Thursday, 15 February 2007

Approach to Design Issues

I particularly like this approach to design, I think I picked it up from CABE - but I must check that. It sort of sums up how we should approach design issues very neatly.

Although the academic and broadsheet worlds still tend to refer to ‘the elderly’ and ‘the disabled’, as if they form distinct groups outside the mainstream of society, there is a growing trend to recognise age and disability as something we will all experience, and therefore part of a normal lifecourse. Disabled people have become increasingly assertive about their rights to access buildings and services, while for older people the emphasis is now on independence. Both groups aspire to active participation within the mainstream of society, reject the dependency and institutionalisation that were the norm for much of the last century, and are beginning to assert themselves as consumers
who control significant amounts of disposable income. Such new expectations offer a rationale for design that is ‘inclusive’ rather that exclusive, and more closely aligned to contemporary social expectations.
I therefore get quite annoyed with the prevalence worldwide, and possibly more so here in South Africa, of the Disability Sector trouncing out the "nothing for us, without us" quote that has been hijacked from the civil rights movement. Of course as in a previous post, the design has to be inclusionary and the process of design has to be participative. But throw away lines, like the above, only perpetuates the "us & them" mentality. There is no "us & them" - we are them, and they are us (or could be one day!). We are designing for society, for everyone. Everyone is involved in this. Many times, in Internet debates I have pushed certain aspects (some may even call me opinionated!), and these have been ignored or devalued by other people in the debate...until they find out that I am a wheelchair user. It does not make any difference! My view should carry the same weight! Sure my disability opened my eyes to these issues, but that was only because I was blind beforehand. Most of the people on my Masters course appear not to be disabled, but does that lessen their input or views? Of course not! I really feel that until the Disability Sector can move away from this viewpoint we will continue to be hamstrung here. As an interesting point; I have noticed that people seem to pay more attention during a 'combined' workshop when my business partner, Jeremy, (who happens to be blind) talks about wheelchair access, and then I (who happens to be a wheelchair user) talks about deaf issues.
Why shouldn't we? We have both done a lot of work in the Disability field, and have something to offer. Just because our own impairment does not match the subject heading has no effect on the validity of our comments.


Mike M said...

As you are aware Guy, I don't share your opinion on this approach. Inclusive Design HAS to include input from the disabled for it to be considered Inclusive Design. I refer you to your previous post where you admit that the process has to be participative and not exclusionary. You then appear to contradict yourself in this post! Surely there will always be us and them? The difference is easy to spot as we are the disabled ones!

Guy said...

Mike, yes I know we don't see eye to eye on this one! When I talk about participation it would not just refer to disabled people...although it may. But it would include people who have some knowledge about Disabilities, and Access issues. In the same way that it should also have an input that would assist say mothers with pushchairs. But it would not necessarily mean a mother (OK, PC - Parent) with a child would have to make that input. But it would require someone who has the knowledge. But it goes further than that. Rather than the designers shutting themselves off in a small dark room while they design a facility, they should talk to civil engineers, who may be able to tell them about new materials or methods of building. Electronic wizards (I desisted from saying nerds!) may be able to come up with new technologies that could have an impact. Do you see where I am going? & them??...easy to spot???...I think not! I know (and indeed you know) many people with invisible disabilities. I guess they don't count in your simplistic view??

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