The world through the eyes of disabled people
The world through the eyes of disabled people
The Girl with the Purple Cane, Liz Jackson, has created The Disabled List to harness the intuitive creativity disabled people cultivate by navigating a world that isn’t built for their bodies.
Australian, Liz Jackson, is leading a revolution in inclusive design by rethinking disability as a branding problem. She advocates alongside her peers to shift the disability narrative, and strives every day to build pathways into design for disabled people.
MiNDFOOD sat down with this inspiring woman and got her take on, amongst other things, the concept of disability ingenuity.
What is inclusive design? Why is it important?
I have stopped using the term ‘Inclusive Design’ because I feel like when it is applied to disability, it’s euphemistic, it’s a way to avoid saying the word ‘Disability’. To me, inclusive or adaptive or accessible or human-centered or universal design serves as a signal that disabled people likely weren’t included in the design process, or if they were, they likely weren’t paid or credited for their contributions. I prefer instead ‘Disability Design’ or ‘Design with Disability’, because disabled people are not simply recipients of design processes, we’re oftentimes the drivers and innovators.
Why are people with disability the original life hackers?
I identify as a ‘disabled person’ and not a ‘person with disability’ because I put my community before I put myself. Disabled people are the original lifehackers because we spend our lives cultivating an intuitive creativity because we are forced to navigate a world that isn’t built for our bodies. Our innovations have been known to change the world, our ingenuity led to the bicycle, we created the iPhone touchscreen and curb cuts and so many other objects. The Original Lifehackers is a rallying cry to the disability to start to get everyone to see how valuable our insights truly are, so that hopefully, we’ll start entering design fields in greater numbers.
What is disability ingenuity?
Have you ever noticed how many of history’s greatest thinkers were disabled? Stephen Hawking, Beethoven, Frida Kahlo, Helen Keller, it’s an endless list. Disability ingenuity allows us to see with clarity what others may only experience as a faint whisper of the unconscious, gone before one even knows to grasp.
How did you feel when you were told you would need to use a cane? How did you feel when you found your purple cane?
The change in my body didn’t bother me. Neither did finding out that I would need to use a cane. What caused me to fall into a depression and to feel hopeless was the discovery that there weren’t canes for me to choose from. In my core, I never felt stigma about my body, it truly didn’t bother me. My struggle came when I discovered that I could no longer choose products that reflected my identity.
What were your thoughts on disability before 2012, and how have they changed?
Before March 30th of 2012, I never thought about disability. Now it’s all I think about. Disability has become the lens through which I see the world.
With the disability market estimated to be worth 8 trillion dollars, why do you think there is such a lag in inclusive design?
There is a lag in disability design because of the way it’s branded. It’s presumed that products are created for us instead of with or by us. We’re positioned as recipients of charity and initiatives rather than drivers of innovation. When products are rolled out, instead of targeting disabled audiences, disabled people instead serve as a brand enhancer, elevating companies who charitably serve us. Designs are intended to fix us or fix things for us, but never reflect our identities or our culture. This has the long-term effect of turning our needs into our identities. I think once brands start designing with us rather than designing for us, it will start to break this market wide open.
What is inspiration porn, and how does it limit inclusive design development?
Inspiration Porn is a term the disability community uses to describe how we’re treated by society. We are reduced to objects of inspiration that make people feel better about themselves. Inspiration prevents a narrative that would reflect the complexity of disabled people and the disabled experience, which means our products tend to go in one of two directions; rudimentary or elementary. When companies set out to design for us, they’re only focused on solutions and accessibility, and are fearful of making a statement that goes any further than inspiration. But when companies opt to design with us, accessibility is wrapped into something that is more reflective of the human experience. And it elevates our voice.
What are some lifehacks that people have designed showing disability ingenuity?
The iPhone Touchscreen, The Bicycle, The Electric Toothbrush, Curb Cuts – lifehacks have been known to change the world, but they are oftentimes so enveloped in a person’s routine that they are overlooked; think of the person who opens a bottle of soda with a towel. Think of the things we use to clean our glasses. Or the way we reach an itch on our back. These are all lifehacks. Disabled people just need to get a little more creative.
What do you mean when you say disability is a social construct and a brand?
Oftentimes when I am speaking with someone about disability, I realise we are having two entirely different conversations at the same time. The person I am speaking with thinks I am talking about my body. But I am talking about the way I experience the world and am treated by the world. Disability is not impairment, disability is the inspirational pity we are met with. Disability is not my slower pace, disability is the way I am sometimes seen as taking up too much space. Because disability is not created by the body, but by the world, it means that disability is designed. It is created. Disability has historically been nothing more than the world’s ugliest brand. But for the first time in history, disabled people are starting to find our voices, and so we’re paving the way for a global identity changing rebrand.
A shortened version of this interview appeared in the September Edition of MiNDFOOD magazine.