Disability as Mismatch

The medical model defines disability as a trait; something permanent and limiting. In contrast, an inclusive design approach is one that perceives disability as a mismatch between our needs and the design features of a product, built environment, system or service. This shifts the responsibility to the design, and to the designer, to correct the mismatch. It shifts our perspective such that we understand the mismatch to be solvable through design, which encourages innovation.

For example, a multi-story building without an elevator does not match the needs of someone in a wheelchair, or someone who is exhausted after a long day. A digital interface with poor contrast does not match the needs of someone standing in direct sunlight or someone with low vision. An app that relies on drag-and-drop interaction does not match the needs of a screen reader user or someone with a broken wrist.

Inclusive design considers this mismatch to be conditional, solvable through design, and the result of many factors, including:

  • context (e.g. upon waking up in the morning)
  • environment (e.g. a dark room)
  • hardware and software variations (e.g. smartphone vs. desktop)
  • unique personal needs and learning styles (e.g. I prefer to listen rather than read).

Try

Record three examples of an experience of mismatch that you’ve had, no matter how large or small. For example - standing at an automated bank machine in the glare of the sun, I couldn’t see the screen at all. How did you feel when this happened? What did you do about it? How could the design of the product or service be modified to meet your needs?

Use