A Call for All Designers: Inclusive Design

Last year I was talking with a good friend and Paralympic champion, Brad Bowden, where he brought to my attention a reality about human behavior that is almost too obvious to believe.  He pointed out that when given the choice between walking up a ramp or walking up stairs, people almost always take the ramp. Why is this significant? Because, as Brad pointed out, just about everyone can go up a ramp, but there are millions of people in the USA and Canada alone who can’t take the stairs.

I, myself, immediately recalled many childhood memories where I’d ask if I could run up the ramp to the library rather than taking the stairs simply because it was fun.

Ramps are just as inclusive for people with disabilities as those without.  If I have learned anything from my years in design, more often than not, solutions to address disability result in easier use for a range of end-users over an incredible range of products and systems.

A similar pivotal moment of learning came to us on Twitter. The account @SC_Playground, an organization creating inclusive playgrounds in Santa Cruz, reached out to our account (@AdaptDsgn) when they noticed our “about me” description on or homepage, which read: designing beautiful products for differently-abled people. At the time, we thought it was more appropriate to say ‘differently-abled’ than ‘disabled.’ What they brought to our attention was the ableism and avoidance of reality that ‘differently-abled’ implies. To help us educate ourselves further on this sort of ableist terminology, SC Playground referred us to an awesome article on how the term ‘differently-abled’ marginalizes people with disabilities.

We could not be more thankful to SC Playground and others who advise us similarly,  and is the reason we continue to use social media as a platform to spur dialogue. The Adapt Design team exists to learn from you - the experts on disability - so that we can apply our design expertise in a thoughtful  and productive way.

Inclusive playgrounds are a demonstrative example of how design can create integrated settings that anyone can enjoy. In the same way that ramps are largely accessible to those with and without physical disabilities, so are inclusive playgrounds. Too much of the design community is ignorant of both disability and the benefits of designing for disability as standard practice. Afterall, why wouldn’t you want to create a playground, building, school, park, that everyone and anyone can use? We know how to build bathrooms so that they are accessible to everyone. We know how wide doorways have to be to comfortably fit a wheelchair. We know how to design playgrounds so that all kids can enjoy them. Even so, attempts to implement these solutions are often failed afterthoughts to meet regulations and are not necessarily realistic for people with disabilities. There are no excuses. It’s time for all of us planning renovations, building structures, designing new institutions to demand accessible designs.

Not sure where to start? Let’s have a conversation. Help us to help you incorporate inclusive design principles into every aspect of your work and life: hello@weareadaptdesign.com

Photo courtesy of Shane's Inspiration, an awesome organization committed to inclusive play and literacy.

Photo courtesy of Shane's Inspiration, an awesome organization committed to inclusive play and literacy.

- Laura, CEO/Co-Founder