For the final lens of our thesis design sprints, we were asked to conceptualize our theses as a campaign. For most of my peers, this mean isolating a service or product or screen or anything from the previous thesis sprints and developing a marketing campaign for it. Ever since my co-designing workshops, however, I’ve wanted to explore the concept of disability protest.
A recurring theme that I saw in my interviews was that wheelchair users feel excluded from society, that the thread of ableism ran through social relationships and the built environment quite prominently. In my co-designing workshops, if you care to remember, when I was encouraged to think of futuring scenarios that would spawn product ideas in the minds of my participants, I kept thinking of a dystopic scenario, where government funding ran out, the economy tanked, and people abandoned the ADA as needlessly punitive to business. I imagined that this would be the last straw for people with disabilities, who would begin to fight back and create a new form of “productive protest” whereby they vandalized property in order to make it accessible.
I used this final sprint to imagine the types of vandalism that could occur. I began by focusing on the New York City subway, at this point notorious for its inaccessibility. I explored whether disability protest in this context meant crossing out all of the inaccessible stations on a NYC subway station map, or spraypainting messages that indicate to the broader community how inaccessible the subway is and "creating" or claiming handicap accessible seats within the train [though I realize that some trains do have these] .
I then expanded my focus to restaurants, recognizing that these nodes of social engagement are oftentimes inaccessible - some in ways that are more blatant than others. I imagined that the disability protest movement would come up with a rating system, similar to the health ratings that you might find in restaurants around New York currently. For example, this McDonalds has stairs leading to the entrance, while Fette Sau, a barbecue destination in Williamsburg, is nominally accessible, but very cramped inside, with accessibility unfriendly furniture [for more info about this check out this website] .
Finally, I focused on larger institutions, whether that meant hugely popular transportation services that don't cater at all to the needs of the disabled, despite portraying themselves as friendly organizations, or the court system in New York City, whose inaccessibility, and the disenfranchisement that stems from it, is alarming to say the least.
When I presented this work to the class, one of the questions that came up was whether this movement existed already, and if not [which I believe to be the case], who would start it. I hadn't thought of this at all, so I didn't have a good answer for it. I had imagined the participants in this campaign and movement to be comprised of a mix of disabled and able-bodied people - of people with disabilities and their allies [which explains some of the vandalism placement].