When attending Inclusivity: the new sustainability? I didn’t really know what to expect. As a designer, I was interested in the idea that the varied needs of those with disabilities can drive better design.
However, what blew me away at this event was just how little I know about this part of the global community and what an amazing (and by the sound of it relatively untapped) resource this is.
Here are some key learnings that I took away from the day:
- The disabled community have huge spending power. Each speaker mentioned this fact and, although the figures involved ranged from several billion to over a trillion pounds, it was reiterated throughout the day.
- There are specific skills that people have because of their ‘disability’. Sam Phillips (CMO, Omnicom Media Group UK and the British Government’s Advertising Sector Champion for Disability) spoke about how people with Downs Syndrome enjoy repetition, making them ideal for a plethora of repetitive jobs that are a key part of the job market but are frustrating and undesirable to many candidates. Sam also mentioned the statistic that one autistic software developer can do the work of two developers without autism, showing that the perhaps blinkered views of some HR departments could be denying businesses of huge staff cost savings. Tom Pokinko (Research Director at Open Inclusion) made the point that disabled people have been forced to problem solve their whole lives due to products and services being designed without their needs in mind, and are therefore very good at thinking creatively and coming up with workarounds. He argued that this is a reason to include disabled people right from the beginning of the design process in order to have the best possible final product.
- Some of the best inventions for everyone (whether they have a disability or not) have come from the needs of disabled people. Tom Pokinko also mentioned innovations that we all use such as fingerprint unlock, text messaging and voice command software explaining that these all stemmed from the needs of disabled people. Tom also showed an image of a beautifully designed (and apparently controversial due to the building being listed!) ramp outside an Apple store which, although designed for wheelchair users, was being used by as many people as were using the stairs, including a mother with a buggy.
- Changes do not have to be huge to make a real difference. Sumaira Latif (Special Inclusive Design Consultant, Procter & Gamble) told the story of working at P&G including the difficulties of adapting the IT system to work for her as a blind person, the real buy-in from the company and the willingness to fix this for her which led to her progression and achievements. However, one of the things that struck me from her talk was the development that she had driven in her current role as it was so simple and yet made a real difference. This was the idea of including small ridges or indentations on shampoo and conditioner bottles allowing those with a visual impairment to identify which is which, a small thing but a solution to one of the frustrations that disabled people live with every day.
- The official terminology and advice can be useful, but can also be damaging. It was great to hear Jamie Knight (Writer and Senior Research Engineer, BBC – with his 4ft long plushie Lion) empowering autistic people to create their own way to live that works for them, not the other way round. He gave the example of his energy being measured in ‘cups’ and that cooking meals takes as many ‘cups’ as having a career and the career is more important to him. He explained that he had reached burnout by trying to keep to the ‘lenses’ suggested by medicine and society, but is now able to live the life he wants to by being in control of life’s responsibilities (the captain of the ship) rather than directly responsible for carrying them out (the helmsman).
- The government should take inspiration from the environmental movement. Neil Milliken (Chief Accessibility Officer, Atos and Co-Founder of AXS Chat) outlined the successes of the environmental movement from being the area of “sandal-wearing hippies” to being a global concern. He said that part of the reason for its success was the way that people in power have used both the carrot (financial incentives) and the stick (hefty fines that fund the financial incentives). Neil argued that this method, in addition to penalising new non-inclusive designs more harshly than existing designs that would take longer to change, to encourage inclusivity in design of all products and services.
These are just a handful of the interesting things I heard back in November, but hopefully it gives a flavour of how much there is to learn for those whose lives are not currently touched by disability. Simon Minty (Director of Sminty Ltd and presenter of the ‘BBC Ouch’ podcast) expressed his frustration that people do not think about disability until it “happens to them” and spoke about how the battle to make the voice of the disabled community heard has been going on for far too long. However, all of the speakers and attendees made it feel like the world is on the brink of a change and Caroline Casey (Award-winning social entrepreneur, TED Speaker and CEO at #Valuable) will be at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos at the end of this month making sure that the topic of inclusivity is front and centre.
The thought I’d like to finish on is where this leaves us? As soon as I got back from Inclusivity: the new sustainability? I passed on my learnings to my team and we have had a learning event about inclusivity for the company. In this case I think that knowledge is most definitely power and I hope that by knowing the benefits of a deliberately diverse (in all ways!) workforce, decision-makers will think about going via a disability-specific recruitment agency when they need new staff members or testing software with inclusive focus groups to make business and products the best they can be.
Blog by Joanna Harding