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Consider the vegetable peeler. Invented and reinvented over the years, but patented by Swiss designer Alfred Neweczerzal in 1947, the humble veggie peeler quickly became a kitchen staple. Neweczerzal’s design was originally made in six aluminium pieces, but the incorporation of plastic reduced it to three, keeping the tool at an affordable economy of scale.

AUTHOR

Simon Moore

Co-founder @ Pixel Together


Friday 17th September 2021

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'The idea is that if you can solve a really, really hard problem for someone with a really serious impairment, you will almost inevitably solve a problem that other people didn’t know they have.'

For the most part, it was a perfectly good design. But kitchenware salesman Sam Farber saw within it the potential for something better. His wife, Betsy, had arthritis, and complained to him about the finicky hold required to work with the tool. ​​Betsy herself was a designer, and after asking Sam if he could make a better handle, she grabbed some clay and started working on a prototype. A few years later, the OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler was born. ​


Canberra-based UX designer Zoë Rose, who runs the training business Great Question, uses the OXO peeler as an example of what inclusive design can accomplish. The peeler is beloved of home chefs the world over, and has been included for permanent display in the Chicago Atheneum, Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design, and the Museum of Modern Art.

“A lot of corporations are now using inclusive design as an R&D strategy,” Rose says. “The idea is that if you can solve a really, really hard problem for someone with a really serious impairment, you will almost inevitably solve a problem that other people didn’t know they have.”

Accessibility benefits everybody. Ask any parent of young children for a list of their favourite places, and they will provide a map of parks, museums, and cafés with clearly-designated baby-changing rooms and easy pusher access. Audiophiles, as well as those with sensory processing impairments, will recommend the best noise-reducing ear plugs; and aesthetes as well as migraine sufferers appreciate soft lighting and music, rather than fluorescent glare.

The closer you look, though, the more likely it is you’ll find overlap between these categories. Though the official statistic is that 1 in 5 people are disabled, Rose points out that this figure is based on self-reported census data—and that many people may not consider themselves disabled, either because of stigma, or because traditional diagnostic models have failed to account for the diverse ways in which disability is experienced.

“If you ask the Bureau of Statistics, they’ll say that a disability is any impairment that stops you from doing day-to-day stuff, which lasts for six months or more, or which you could predict will last for six months,” Rose says. “If you use that as your metric, the level of disability across our community is probably about 50%.”

If this seems high, it’s likely because the medical model of disability—based on the idea of diagnosable deficits—is still, for many people, a prevailing idea. The more recent international standard, the social model of disability, contrasts with the medical model as it proposes that the ‘disability’ arises through situational barriers a person with an impairment must overcome. These barriers can be physical (e.g. a veggie peeler with a finicky handle), attitudinal, social and communication based.

“Disability is an interaction between impairments in the body, and barriers in the person’s context,” Rose says. 


When you reduce those barriers, a lot of a person’s difficulty in participating in any given context is reduced as well. If you’re wearing prescription glasses as you read this, you already know just how much of a difference good design thinking can make.

So how can you up your accessibility game?

A quick audit of potential barriers can give you a good idea of where to focus your attention.

How are your communications phrased and delivered?

For people with cognitive impairments, good—meaning clean—web design can make all the difference. Use heading tags to structure your content, include image descriptions and closed captions, and ensure that GIFS don't use a strobe effect. It's also helpful to give your links descriptive names, for example avoid 'click here' style links and instead include a description in your links such as 'features' or 'pricing'.

In terms of language used, writer and activist Carly Finlay recently published a language guide at Refinery 29, which is an excellent resource if you’re involved in content creation—and it’s good to check in with disabled friends and co-workers, as language is constantly evolving.

Image Credit: Franco Antonio Giovanella

What does your physical environment look like?

The Australian Network on Disability has an events accessibility checklist that gives a thorough breakdown of best practice for making physical spaces accessible to everyone, and can be a useful starting point for examining your own surrounds.

“In disability, there’s a lot of Shibboleth thinking—‘If I can just come up with the correct passphrase, I have succeeded in being truly inclusive, and I don't actually have to do anything else,’” says Rose wryly. “But attitude is really the foundation for everything else that you need to get done.

“Your attitude will determine whether you spruce up your website a little bit or not. It will determine whether you have notes on a conference that you want to run, saying, ‘If you need any extra support, let us know,’ giving the option of an anonymous form.”

Building accessibility into your work takes a small amount of increased awareness, and allows you to expand your scope in creative ways. You may not invent the next OXO peeler, but you might increase the reach of your EDMs, create a calmer workspace, or see an uptick in retention on newly-reconfigured website.

Fundamentally, Rose says, it’s about making the shift towards seeing disability access as a foundational part of creative thinking.

“Disability is a part of human diversity,” she says, “and it has the fundamental capacity to lead to breakthroughs in our experience of being human.

“Make something that will help you get more money out of the very large proportion of disabled people out there,” she adds with a laugh. “If you have the attitude that says, ‘Actually, I would like to sell to these people who have a very large amount of spare money,’ then it requires you to think a bit. And it might turn out that number of people you reach is everyone.”

What’s your attitude towards disability and accessibility accommodation?

'If your workplace is already a warm and welcoming one, in which individual work style are accommodated, you’re likely already fostering an atmosphere of inclusion'

If your workplace is already a warm and welcoming one, in which individual work style are accommodated, you’re likely already fostering an atmosphere of inclusion. Be aware of the demands made via online social spaces; a good breakdown of accessibility Zoom and other virtual events can be found

here.

What kind of social atmosphere does your work encourage?

Image Credit: Mikey Harris

Invest in lasting pieces

Because many of the purchases involved in setting up a home office are tax-deductable, it’s worth considering where you can spend a bit extra in order to invest in quality. Inexpensive electronics are often unreliable, but a mid-range external monitor is worth the spend, given the impact it makes on workflow.


Some people find split keyboards more comfortable to use than standard keyboards; others swear by ergonomic mice. It’s important to note that the term ‘ergonomic’ is not associated with any Australian industry standards, and that qualified ergonomists stress the importance of treating each body individually. There really is no one-size-fits-all solution.


Most importantly, trained professionals stress that a workplace set-up is only one part of the equation. Taking breaks, stretching, and remembering to switch off and relax are all part of workplace health and safety, as are getting some sunshine and moving around. The fantasy, after all, is about maintaining healthy boundaries, so remember that you don’t actually live at work—no matter how beautiful your new office becomes.

'Make sure that you give feedback about the things that have worked as well as those that haven’t.'

Keep the lines of communication open

Finally, check in with client relationships as they develop, to ensure that you are still on the same page, and make sure that you give feedback about the things that have worked as well as those that haven’t.

“We have to constantly shape and mould our relationships like clay,” says Prince. “Respectfully letting people know when needs were met, as well as when they were not, allows you to learn to build a healthy, respectful relationship.

“Be prepared to hear the emotion and story behind another's boundary,” she adds. “This involves empathy and compromise. Building healthy relationships requires not only the giving of feedback and making of boundaries, but the willingness to be on the receiving end as well.”

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AUTHOR

Published: 

Friday 17th September 2021

Co-founder @ Pixel Together

Simon Moore

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