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

Life Lessons from Eden's Mom

Eden and her mother, Billie.

Eden and her mother, Billie.

"I've been thinking, pondering, wondering...how do I teach Eden that she is just like everyone else? That her disability does not define her? That she can do whatever she wants, based on her strengths? That everyone has strengths and weaknesses?

How do I teach others that she is a 'normal' kid? That she should be treated the same as everyone else? That she loves all the same things that the other kids like? That she wants to play too?

Then it hit me...she is NOT like everyone else.

If I fail to recognize and accept her differences...if I fail to recognize and embrace her many strengths, I am failing her. She is different. Just like everyone else."

- Billie, mother of Eden, a beautiful young woman with cerebral palsy and a good friend of ours. Eden informs several of our projects, including my senior capstone design project.

Quote from Understanding the NICU: What Parents of Preemies and other Hospitalized Newborns Need to Know by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

x Laura

A Union of Education & Passion.

Last Sunday I had the absolute pleasure of spending time with the beautiful Eden Ericson. Eden is an outgoing, art-loving, kind-hearted sixth grader who has cerebral palsy which causes her to use a wheelchair. She is one of many people we work with to identify design problems and to create effective solutions.

The purpose of this meeting was to kick off my senior design project. Much like Sidney working last year on her senior thesis with Amanda Jurysta, I get to spend my senior year creating something beautiful for Eden. Throughout the semester, I am working in a team with two other engineering students Amanda Chamberlain and Val Coldren. I spent some time catching them up on my previous experiences working with Eden, but it also gave me the opportunity to learn new things about her and her family's experiences trying to find everyday products that she can use. For instance, it took Eden's parents a lot of trial and error to finally find a water bottle that was easy to open but wouldn't break if dropped. 

Eden also has a pink basket holding all of the necessities; iPod, water bottle, some pencils, and what she jokingly refers to as other 'junk'. The problem here is, as a preteen she told us she'd like to carry a purse instead, This is the problem space we are currently most interested in. We are currently working with Eden to explore how we might develop a solution that she can customize the look of everyday depending on her mood, outfit, etc.

My senior project teammates and I are spending Thanksgiving week reflecting on our meeting and doing some individual brainstorming. Next week, we'll reunite to compare initial sketches and see what Eden thinks of our progress.

 - Laura, CEO

Streamline solutions to foster independence.

Every time we interview someone with a disability, we ask where they find resources or products that help them navigate their environment. Too often the response we hear is "I don't know." Most people we meet with spend hours searching the internet for solutions that address various aspects of living with a disability. While this is so obviously frustrating and slow to resolve, we also see some clever hacks that result from this extreme lack of option. 

At Adapt, we decided to create a resource page dedicated to sharing these clever DIY solutions, but also to help people find existing products and services already available on the market. The database of resources will continue to grow rapidly as we come across new people, and companies working to improve independence for those with disabilities.

Amanda Jurysta shows our designer the different products she has used in attempt to make her wheelchair more efficient. 

As we began collecting information on new products and services, we also came across movements of people working on social justice issues relating to rights of the disabled. After discovering these groups the Adapt team decided to include a "Movements" section that will feature groups of people working on advocacy and awareness for disability. 

We ask that you reach out to us if you have a hack, service, movement, or product that you think is worth sharing. Together, we can streamline new solutions to those who need them allowing us to save time, foster innovation, and support small businesses. 

 - Sidney, Designer