Inclusive Universe – Wendy Chisholm

Most designers are taught to design for the average user and as a society, we hold many assumptions about the characteristics of those users. However, products are used in unexpected ways and by unexpected audiences.

Challenging your assumptions and designing for non-average users can result in innovative products that can lead to a more inclusive, just society. And eventually, world peace.

About Wendy Chisholm

Wendy Chisholm - Ignite Seattle 8Wendy has focused on inclusive design since 1995 and co-wrote the book, “Universal Design for Web Applications” with Matt May in 2008.

You can find Wendy on her blog and on Twitter, @wendyabc. You can also find her dressed as Wonder Woman in a web comic with the other HTML5 Super Friends.

Full transcript after the jump. Thanks, Wendy!

Inclusive Universe


Wendy Chisholm:

[0:08] Hello. OK, so I spend a lot of my time thinking about the world and what the world would be like if it were accessible to everyone. If everyone, including people with disabilities, could participate in all the good stuff that we’re doing. Whether it’s the Internet or just getting into the building, you’re not the only one who may have to come in through the side door.

[0:25] So when we look at design and how important it is, design can either create barriers or it can get rid of barriers. It can either help us include everyone, or it can hinder or exclude people. And so it’s the stairs that make a building inaccessible, not a wheelchair.

[0:41] What I’m going to talk about today is how important design is in creating this vision of the world that I would love to see happen.

[0:51] Wow, I actually I had a little extra time there.

[0:53] OK, we want to make inclusion beautiful. There are so many products built for people with disabilities, and they function OK. They are usually pretty clunky, and they’re not at all very pretty. So no one is very proud of using those tools, and they don’t feel very empowered.

[1:09] But if we look back at the development of eyeglasses, in the 1930s they were considered shameful and icky and no one wanted to wear them. So you had glasses that were flesh colored, to hide that you needed glasses. You were considered a patient. You didn’t actually wear the glasses.

[1:26] But now they’re a fashion accessory. People who don’t even need eyeglasses wear them because they are cool and they make you look good. They can create character for you.

[1:36] And so, what if we were to apply that same kind of design to other products? So this is Aimee Mullins. She’s not wearing boots. Those are wooden legs. They’re beautifully carved. There’s flowers and all sorts of neat stuff. And that’s because she spoke at TED and said, "Hey designers, give me some legs that look good." And she got all sorts of kinds of them.

[1:55] This is a dance troop from Seattle, and they are using "beauty in movement." And there are all sorts of movements that someone in a wheelchair can do that we can’t do with our legs. And so let’s look at the beauty in inclusion, and let’s also look at innovation.

[2:11] So there’s this long history of products that have been developed specifically for people with disabilities that have gone on to change how we shop and work and play and communicate. And one of my most favorite examples is an Italian couple. So, she was a countess, and he was an inventor. She was blind; he invented her a way to write him letters. And from that we get the keyboard, and we get all of the communication devices we’re using today: the keyboard in our computers.

[2:40] My favorite current example is the iPhone, because without a screen magnifier that was developed for people with low vision, we would not be able to use the iPhone. Everyone who has an iPhone experiences low vision, because you have such a constrained view of your world, and you get to magnify it. That was developed for people with low vision, people with disabilities.

[3:01] So, this type of design is innovative, and you can really change the world. And it’s wonderful engineering problems to look at the non-average user.

[3:11] So, if I were granted three wishes, what would I wish for? Well, the first thing I would wish for is… I need a drum roll here. A naked parade.

[crowd cheers]

[3:28] Wendy: No. [laughs] What I would wish for is a parade. I would love to see a disability-pride parade happen. They’ve had them in Chicago and Ottawa. I want to see one in Seattle. Matter of fact, what I’d like to see even more than that is a human-pride parade. Let’s not exclude anybody; let’s celebrate all of us. Let’s celebrate our differences. Let’s celebrate our similarities. Let’s celebrate humanity. Because we’re pretty cool. And we could get naked if we wanted to, too.

[crowd cheers]

[3:54] Wendy: [laughs] And sing "The Rainbow Connection, " right?

[3:56] My second wish: accessible Burning Man. So, what if we had… [laughs]


[4:02] Wendy: This is such a beautiful piece of art. But how do you get to the top of it if you can’t climb? Can we come up with some really neat ways that involve accessibility in our art? Can we make Metropolis, which is the theme next year, accessible? I saw some beautiful things on the playa this year. I saw someone, they had attached a wheelchair to a bicycle, and they were just cruising around. I heard people talk about that the print wasn’t large enough. What can we do to make it accessible?

[4:29] My third wish is that as we’re creating green jobs and this green-collar workforce that people with disabilities are being trained and included in the workforce, and so we have green-collar jobs in an accessible environment. There’s a lot of people with disabilities who are unemployed.

[4:45] So, as we’re walking forward, inclusive design includes everybody, eight to 80, all throughout our lives. We’re all aging. We’re all going to need a lot of the products that I’ve been talking about. And so imagine a world that is accessible. Imagine a playa that’s accessible. Imagine a disability parade. And work with me. I would love to see these things happen, and imagine all the people sharing all the world.

[5:10] And that’s it. Thank you.

[crowd cheers]


6 thoughts on “Inclusive Universe – Wendy Chisholm”

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