What is this blog anyway?
October 23, 2008
I keep attaching the word “design” to things, but so far, there hasn’t been a whole lot of blogging here focused on it. What is this blog about, anyway? Here, have a seat and I’ll explain where I’m coming from. (This entry is an example of metacommunication.)
First of all, I am exhilerated by the amount of technology that is avalable today that can allow people to participate in society who might never have been able to do so in years past. Stephen Hawking was Time Magazine’s Man of the Millennium with good reason. Nothing about the man or his work would have been familiar to someone centuries ago.
This isn’t to suggest that all our problems are solved. While we have the technology, application and design for its use still sucks.
Application of that technology leaves something to be desired. AAC systems and other assistive technologies are unnecessarily complicated. Furthermore, accommodations for people with disabilities are often butt-ugly. Wheelchair lifts, for example, are often installed in the dark, dusty back entrances of buildings and have all the aesthetic beauty of 1950s Soviet industrial products.
I know that functionality is more important than aesthetics, but often the two are intertwined. And function should go beyond the acceptable performance of basic intended tasks. Take the iPod, for example. There are many digital music players, but the most popular one is the one that does its core functions in an easy to use and aesthetically pleasing way.
The overly spartan industrial look of adaptive equipment often gives off the feel of “medical equipment” rather than “extension of my body” which is what it is supposed to be. We don’t even notice this because it reinforces our preconceived ideas about what this stuff is: it is medical equipment. But how does the fact that it looks like medical equipment prejudice us and our perceptions of disability? I believe it emphasizes and reinforces the medical model rather than a more enlightened view that disability is a social construction. (Read this link, by the way. This guy gets it better than I do because he lives with it.)
If you walked around all day with a hospital bracelet and an IV drip pole, how would people react to you differently?
By contrast, look at this thing:
Someone took the time to make this ultrasound machine look pretty. Why do you suppose they did that? It doesn’t have to be. Could it be because middle-class, nondisabled pregnant women feel better about having their ultrasound done with a machine that looks like a consumer appliance than a crudely machined utilitarian pile of junk?
So why isn’t the same consideration given to people who have to walk or wheel around with this stuff all day every day? Why does it have to be ugly?
Rant over. I also really want to use this blog to post observations of things in the community that are designed poorly and thus exclude some segment of the population. Things like “Why is that curb-cut so far away from the ‘press for signal’ button?” or “Why does that door swing that way instead of the other way?” The main thing that is preventing this is that I don’t currently own a digital camera. And while I’m working on my PhD, I don’t have a lot of time to wander around town to take pictures anyway