Looking at Accessibility as
a Design Problem
Usability Works | firstname.lastname@example.org
Nearly everyone on the planet will be at least
temporarily, minimally disabled at some point in
their lives. It may be a broken bone or a major illness. And if you live long enough, you will experience age-related impairments such as limitations of sight, hearing, dexterity, and mobility.
Those who are born with severe medical conditions, however, have to accept their disabilities
and live with them every day. In Design Meets
Disability, Graham Pullin looks at design for disability through the principles that drive design
in the able world. By doing so, Pullin helped me
realize that most of us who work on accessibility
have been thinking about this all wrong.
So much of design for disability has been
about basic engineering and problem solving,
making it possible to overcome certain limitations. For example, the creation of accessible
voting systems was a watershed moment for
people with varied disabilities. Since about 2004
disabled persons who are able to access a polling place can independently cast their vote.
This is no small thing. I’ve witnessed people
with disabilities shed tears of joy and relief as
they recount their experiences of voting independently for the first time. However, voting is
still extremely difficult if you have disabilities.
Most existing voting systems were retrofitted
rather than designed for accessibility. There’s
nothing elegant about them. They’re slow.
They’re awkward. They’re different from the
voting systems that non-disabled voters use.
If you don’t have a disability, it is easy to look
at designing for limitations as accommodating
exceptions. But for people who have impairments, limitations, or disabilities, working
around them or through them is a way of life.
Pullin, a medical engineer by training, works
on projects to embed assistance in everyday
objects, such as a “speaking chair” to help people
who can’t verbally communicate. In Design Meets
Design Meets Disability
MIT Press, 2009
September + October 2010