[community] Draft Article thoughts...

Treviranus, Jutta jtreviranus at ocadu.ca
Sun Oct 8 17:25:12 UTC 2017

Hi all,

Last month we launched some critical parts of the Prosperity4All project. I was asked to write an article for Abilities Magazine that explains the fundamental approach Prosperity4All and many of our other projects are based on. This includes an attempt to explain basic shifts in thinking inherent in our inclusive design ethos. 

I would love to hear feedback and suggestions for improvements before I send it to Abilities. I’m supposed to limit it to 1000 words, but I’m going to ask for 1,500 words. For those of you that like to play the role of grammar police, you might notice that I’ve tried to disrupt us-them and shift between we, I, you, which might intentionally make you uncomfortable. (I’m also not sure whether US or Canadian spelling is supposed to be used).

True to form it is due on the first day of our DEEP conference, where I hope I will see most of you this week: http://deep.idrc.ocadu.ca

thanks a million!

DRAFT: The Bad News, the Good News, and What We Can Do About It
by Jutta Treviranus

If we take any population of people and plot their needs and characteristics on a three-dimensional scatter plot, the plot will resemble a starburst. Like a starburst or exploding star, dots will cluster in a denser center and many other dots will spread out from this central core.  If we were to look at the dots, we would note that there is a threshold or invisible line some distance from the center where people are identified as having a disability.  Our mainstream products, standard services, our schools, places of employment, homes, communities, and any standard technologies are all designed for the denser cluster in the center by default.

If you find yourself out at the periphery, it is likely that most things will not be made with your needs in mind. If something is made specifically for you, such as: a keyboard for a computer that you can control, clothing that you can put on, a kitchen or bathroom designed so you can reach things, or learning material in a language you can understand; it will not be as readily available, or as easily setup or maintained. If what you are using needs to interoperate or work with things designed for the central core, such as software, it will not do this very well or very consistently.
Most significantly, even though your expectations regarding interoperability, availability and reliability will need to be lower, things that work for you will likely cost more, up to nine or ten times as much (e.g., to access a computer if you want to use Braille, for a car that works with your wheelchair, or for a bathtub that you can get into). This is largely because the manufacturer will not be able to make use of economies of scale or take advantage of the lowering cost of mass manufacturing. This will be the case even though most of the customers that need products made for the periphery live below the poverty line. Of course this lack of prosperity is in large part because essential things cost more and the things or services that bring prosperity, such as access to schools, employment, transportation, or places to live, are not as readily available for you.  If you find yourself at the periphery, you are caught in a vicious cycle that will tend to keep you at the margins of society.   

One of the things to note about the dots on the starburst is that the dots in the central cluster are closer together and as you move out to the periphery the dots are farther apart. This means that people with disabilities are more different from each other than the group of people served by our mainstream designs. Despite the fact that there is more diversity among people experiencing disability, we frequently lump everyone in the periphery together as one group that should be served by an “accessible version.” This one-size-fits-all approach to accessibility is problematic because it means that everyone in the periphery has a compromised fit, and when you have a disability you have fewer degrees of freedom to adapt to a design that doesn’t work for you.

Another popular approach used to address this challenge is to cluster people into categories based on a medical diagnosis or deficit, even though there are many other factors that might determine what I need, such as my parental or marital status, or my place of residence. There are several other fundamental problems with this approach. First of all, my medical diagnosis will not provide useful information about what I require (for example, if the category I’m relegated to is “blind” you won’t know if I am Braille literate, have some residual vision, am an English language learner, or can hear standard speech volume).

Secondly, any group of clusters we have created always leaves people falling through the cracks or stranded out at the periphery. What happens if I belong to two categories or have a need not incorporated by any of the categories? This categorization (and a prescribed accessible approach for each category) makes it even more difficult to get services or products if I don’t fit the recognized categories. Companies and services have been known to say, “but we’ve met all the requirements and are certified to be fully accessible, it must be your problem if it doesn’t work for you.” This also drives wedges between people that are included in a category, people in other categories, and people that are not in any category: as we all compete for special priority. Creating these boundaries and producing special products and services for these arbitrary boxes also reduces the motivation to make the products and services everyone uses work for the whole jagged spectrum of human needs.

The emergence of digital networked systems over the last few decades has brought good and bad news for this challenge at the periphery of our human starburst. Among the good news is that economies of scale are becoming less important as it becomes easier to personalize or to quickly produce variants of digital products or digitally manufactured products (for example by changing a Webpage style or through 3D printing). Because everything is becoming connected it is also easier to find what you need or find someone that can supply what you need.  The bad news is that it becomes almost impossible to address an accessibility barrier by retrofitting, like we did with architectural barriers. Digital barriers diffuse and morph like viruses, making them impossible to stamp out once they have propagated. Digital systems will flow around and beyond any static rule we come up with. This means we have to make sure, from the very start, that our digital, networked systems don’t have barriers.  One way to do this is to create all our products and services with the capacity to personalize or stretch the design out to the periphery.

Humans and human societies are not comfortable with change. We are still designing our systems with the strategies we used prior to this global digital disruption. This is especially true of our institutions, like schools and governments, because they are built for stability. Markets are faster to respond, but markets have not recognized the business advantage of stretching to include people with disabilities in their market strategy.  Those who have achieved prosperity through the old systems are also reluctant to consider new ways to determine and create value.
All our systems of valuation, evidence and prioritization are based on the large numbers and average dominant patterns in the denser center of the scatter plots (for example respected research requires statistical power, and any research claim is not determined to be true unless you can muster large quantified data about a population that is the same). However, there is an emerging realization that people are diverse; that there are alternatives to mass manufacturing and marketing that recognize this human variability: and, that we all benefit from better personal fit.

To create markets and services that do not leave people stranded at the periphery of the scatterplot, we need systems that can provide one-size-fits-one designs right to the edge. Because we are so variable as humans, we need to be able to articulate our needs and discover what works best for us personally, given a particular goal and context. Digital platforms can help us connect our variable needs (right to the edge of the scatterplot), with people, resources and services around the globe that can meet those needs. As we express and create the demand for products and services that address more diverse human needs there will ultimately be a responsive diversification of choices available for everyone.

This approach is called AccessForAll*. It is supported by an international standard (ISO/IEC 24751). It was first implemented in Canada in two projects (Web4All, and TILE), but is now the basis of several other international projects, including FLOE, Cloud4All, Prosperity4All and APCP.  As networks become more sophisticated and inclusive (whether based on local networks, the Web, Cloud services, or cooperative platforms -- similar to AirBnB, or UBER, but with bottom-up governance and revenue models); and we recognize that we don’t need to treat people as either a mass or those that don’t fit; it becomes possible to create a society that does not leave people stranded at the edge of the starburst that is our human family. 

* https://raisingthefloor.org/who-we-are/our-approach/

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