April 10, 2019
“Every show brings a few people closer to deaf culture. And after every show I know that some of these people won’t be scared to approach a deaf person next time they happen to meet one. And that makes me really proud.”—Leah Kalaitzi, a deaf comedian who communicates in British Sign Language in her stand-up performances.
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Inclusive design aims to shift away from a world in which people with disabilities have to figure out how to navigate spaces not designed for them (or else be excluded), towards a world in which designers consider how all people navigate a space, preferably in collaboration with diverse thinkers. Designers Lupton and Lipps explain that “inclusion is a state of thinking and acting toward a shared purpose based on a commitment to iteration, refinement, and self-improvement.” The tenets of inclusive design can also inform our approach to inclusion outside of physical disability. We can think of visual messaging, work schedules, career ladders, and assessments through the lens of inclusive design, and adjust them just as we would with a building entrance or reading materials. For instance, studies show that “just changing decorations in a computer science classroom can strengthen female students’ attitude toward careers in computer science” and that student evaluations of faculty of color and female faculty are consistently biased but continue to be used in tenure decisions. Spaces and processes alike can be re-designed for inclusion.
Taking a design approach to inclusion can be transformative, not only for the lessons learned in terms of physical space and disability, but for its application to less tangible processes and the lives of other underrepresented people. It’s also useful to consider how redesigns can solve problems of exclusion and create new opportunities for inclusion.
Take an inclusive design lens to your workplace or campus. Where are there areas ripe for redesign, from physical spaces to organizational processes? Where are there issues of exclusion—as well as opportunities for inclusion? Reach out to diverse community members and work with them to identify what you can redesign now. Remember to keep the process collaborative, rather than tasking only members of underrepresented groups with the work.
Civil rights organizers and supporters from all over the world are grieving the loss of the Highlander Center, an 87-year-old hub for community organizing that was recently burned down, the same night a white power symbol was found in the parking lot. The influence Highlander wielded over decades cannot be emphasized enough: Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and members of Black Lives Matter all attended trainings and meetings there at some point. The center has remained a source of strength and community for activists of all ages. Of the center’s enduring value, co-Executive Director Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson says that while “it would be easy to just get frozen in fear or frozen in trauma and grief…Highlander itself is resilient...And the social justice community and the Movement for Black Lives and the larger movement for the freedom of marginalized people is not going to ever allow Highlander to be dismantled in the face of white supremacy.”
Our hearts go out to every community—which, in many ways, includes all communities—devastated by the destruction of the Highlander Center. The resilience of the center and its organizers is best summed up in what Highlander founder Myles Horton once said, “You can padlock a building, but you can't padlock an idea.”
Acts of white supremacy have the ability to shake communities worldwide. Consider whether members of your community may feel impacted by this tragedy, and whether you can offer support in any way. Examples might include holding conversations, fundraising for the center, or participating in movements to shut down white supremacist groups.
When Joan E. Biren, also known as JEB, started taking photographs of lesbians living their daily lives in the seventies and eighties, there were almost no photographs like them. Today, JEB’s work is receiving increased recognition. Her current installation, “Being Seen Makes a Movement Possible,” features photographs in the museum’s windows so they are clearly visible from the street—a demonstration of JEB’s philosophy of accessibility. She’s not interested in displaying her work in a gallery, and says that a gallery is “too reminiscent of the closet...And you can’t build a movement from inside a closet.” JEB also says that despite the progress that’s been made since many of her photographs were taken, we must remember that for LGBTQ people, “basic civil rights are being threatened.”
These photographs are of lesbian women from all over the country and with drastically different lifestyles and ambitions. It’s images like these that make it harder for stereotypes to stick, and we hope public access to such images continues to grow.
Think of ways to increase visibility of underrepresented groups on your campus or in your organization, and create opportunities for everyone to learn about the daily lives of people from stereotyped groups.