Why Truly Accessible Design Benefits Everyone
Universal Design is better for all humans, not just the disabled
When I became paralyzed at the age of 15, I learned to live by hacking. Can’t walk anymore? Hack ambulation with a wheelchair.
15 or so years later, I live more or less independently. I drive my own car and I live in a house. I even dress and feed myself. But I still rely on hacks every day. To drive my own car, it needed to be hacked with hand controls. To live in a house, it needed to be hacked with ramps. And when hacks don’t work, I have to absolutely and completely rely on the kindness of strangers. I don’t know if you’ve met many strangers, but I wouldn’t say they’re all kind.
All these hacks and awkward encounters are necessary in my life simply because very little of the world was designed for me. This feels especially odd considering I’ve built my career in design studios. You know, where things are designed.
Every day, I see the thought and consideration that designers put into every detail of a project. Every line is intentional, every color considered. Yet the accessibility of these things is often an afterthought not just in the work designed, but in the very studios themselves.
All these hacks and awkward encounters, they’re necessary in my life simply because very little of the world was designed for me.
I recently worked in an office that was technically legally accessible by ADA standards — except for the fact that everyone in the office worked together in one large room, on the third floor, which had three steps leading up to it. So I often worked by my lonesome on the fourth floor, not connecting with or even meeting many of my coworkers.
At an office before that, down in beautiful Austin, I once got locked in an outdoor wheelchair lift. I sat for over an hour in the Texas summer heat before security could disassemble the whole thing and release me.
At the job previous to that, I had to pull myself up two stairs every day, just to be called “Wheels” by the CEO.