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My journey into inclusive design

It begins!

What begins? That I’m not quite as sure.

I've reentered the world of education as a student of Inclusive Design at OCAD University. And on the horizon appears to be a lot: new ideas, collaborations, reframing previous ideas, uncovering biases and I’m guessing, much, much more.

In this week's first Lab course, all roads led towards our discussion on what inclusive design was. I suppose we all (as a cohort) have a sense of it, given that we’ve committed two or more years of our lives towards it, but at the same time, our current sense of it, may be the farthest from what it will eventually become.

I thought to map out my sense of it, along with ideas that seem interrelated to it, which could give me an interesting way of looking back at how the concept (and related concepts) start to take greater shape over time.

Let’s start with inclusive design being a process rather than an outcome. There may be desired outcomes–like helping a variety of people connect with one another, or to have meaningful experiences, or to get the help they need - and inclusive design may be the means of getting to these outcomes.

A somewhat vague image of a person (potentially a child) peering from behind a door in a dark hallway.

My mind jumps to the idea of exclusivity. Why do we exclude certain people or groups? Why do societal structures emerge that result in exclusivity?

How do we know we are designing inclusively? How do we ensure we are taking varied perspectives into account as we design? Is this where ‘critical thinking’ fits in?

When our cohort discussed critical thinking collectively, a variety of related concepts were brought forward–wisdom, knowledge, perspective, awareness, questioning, and more. These concepts all seem to point towards something. Some kind of movement perhaps. A movement towards going deeper into our understanding of systems and the elements within these systems. It seems to indicate a need to uncover biases and integrate information that was previously on the periphery of our awareness. It’s an expansive movement. And an ongoing one. That is, we may continuously uncover new boundaries that we weren’t aware of, and start to bridge gaps so that we are including these new elements. This also may indicate that it is an iterative movement.

There is a relationship to feedback loops and recursion here as well. Creating channels for feedback to occur, and asking good questions (which we’ll have to unpack) brings movement to our process. That is, it starts to become dynamic rather than static. There’s flow. Which is akin to how organisms function in an environment.

Perhaps this is where the connection back to exclusivity may come in. When we don’t have this type of dynamic movement, we may encounter rigidity or even resistance from a system. That may be what excludes people. It’s a kind of immutability.

Image of a curmudgeonly old caucasian man.

Why is there rigidity? Why does it emerge?

Is this where inclusive design is taking us then? Towards ways of increasing flexibility? Which also implies gaining a more expansive understanding of the systems we are participating in (or influenced by). And we as potential designers are tasked with identifying points of resistance or inflexibility? And then being collaborative and creative (co-creative perhaps) in how we deepen our understanding of systems as we rethink their design?


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