A proposal for the end of accommodations

Language is powerful. Words are subtle building blocks to how we imagine the world around us. So, with the goal of pursuing more equitable language, I propose the end of accommodations.

Accommodations move us closer to equality but not equity. The presence of accommodations implies a belief in an “us” and a “them”. One group benefits from default inclusion, while another group either raises a collective voice, or is de-facto excluded. Instead of designing our world for others different than ourselves, we must design our world together. It is a quicker way to achieve a more just world.

The “abled” community needs to challenge our perspectives and do our share of the learning required to see things from another perspective.

An example I saw from Twitter that made an impression on me was how someone explained the idea of combinations and permutations of the five human senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The commonly-held belief is that lacking one (or more) of these senses leaves you deprived. Without one of these senses, your potential is limited and you deserve to be pitied.

Multi-sensing > accommodations

So, what does it mean to be multi-sensing? Most of us see our five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) as a fixed state of sensory stability. These senses and basic mental stability are socially-assumed as always present. They define how we individually experience life.

Often those lacking one or more of these senses are seen as deprived. They are perceived as missing something or to have lost something they can never fully regain. The absence of a human sense comes with the added psychological burden of living in a world where you are often the afterthought, the “new use case”, the countless trials of countless beta versions of any kind of software that might help overcome the disadvantage of “missing” a sense or mental disability.

I suggest an alternative way to design for accessibility and inclusivity. A personal deviation is not written off as “missing” something, but instead as a new combination of senses gained. Designers should assume an expected and guaranteed variable of this new combination. Accessible design must be a first-class citizen in early project management planning.

To put it another way, observe the presence and lack of senses among us as a matrix of combinations, instead of large swathes of characteristics assumed to always be present. We unlock the best of our design knowledge to think in the pursuit of access to the greatest many instead of “what ticks off the box”.

Before, we saw an accommodation as when a specific feature is added to software for someone lacking one or many senses. But we must shift from accommodations to full inclusion. Accommodations are acknowledgements of disability. It assumes a fixed state where a set of critical features to guarantee usability will always lag behind for a subset of people. True equality is seeing access for those with disabilities as equal to the design of features for those with five active senses.


Featured image photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash.
Modified by Justin W. Flory.

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