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.
We had the opportunity to hear from six different industry giants and connect with each one of their accessibility offices through the Teach Access Study Away program. The chance to learn how each company capitalizes on its particular opportunity was exciting. For example, we never knew how a visual art company like Adobe could make their products accessible to someone with a visual impairment. In this case, we got the opportunity to talk to Rob Haverty, the PM from Document Cloud, who cares deeply about making PDFs accessible and worked with Microsoft to allow accessible Word documents. His workshop in making accessible documents through Word and Acrobat was completely new and contextualized how people with visual impairments interact with digital documents. Not only did we gain the skills to create our own accessible documents, but we learned about design principles for accessible digital interfaces.