Disability Design

7 Inspiring Disability Activists Paving Our Way To Inclusive Design

Feature Photographs Source: Google Images

We’re living in an outspoken world where nothing remains untapped anymore. Disability isn’t a new phenomenon, yet we somehow (for long) failed to recognize it and create for it – until these inspiring female activists spread the idea about inclusive design.

1. Elise Roy

In the journey from being a lawyer to an inclusive designer, design thinker and keynote speaker, Elise discovered her own capabilities with an inability to hear (since the age of ten). Along the way she helped move forward the human rights movement while pinning disability design as top priority.

She believes that designing a product, service or experience for an average user doesn’t fit all. When we design for disability, we’re pushing our boundaries and this is what makes designing an accomplishing field and at the end of the day we all benefit.

2. Sinéad Burke

In the world of design, what is accessibility? An Irish academic and writer with achondroplasia, Sinéad Burke helps us understand the real problem and the right way to tackle it. In her popular TED Talks session ‘Why Design Should Include Everyone’, she shared the difficulties faced by her simply because a product isn’t designed for all but only for those considered by the society as seemingly “normal”.

People want independence instead of depending on others for everything. Burke’s agenda has been to help brands and designers understand the importance of liberating individuals through design because it is uncomfortable to constantly to ask for help from others to do simple tasks like opening the door or washing hands.

3. Liz Jackson

It’s rather amusing that some assistive devices (such as glasses) are considered fashionable, while others aren’t. It took Liz Jackson a purple cane to hear positive comments about her accessory rather than sympathetic questions. From the first praise, Jackson decided to uplift from her depression and start a blog The Girl with the Purple Cane to endorse inclusivity in the fashion industry.

Jackson feels that brands need to design products for the disabled that are both functional and beautiful rather than designing to simply inspire others or use the opportunity as a mere brand enhancer. It’s thus important to do first hand market research about the users and their preferences instead of speculating how a product should look like and work.

4. Sarah Houbolt

Are we supposed to make certain individuals feel “different”? To embrace diverse disabilities, we must surround them with our presence – some should walk in front, some at the back, and some shoulder to shoulder. Only this way will we create a spaces that treat everyone equally, give each one fair share of opportunities and challenges. This way no one will feel aloof, instead feel a functioning part of the whole.

An arts manager, theatre performer and disability advocate Sarah Houbolt shares a wonderful solution to how products (of any kind) should be designed. She suggests that people with disabilities should be given the chance to contribute, and the disable should be made “access consultants from the very start to the very end finish of the design and development process.” Thus, it is important for designers to embrace disability conversations and experiences into their designs.

5. Aimi Hamraie

Are we approaching universal design in the correct manner? Aimi Hamraie answers this question by elucidating the evolving nature of universal design and its principles, plus how certain social institutions and understanding of user groups impact the disability rights framework.

With a background in medicine, health and society Aimi continually works and writes to examine the politics of disability and how universal design can nurture our environment in a way to create more livable cities.

6. Judith Heumann

Design is practically pointless if it doesn’t work! Unlike art, design always has a purpose – that is, to provide everyone with accessibility to everything. It’s crucial to deliver experiences and products that liberate people from dependency.

A disability rights activist, Judith Heumann supports the ‘independent living’ movement that aims to deliver the disabled people with equal opportunities, self-respect and self-determination. Product designing should start from community and then personalize enough to assist people in their homes such as with smart assistants.

7. Sara Hendren

Is disability a cultural construct? If so, can we change the stereotypical mindset about disabled people and the symbols attached to different disabilities? As a designer-activist and founder of disability centered blog Abler, Sara Hendren is known largely for the Accessible Icon Project, which started off as a street-art campaign in an attempt to convert the International Symbol of Access from a passive symbol to an active icon.

The idea is to change the visual perception about disabled people, and to trash the terminology ‘assistive technology’ and embrace the word ‘adaptive devices’ for accessories like a simple wheelchair or exoskeletons. Additionally it’s now required to not only see the disabled through a medical lens, but also acknowledge that they too have different personalities, preferences and aesthetics.


It is time we treated disability not as a problem; but as an opportunity to design better, a challenge to push the boundaries of design, and as a learning aid to widen our horizons. Disability, hence, is a solution in itself to design for all.

Do You Think Disability Is A Problem Or A Solution For Designers?

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Write Vectors Source: Freepik

A visual design blogger passionate about interactive, experiential and captivating techniques designers, marketers and brands use to accentuate messages, tell stories, and spread awareness. I’m a visual addict like Alice, who finds books (or anything) without pictures boring! My writings focus on graphic and web design, branding, and visual marketing. My hobbies are to write poems, draw zentangles, read mysteries, and watch YouTube videos.

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