
We are not only business owners, employees or professionals. We are also sons, daughters, parents, grandparents, etc. When we choose to limit the interaction, even though it is in our power to extend the use of it, then we deny our other roles in society. Roles for which we don’t get paid, but which bind us.
We shall start by learning more about our decision-making process and expand our worldview, see things from a different perspective. Kat Holmes, the author of Mismatch book, proposes a change in mindset, defining disability as a mismatch in interactions with the features of a person’s body and the environment that they live in. I would add that another point of view could be to look at a technological solution as being unable to meet the needs of people with specific problems.
Maybe the question we should ask ourselves is if are we creating disabled technologies.