A Place at the (Inclusive) Table: Observations about Inclusivity and the Question of Who is an Engineer
The discussion of inclusivity and accessibility is often something that happens in a closed system, where able bodied people discuss how to make things easier for people who have a disability. When written out on paper, it seems silly, like not inviting someone to their own party, but in reality it happens constantly. In order to most effectively meet the needs of people with all abilities it is necessary to include them at the discussion and to recognize their ideas and solutions as more valid than those created by people who do not actively live with the disability they may be designing for. When teams, companies and projects fail to include people with disabilities in the create of solutions that will supposedly make their lives easier, not only does society lose the possible contributions of an entire community of people, but the solutions that are created are often not the most direct way to solve the problem. Inclusivity means not just including the ideas and words of people with disabilities but also recognizing the contributions of disabled designers and engineers themselves. During the summer of 2015, I worked on a research team led by Sara Hendren, with two other students from Olin College, Toni Saylor and William Lu. The research team worked on multiple projects in the accessibility and inclusivity design space, including conducting background research for a book proposal that Professor Hendren was starting and working to document and share the work done by a woman named Cindy, who had created a variety of innovative solutions to modify her environment to suit her needs as a person with multiple disabilities.