“Let’s Build A World That Includes Everyone, By Design – And Through Accessibility”
I live in a world that is not designed for me.
As a physically Disabled person, much of my agency and independence is limited by the design of places, spaces and products. This is most obvious when I approach an automatic door and it doesn’t open because the sensor is set to a specific height. Or, when I try to order a coffee and the counter is so high that the barista can’t see me and continues to shout, ‘Next, please!’ Neither are accessible to me, but maybe one is to ensure the safety of children and the other is to allow baristas to stand to make coffee. Nevertheless, both serve as a reminder that places, spaces and products are often created in the likeness and experience of the designer, meaning they make assumptions over who uses their product, who lives in our world, and who gets to work as a barista.
The ‘mismatch’ between me and my environment isn’t unique. Think about a pair of scissors that is only usable for those who are right-handed, or that the standard office temperature was developed around an average man’s metabolic resting rate. It was 2019 by the time ballet pointe shoes first colour-matched Black and mixed-race skin tones. In the midst of a pandemic, antigen or lateral flow tests are inaccessible to those who are Blind, and face masks remain a barrier to the Deaf community.
A way to change all that? Let’s build a world that includes everyone, by design – and through accessibility.
I define accessibility as a continuous and evolving practice that is achieved through intentional, meaningful and intersectional participation of people with a lived experience of exclusion. I believe that if we design a more accessible world, we build a more equitable one too. Accessible solutions don’t merely give agency to Disabled people, but vastly improve all our lives.
For example, did you know that text messaging was originally designed for the Deaf community? The first text message was sent in 1992 and created by Matti Makkonen as an accessible method for Deaf people to communicate with each other and the non-Disabled community. Today, text messaging is the world’s most-used data service with 22 billion texts sent per day. (This data doesn’t even include the messaging capabilities of Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and TikTok.)
I believe that innovation lives in the bedrock of unreached communities, but where to begin? Here’s my blueprint:
- Disability is not a dirty word Say the word Disabled and avoid euphemisms.
- Support Disabled artists and activists, such as: Christine Sun Kim, Rosie Jones, Chella Man, Éabha Wall and Dr Rosaleen McDonagh
- We don’t know what we don’t know At school, at home, in the cinema, on a Zoom call or at work, always ask yourself ‘is this accessible?’
Sinéad Burke is a writer, academic and disability activist based in Dublin. @tiltingthelens