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

Thoughts from a reflective designer

Hi Everyone.

It's been a reflective couple of months. The recurring theme is there is so much to be done in the world and - guess what? - we have the ability to do it. Isn't that amazing? Every one of us has the ability to make the change we wish to see.

That being said, here are some musings on disability design that have been floating in my head the past month or so. For reference, "Mike" is Mike Harris, director of the Paralyzed Veteran's for America and good friend to ADAPT.

Mike harris, director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, speaking with attendees of the interdisciplinary design confrence // April 2016

Mike harris, director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, speaking with attendees of the interdisciplinary design confrence // April 2016

“Disability doesn’t discriminate.” This is Mike’s favorite phrase as a manual wheelchair user. And he’s right. Disability doesn’t care if you’re black or white, straight or gay, rich or poor. It can affect anybody at any time, but for some reason we don’t treat it that way—especially when it comes to design. We create buildings with the accessible entrance artfully hidden by a row of shrubs or found in a side alley. We create hearing aids to be as small and inconspicuous as possible as if it’s shameful to require one. We install bathroom sinks and locate the drain pipe in the center of the sink rather than to the side, even though this prevents wheelchair users from getting close enough to use it.

All of these examples come from wheelchair users speaking to student designers at an interdisciplinary design conference I organized last spring. We've identified (a few of) many problems. Now it's time to work.

- Laura, CEO

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