For many inclusivity is a box that they need to tick on a form; it’s a number on a scorecard and rating system that may or may not reflect that company’s inclusivity initiatives. Inclusivity goes beyond BEE and CSI initiatives – it has to be part of the company’s DNA, influencing how it operates, its hiring, its spatial design, its culture and its approach to projects.
There’s much inequality in our country; an article on Time Magazine revealed that South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. There are many factors that have contributed to this and many factors that keep this cycle of inequality and exclusion turning and as long as we are not united in bringing those who find themselves on the fringes of society in, the wheels will just keep turning and gaining more momentum with each passing year. Fortunately, we find ourselves in a time of globalisation – people have access to information and this access has been driving much of the conversation around inclusivity. We’ve seen online movements topple brands, influence policy changes and amplify the reach of certain causes.
Looking particularly at design and product development, inclusivity is important because the way we design and the products that we introduce to society and how we do it plays a crucial role in who can engage and who has the option to engage.
Technology facilitates inclusion and greater advancements facilitate greater inclusion. Persons with disabilities face difficulties when it comes to accessing education, employment opportunities, transport and they have difficulties accessing and moving through spaces. Tasks that able-bodied people consider easy to do like catching a taxi, crossing the road, enjoying a long hot shower or bubble bath, the ease of going to the store around the corner for a loaf of bread, aren’t so easy for people with disabilities. Performing these and other tasks may be the easiest thing for us – the world is configured to our needs and wants, to helping us navigate space, to make experiences more enjoyable, to encourage our participation. So for many it may be hard to imagine that the things that we enjoy with such ease are laborious for some and impossible for others.
I love art – I love making it, going to exhibitions and festivals and attending workshops. I have many options when it comes to creating and engaging art but there are people who don’t have these different avenues to create and express themselves creatively. That’s why I love Creatability by Google. Creatability is a set of experiments made in collaboration with creators and allies in the accessibility community. They explore how creative tools – drawing, music, and more – can be made more accessible using web and AI technology. They’re just a start. We’re sharing open-source code and tutorials for others to make their own projects.
Persons with disabilities are excluded from many processes and this is a problem that cannot be solved by people outside of the community, who have not immersed themselves in that community or who have no links to that community through a friend, family member or colleague with a disability. They will pace the product / design at the heart of the problem instead of the people. It’s about the who and it requires empathy and co-creation, especially co-creating with the people that you are solving for. That’s what Google does well with this project – they work with the accessibility community and its allies; they facilitate the collaboration, provide the platform for creators and coders to collaborate on these experiments and make them accessible to people all over the world.
The elderly are excluded from society all over the world; Stellenbosch was the first place I ever encountered that prioritised the elderly. There are signs that urge drivers to drive carefully because there are elderly people in the area – I really love this because I come from spaces that discard and exclude the elderly. Old age is predominantly seen as a sign of irrelevance and dwindling value; our society is obsessed with youth and looking young. Youth is prized and the elderly are forgotten but when we are inclusive in our thinking, then we are able to consider those who go unconsidered. We can design systems, products and spaces that are accessible for all.
Boxing Grannies is a boxing club in Cosmo City, Johannesburg, for women aged between 60 and 80 years old. Nqobile Khumalo says that the program started a few years ago when the women were introduced to aerobics as part of a special program for the elderly and then they introduced boxing, which the women loved. This program has benefited the health and well-being of the women involved – from a physical standpoint some of the women have more energy, they say they feel younger and some women have even seen an improvement in their health through the decrease in the symptoms of hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and more. These women are able to enjoy better health, they’re part of a community and have something to look forward to, and this wouldn’t be possible without people creating a workout program that includes the elderly and considers their well-being. Who says wellness has an age limit?
As designers and product developers we have the power to either include people or expand the chasm between those who find themselves on the periphery (intentionally or unintentionally). And this extends to the spaces that we create – when building roads, designing festivals and pavilions, when we create recreational spaces we need to consider all people and ask ourselves how can we design something that can reach as many different people as possible.