Presenter and disability rights campaigner Sophie Morgan, presenter and athlete Ade Adeptian, design pioneer August de los Reyes, and scholar Emily Smith Beitiks have discussed what a post-pandemic world looks like for the disability community.
Sophie, Ade, and August bring their personal experience of having a disability to the conversation, whilst Emily is a heavyweight in the field of disability studies.
All four individuals are also longtime advocates for the disability community.
It has been widely reported that travel restrictions, self-isolation, and social distancing have forced the non-disabled community to experience restricted mobility and accessibility- something that the disability community face regularly.
Building on those reports, the discussion also reveals other positive and negative ways the pandemic has impacted the disability community and what we must take away from these revelations.
The conversation – Life After Lockdown – also discusses the importance of universal design, co-creation, and aesthetics when it comes to designing and creating mobility devices; the impact of assistive technology on job opportunities and visibility, and the contributors’ hopes and dreams for the future.
It will be available to view via the MUC social channels and download soon.
Woven into the conversation are the 5 finalist devices (a discreet, wearable device; a sit-to-stand chair; an exoskeleton; ultra-lightweight wheelchair; and integrated transport system) in the MUC.
The $4 million global challenge, launched in 2017, is run by TMF in partnership with Nesta Challenges. It supports radical improvements in the mobility and independence of people with lower-limb paralysis through smarter assistive technology.
The winner’s announcement will take place later this year, and the winning team will receive $1 million to bring their device to market.
At the height of lockdown, at-risk groups were forced to stay away from family and friends, and their interactions with carers and other medical professionals changed.
However, society’s transition online has unlocked the door to previously inaccessible spaces such as museums, art galleries, and music venues. The acceptance of remote working has also confirmed that it is possible to be present and productive at home.
For those transitioning out of lockdown, the gradual reopening of society has also brought about benefits such as the implementation of social distancing measures including the widening of pedestrianised zones and restructuring of consumer-facing businesses, making some spaces more accessible.
Bearing these advantages in mind, Sophie and Emily hope that the understanding, empathy, and accommodations catalysed by the pandemic will encourage non-disabled people to continue “to think about disability experiences, learn from disability expertise and incorporate that into the society we rebuild”. In other words, we must “build back better”.
And in order to “build back better”, it is paramount that those with disabilities be involved in the process.
As Ade and Sophie point out, the disability community “are great problem solvers” because the social construction of disability means “we have to think outside the box from the minute we leave the front door, even before then, our lives are about thinking creatively”.
Looking at the way in which the world has benefited from inclusive and universal design only strengthens this belief, as August reveals that the “original design intent” for devices such as the remote control, email, and telephone was to “help people with mobility differences”. Throughout history, the disability community has been designing life hacks that are now widely used by the non-disabled community.
It is plain to see that by including members of the disability community in all areas of the design and creation process, especially when it comes to assistive technologies, the end product is guaranteed to be far superior. For far too long, the design and creation process has been dominated by a non-disabled cohort and, as a result, results have been mixed.
Fortunately, the MUC, and others, are shifting the dial putting co-creation at the heart of everything they do.