Do’s and don’ts of disability language: A guide

front cover of the What Do I Say? booklet.Language etiquette around the topic of disability seems to get some people tongue-tied. Fear of offending often results in just that. But so does using outmoded terms such as “handicapped”. So what are the do’s and don’ts of terminology and language use? People with Disability Australia (PWDA) have a great guide. It gives a context to the importance of language and how it relates to dignity and respect. It is based on the social model of disability. That is, disability is not an individual medical problem. Disablement is the result of an environment filled with physical and social barriers.

Should you say “People with disability” or “disabled person?” It depends on the individual. However, government policies use the person first version – people with disability. The one to avoid is “the disabled” because it dismisses people and puts this diverse group into one category. The same can be said for “the elderly”. 

Adaptations of the word disability, or euphemisms, should not be used either. Terms such as differently-abled, special needs, or handicapable sound clever but are demeaning. Other terms such as “all abilities” suggests the opposite – a special place for people with disability. If it is inclusive it shouldn’t need a “special” title. However, accessible features can be included in any descriptions of the place or service.

The PWDA guide gives an overview of ableist language and its impact, some advice on reporting on disability, and a list of words and recommended alternatives. 

One other important aspect of reporting on disability is what the late Stella Young described as “inspriational porn” in an entertaining TED talk. The portrayal of a person doing everyday things, or achieving a goal, as being inspiring gets the no-go signal. People with disability are often portrayed in the media as being “sufferers” or “heroes”. Rarely is either the case. 

How shall I say that? is a magazine article written from a personal perspective.

There is also a style guide for journalists


Architectural Design Thinking: Human-centred design

An architectural drawing with a rule and pencil.Design Thinking is about human-centred design. Empathy, ideation and experimentation are at the heart of the user-focused concept. It can be applied to management and services as well as design disciplines. The built environment consists of diverse professions – architects, engineers, drafters and construction workers. What if they all understood inclusion and human-centred design in the same way?

Architectural drafters work with architects and engineers by preparing drawings. It is a technical role and requires knowledge about the whole architectural process. While there is some progress on understanding and designing for inclusion by architects and engineers, this is not necessarily the case for drafters. What if you took a group of junior architectural drafting students and taught them the concept of Design Thinking? And what if they were hearing impaired?

An experimental study in Turkey did just that. The study was a mix of architectural knowledge and teaching methods specific to students with hearing impairments and language difficulties. So there is an element of UDL as well. In conclusion, the author says that Design Thinking has the potential as a teaching strategy in other educational settings. The conclusions cover both successes and pitfalls.The report is lengthy and detailed. 

The title of the article is, Design Thinking to Familiarize Hearing-Impaired Architectural Drafting Students with Human-Centered Design Concept

Extract from Abstract
Developing a human-centered design understanding in built environment-related professions and enabling them to encompass diversity are crucial for the improvement of more inclusive environments. There is a growing effort to implement inclusive and universal design issues to the educational programs of design and related disciplines for about two decades. Contrary to the developments in the pedagogy of “core” design disciplines, human-centered design perspective seems not to be widespread enough in the education of so-called “peripheral” occupations of design, like architectural drafting.

This study showed that in relation to hearing-impaired students’ underlined need for getting familiarized with the process of architectural design and focusing on human-centered design approach, present application of Design Thinking strategy worked effectively to provide basic
information about architectural design, design process, and related
tasks and user needs as well, as part of design process for hearing impaired architectural drafting students with a certain level of hearing
loss and language ability.

Published in the International Journal of Architecture and Planning, Vol 8, No1, pp:62-87

Design and responsible behaviour

An international group of adults stand with a big board in front of them. It says, Make Things Happen. There are lots of coloured post it notes on the board.Ever started off with a project that didn’t end up where you expected? That was the experience of a group of Canadian researchers working on placemaking and community building. They found that designers often left design school without the tools to do the job. That is, they weren’t equipped with the skills to involve communities. Consequently, stakeholders were being left out of the design process and outcomes.

The research project has raised more questions than answers. This isn’t a bad thing. It means that it has started conversations about how designers are educated. Changes to curriculum design are needed. Time to bring educational research and practice together. That is one of the findings from the article about working with people, not for people from an educational perspective. The research group suggest that the design community build their own “ethics protocols that define responsible behaviour for design”.

Building “Working with, not for” into Design Studio Curriculum is a participatory action research project. It challenges assumptions and underpinning values of educators. Working with participants and collaborators they found that the community was treated as a group of outsiders. Past experiences with community consultations left them distrustful of processes. In some cases participants thought researchers exploited them for their own purposes. It’s a long paper, but tells the research story well. 

A related post looks at the issue of designers not always having the two skill sets required these days. Not only do designers need technical know-how, they need to relate well to those they are designing for. The same could be said for their tutors and lecturers.

AbstractDesign ManifesT.O. 2020 is a Participatory Action Research project currently underway in Toronto, Canada and is working with communities to uncover stories of grassroots placemaking and community building done through creative practice. An unexpected discovery during data collection highlighted how communities are still being left out of decision-making processes that directly affect their collective values and living conditions and are being disrespected by designers and researchers — exposing very large gaps in the education of designers in terms of values-based learning, design ethics, and informed methods for working with communities. This paper interrogates design pedagogy and practice in order to stimulate further discourse and investigation into how to successfully integrate ethical and responsible protocols into design curriculum to support co-design practices where social justice and equity becomes normalized in practice. In other words: giving students the tools to “work with, not for” communities. Demonstrating social conscience is ethically desirable in design education but if students are not given the tools required to work with communities through respectful and collaborative processes then we are training the next generation of designers to continue a form of hegemony in design practice that is undesirable.


UDL in Occupational Therapy Education

A young man with crutches walks through a door held open by a clinician.Occupational therapists work with just about every human condition you can think of. Their clientele is diverse, but are their professional teaching methods suited to a diverse population? This question is the subject of a new article from the United States.

The article reports on a survey of occupational therapy (OT) educators. They found that while most respondents knew about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), less than half could define it. 

The article discusses how the respondents fared with the three tenets of UDL: multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression. They found that OT assistant education used some UDL techniques such as games, feedback and incentives. These strategies were not evident at higher education levels. 

OT educators focus is on ensuring all content is delivered. That’s because the content covers such a broad spectrum and is subject to accreditation standards. However, the American Occupational Therapy Association has identified research priorities to find teaching methods that maximise learning for practitioners.

The authors sum up that with the recent pandemic the “need for a greater understanding and implementation of UDL tenets is more important than ever.” It will ensure today’s students become competent practitioners.

The title of the article is, Implementation of UDL in Occupational Therapy Education. It is open access.

Abstract: This exploratory research surveyed educators’ use of universal design for learning (UDL) in occupational therapy education. Most common methods of engagement were displaying enthusiasm, providing examples, and offering learner feedback; representation was primarily offered through class discussion, lab experiences, and images; methods of action or expression were most frequently class discussion, projects, practicums and tests. The type of program, years of educators’ clinical experience and faculty rank influenced some factors of UDL implementation. Further use of UDL principles that could facilitate improved learning outcomes of diverse learners within occupational therapy education is discussed.

A short article by Bethan Collins looks at both sides of UDL – for OTs and for clients.

Design for participation – inclusion will follow

A whiteboard with design concepts in word bubbles around a drawing of a electric light globe. It indicates brainstorming ideas.Designers can relate to the term “inclusive design” more than other terms. This was one of the findings of a Swedish study. Designers had a general sense of “accessibility”, but they felt intimidated by the term. They thought it was for extreme cases for a few people and something they could ignore.

Designers also thought accessibility was a higher requirement than inclusive design. They felt inclusive design sounded more inviting and positive than accessible or universal design. The workshop method used in this study drew out many fears and anxieties designers had about people with disability. The workshop process was therefore a way of educating and allaying these fears and other perceived difficulties. 

This is an important study for design educators, advocates for people with disability and older people, and creators of guidelines. Perception is everything – it underpins attitudes and in turn, designs. The caveat of language is that the study was not conducted in English. So the direct translations might not apply elsewhere. But the study has much more to offer than terminology.

Terminology for inclusion has always been a problem in design disciplines. It’s also an issue for people working in the world of universal design, inclusive design and design-for-all. Each of these terms, and others, such as human centred design and user centred design, have evolved from different spaces. But their aims are all the same. Regardless of the term, getting users to participate in designs, not just comment on prototypes, will result in inclusive outcomes.  

The title of the article is, “Inclusive Design Thinking: Exploring the obstacles and opportunities for individuals and companies to incorporate inclusive design”. It’s by Esra Kahraman from KTH Royal Institute of Technology EECS, Sweden. 

Design for Participation and Inclusion will Follow, the title of this post, is from a separate paper on digital inclusion by Stephan Johansson who is quoted in the article. 

Abstract:  Exclusion by design can be seen in every corner of our society, from inaccessible websites to buildings and it has a significant impact on people with disabilities. As designers and people who have a hand in shaping our environment, having a more holistic view of the target groups when designing for available and new technologies is essential, something that is currently missing. Not only to combat design exclusion but also to challenge and improve current and future products. Related research shows that there are ways to challenge design exclusion but the question of why more inclusive design practices are still not in place remains. This study aims to answer the question: What are the obstacles keeping designers from making more inclusive design choices and what opportunities are there? What are the internal and external factors and how can they be tackled?
The methods chosen to answer these questions were primarily qualitative in forms of interviews, field study, and a workshop. The results from the interviews and empathy building activities done in the workshop highlighted common obstacles the designers felt in their workplace, both on a personal and corporate level.

Easy Read COVID-19

A poster with three graphics. One of a rugby goal post, one of a calendar with the start date marked, and one showing a television set.Access Easy English has fact sheets and posters on staying COVID-safe. As each state changes their rules a new fact sheet is produced. That makes a lot of fact sheets and posters. They cover sport, schools, travelling interstate, quarantine, childcare and more. 

Each state has its own set of fact sheets that you can download in both Word and PDF. Here are some examples:

Come to South Australia explains who can and who cannot go to South Australia.

We can go out. ACT explains when it started and the number of people you are allowed to meet up with.

The website also has information on Easy Read and Easy English on the home page. With more than 40% of the Australian population with low literacy skills, easy to understand information is vital for everyone. Even people with good literacy skills! 


Inclusion should be a choice

A group of young women stand in a circle with their forefingers and middle fingers spread out and joined up to make a star shape.One of the findings from a study of an inclusive youth summit was that inclusion should be a choice. A group of young people with and without disability were brought together to explore art and social justice. Group behaviours were observed and documented in an honours thesis. There are some good take-away messages from this event.

The thesis is by Megan Price, who is a youth coordinator. She describes the context, the participants and behaviours and the story of the event. The implications from her observations were:

    • Neurotypical young people needed one to one leadership to understand and practice inclusion
    • The ableist model in the outside world perpetuates excluding behaviour
    • Inclusion needs to be a choice, not forced – you have to want to be included.
    • Building trust and confidence to see how identities overlapped
    • Being open and honest with group members and treating them as people

Megan Price comments in the concluding remarks:

“I feel that a properly done inclusive program should be rooted in something that isn’t disability focused. It can be video games, it can be social justice, it can be education or art, it can be literally anything else. But when we make the target group the group’s focus, we’re already offsetting power and inputting a dynamic. Inclusive groups can’t get rid of power imbalances that their larger society has created but they can
acknowledge them and work to counteract their effects within the group. “

There is much to gain from reading this thesis as it brings the topic to a grass roots level and out of an academic focus. 

The title of the thesis is, “What Makes Inclusion Work: An Autoethnography on Coordinating an Inclusive Youth Advocacy Program”. 

Abstract:  In this autoethnographic thesis, I analyze my observations as the co-coordinator of an inclusive youth advocacy program (YAP) to detail what made inclusion successful, and what was ineffective. I had the unique position of facilitating conversations and workshops around social justice issues and how to advocate using self-expression and art. In this thesis, I will reflect on the Inclusive Education Conference (IEC) in Spring of 2019, and the Summer Summit in the summer of 2019, both in Portland, Oregon. At the IEC some of the observations noted as harmful to inclusion included: people wanting to silence the youth, inclusion being coerced, neurotypical youth segregating due to lack of support, youth creating a hierarchy based on disabilities, and inability to support youth due to lack of knowledge.

The biggest takeaway was the importance of intersectionality. The observations around detrimental practices led to changes for the summer summit. Changes included: having more understanding of workshop, interview the youth to determine their motivation for being involved and their goals, schedule breaks to encourage socialization outside the workshops which led to more inclusive workshops, and being transparent with the youth so they felt comfortable to express themselves and make mistakes. Ultimately, the most damaging elements to the inclusive youth program were 1) When neurotypical youth are neglected due to the focus on inclusion. 2) when the outside world is still modeling ableist behavior. 3) when inclusion isn’t a choice. The key finds that made inclusion most successful for this program were 1) the focus on intersectionality. And 2) being transparent and open with the youth. I also strongly encourage inclusive youth programs to not be rooted in disability as it already offsets the power dynamic of the group: rather have the group focus on a common interest.


The myth of the accessible bathroom

A bathroom with red tiled wall has a white wc pan and two drop down grab bars. It's indicative of an accessible bathroom.Videos explaining universal design, almost universally start by showing a person in a wheelchair. This is one reason why people think universal design is disability design. It’s also why they think they don’t need it – it’s for the “others”. 

When the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design were devised in 1997, the concept was envisioned as mainstream. Hence the use of the term “universal”. However, universal design does benefit people with disability most. And it’s difficult to explain universal design without including people with disability

A video from the United States, titled Laying the Foundation for Universal Design, also starts with wheelchair users. In the second half it moves onto the 7 Principles as originally intended. It emphasises that universal deign goes beyond compliance. In this case, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

One speaker captures the concept well, “I laughingly talk about the myth of the accessible bathroom, because there are so many ways you can meet the intent of the law, and still it doesn’t meet everyone’s needs”. Looking for flexibility in the solutions available is the key. It’s critical to think about how different people respond, perceive or interact with a design.

This video is one in a series and good for introducing people to the concept of universal design. It has some good take home messages. However, the focus is on people with disability. There is little mention of children, older people, people who are neurodiverse, and those using wheeled devices other than wheelchairs.

Similarly to Australia, the US legislation, ADA, does not require universal design. Compliance usually results in accessibility as an afterthought. Universal design is a set of performance guidelines that explain why it should be done.

Thanks to LifeMark in New Zealand for this find. The video was created by Tools for Life Georgia AT in the US. It is one of a series.


How to make a Universal Design Toolkit

As with all educational materials, toolkits should be designed with everyone in mind. If not, key sections of your community could be missing out on your information. After all, learners come in all shapes and sizes and different frames of reference. This is especially important if the guideline is about accessibility, inclusion and/or universal design.

So how do you universally design a toolkit or guideline? 

When devising a customer engagement toolkit, the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland also documented their process and lessons learned. While the document is focused on tourism, the method and principles are relevant to any field of practice.

At 100 pages this is a lengthy document. You might want to skip the first part and go directly to the section on Guidelines to Toolkit Authors, which is at the end. Each of the headings and subheadings form a guide to developing and designing instructional toolkits and guidelines for practice. Here are some of the key points from this section about the structure of the toolkit:

Step 1: ‘Perception’, the ability to understand information regardless of the user’s ability to see, hear or touch
Step 2: ‘Discoverability’, providing flexibility in use so that the user can find the information they want
Step 3: ‘Understanding’, how easy it is for the customer to interpret and understands how to use the content; regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level
Step 4: ‘Use’, the design prevents from accidental or inadvertent actions, forms, controls and navigation are usable and the customer decides on how to use and act on the content presented

The title of the report is Lessons from Good Practices to Guide Universal Design Toolkits

Living the message is an important point in the universal design world. Anyone who writes, educates or speaks about universal design and inclusive practice should live the message. For example, a slideshow presentation about universal design with tiny font is contrary to the message. 

Editor’s note: This document looks to be for an academic or professional audience and perhaps not following their own guidelines. Regardless of the intended audience, applying UD principles helps understanding and retention of information.

Including everyone in the library

A row of computer workstations line a wall. There are no people in the picture.The digital age has transformed libraries with computers taking centre stage. Library computer kiosks are part of this transition. Consequently, computer kiosks and work-spaces need to be accessible and inclusive.

In a semester long project students were tasked with designing a library kiosk using universal design principles. The process and outcome is reported as a case study. Some components were already available, such as height adjustable desks and fully adjustable seats. The technology was assessed to ensure assistive devices could be used.

The paper covers additional considerations in the design and discusses lessons learned. In concluding, the authors say accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. It is the key role of librarians to provide leadership for inclusion in all aspects of the institution. That includes facility design, collection management, technology and instruction. 

The title of the paper is, Universal Design Creates Equity and Inclusion: Moving from Theory to Practice.

This paper is not just about designing a library kiosk, it is also about educating students and other library staff. This kind of project demonstrates a leadership role for inclusion across the institution. 

Abstract: Universal design focuses on small changes that can be made to benefit everyone. Universal design principles can be applied to both physical and virtual environments and help provide universal access to technology and information. This paper provides a case study of the design of a library computer kiosk in an academic library, using principles of universal design to create a universally accessible workstation. The paper provides an overview of features included in the workstation, images of the workstation, and includes discussion of additional considerations and lessons learned from the design experience.