Is Inclusive Design Failing Inclusion?

DRS 2022 Conversation, Bilbao:

Is Inclusive Design Failing Incision: Identifying the dilemmas at the core philosophy and practices of Inclusive Design 

RESEARCH QUESTIONS
  1. Is Inclusive Design failing?
  2. What are the dilemmas of Inclusive Design that challenge its core philosophy?
  3. How might they be categorised?

Sub Questions:

  • Why is it timely to critique Inclusive Design as a field? Are we afraid to question the hero?
  • How critically reflective are we in Inclusive Design as a field?
  • What do we perceive as the dilemmas within Inclusive Design?
  • What voices from outside the field  provide critical perspectives to  reflect on and assess our field? And what are the dilemmas they outline?
  • What might be the overlooked or ignored dilemmas of Inclusive Design – the touchy subjects and taboos?
  • How do we best  capture the dilemmas of Inclusive Design and communicate them both within the field and beyond?
BACKGROUND

Inclusion is an aspirational concept, or is it? Literature within the field of Inclusive Design (ID) suggests that we may be entering a new era where practitioners in the field are questioning what it means to be inclusive (Bianchin and Heylighen, 2017; 2018). 

Dong (2020) proposes four stages of ID, based on how the practice has evolved over the decades. It could be argued that, as a field, we are at a critically reflective turning point where we are re-evaluating the philosophical roots of ID. Questions arise as to whether concepts relating to ‘equality’ and ‘special needs’ are applicable to the practice or whether they depart from it and instead perpetuate underlying social ideologies that ultimately benefit ‘the norm’ (Davidson, 2006; Davis, 2006; 1995).

Surely, there is no true inclusion since someone will always be excluded, which is why the definition of  the Design Council (2008) of ID states “Inclusive Design is a general approach to designing in which designers ensure that their products and services address the needs of the widest possible audience, irrespective of age or ability.” 

Exclusion will always be a factor, or will it? What is the most appropriate way of capturing what ID is trying to do in a manner that isn’t misleading or, in fact, not challenging what it means to be inclusive.

As the philosophical basis of Inclusive Design and at the forefront of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) movement, it seems imperative to further interrogate potential weaknesses, paradoxes and dilemmas from both a philosophical and a practical point of view on Inclusive Design. The conversation will explore this and further ask, how can we contribute to ensuring a critically reflective reevaluation allows us to move forward and grow? What isn’t working within our field? What are the dilemmas of Inclusive Design and  how do we categorically capture  and successfully communicate them with the practitioners in the field?

METHOD

Before the Conversation we distributed the below postcard prompts around the DRS conference space.

Positionality mapping of present voices is extremely important to us and hence the first thing we asked people to do at the start of the Conversation.

Below you will also find the full presentation slides of the Conversation session.

OUTCOME

Below we have outlined the positionality in form of mapping professional backgrounds and lived-experience individuals (marked by a little star) as well as transcripts of online and in-person notes mapping dilemmas within Inclusive Design

Positionality Map of in-person and online participants
Inclusive Design Dilemma Map from in-person and online participants
CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION

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References

Bianchin, M., & Heylighen, A. (2017). Fair by design. Addressing the paradox of inclusive design approaches. The Design Journal, 20(sup1), S3162-S3170.

Bianchin, M., & Heylighen, A. (2018). Just design. Design Studies, 54, 1-22.

Davidson, M. (2006) ‘Universal design: The work of disability in an age of globalization’ In Davis, L.J. (ed.) Disability Studies Reader. Routledge, Taylor and Francis: New York and London

Davis, L.J. (2006) ‘Constructing Normalcy: The Bell Curve, the Novel, and the Invention of the Disabled Body in the Nineteenth Century’ In The Disability Studies Reader. Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group: New York and London

Davis, L.D. (1995) ‘Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body’ Verso: New York and London.

Dong, H., 2020. Evolving Inclusive Design. [online] Youtube.com. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzl1dKCMGLw&gt; [Accessed 11 November 2021].