Break your legs.


What is the project?

This was my Capstone Project (final project) of my university degree, in which I wanted to address the problem of wheelchair and scooter damages by air carriers using information communication with graphics and illustration.

I'll explain the project using slides from my final presentation, which acted as the largest assessable part of the brief (40% of the overall grade).

Why this topic?

I had already heard much about the problem of wheelchair damages by airlines from disability activists, speakers, and my partner and their social circles. However it caught my attention again when a friend made a comment on social media about an airline damaging their wheelchair when flying back home, I thought, “Oh, I could be doing something about this”, and realized that because of my experience with the aviation industry and my interest in disability justice and politics, this was a good fit as a research direction.

a drawing of me taking a selfie where i'm in the bottom left corner with Q and Charlie behind me. i'm smiling goofily and have fluffy hair and ear piercings. Q behind me wears a collared shirt open and their oxygen canula with their hair bunned up. they also hold a teddy bear. Charlie next to them throws up double peace signs next to their face and sticks their tongue out, they have a guitar on their lap as well.
Q, a wheelchair user with large round sunglasses, black lipstick, and wearing a coat and bandana. they sit in their wheelchair with arms gently folded and a leg crossed over the other. there's an orange Q floating abstractly by their wheelchair's wheel and they have a little orange spark next to their cheek.

Understanding the problem

large bold text reading: "How can we communicate wheelchair and scooter damages on airlines through methods of illustration and visual narrative to start change?" from 'wheelchair' to 'airlines' the text is orange, 'illustration' and 'visual narrative' are also orange, and the rest of the text is black.
large bold text reading "what damages?" the word 'what' is in orange and 'damages?' is black.
text reading: "the data was finally brought forward late December 2018) after Sen. Tammy Duckworth fought to require airlines to report on this issue. (Choma, 2019)" next to the text is two images, one a photo of Senator Tammy Duckworth talking to the press, and another a spreadsheet of data from the first period of reporting mishandled wheelchair and scooters by airlines.

Strategy for approaching the problem

What seems 'obvious' to one is not necessarily clear for another. This was a pivotal thing to understand how I needed to approach this project where my target audience was- though my lecturers would loathe me say it- almost everyone; primarily able-bodied people.

Every time I did a work-in-progress presentation to my able-bodied peers, there was always a need to explain the problem. And every time without fail, there were people who didn't know that it was a problem in the first place.
This was the need for the project.
Problems aren't solved if you don't know about them existing.

So then it comes down to knowing- how do I explain some of the more complicated and even nuanced experiences of the disabled community to those who have never been exposed to it?

text reading "How can we communicate wheelchair and scooter damages on airlines through methods of illustration and visual narrative?" there is an older, visibly irritated, feminine person holding up a long rectangular frame that highlights "methods of illustration and visual narrative?" while the rest of the text is extremely faded.

Why illustration and visual narrative?

Initially in my primary and preliminary research I contacted many different local disability organizations to get in contact with local disabled people who might want to answer some questions about accessibility problems, which I got a lot of feedback and insights from!

However, my challenge with many of the problems that I received is that I wasn’t able to see myself designing a viable solution or MVP for the complex issues that were brought up within an 18 week university project in which I had a whopping zero funds for...

I had many other limitations facing me as well: I'm not a product designer (nor at the time did I know any foundation or where to start with that), I'm not a wheelchair innovator (nor did I have access to one to test ideas with), I also don't believe the problem can nor should be solved with the wheelchair as the center of the solution.

It should be on the airlines to fix their shit conduct, to put it bluntly.

As a designer and illustrator, my biggest tool here is any visual methods to kick-start empathy:

But why?

text that says "because of protest." with a black and white picture of wheelchair users protesting outside of parliamentary buildings. under the image is the credit: "Protesters demonstrating in favor of 504 (Tusler, 1977)

Why protest?

It’s effective for starting change and being heard.

To justify the illustrative and graphic direction of this project with protest/dissent is based on the contextual history of how change has occurred in for disability rights.

The image above is a photograph from the 504 Sit-In, a large-scale protest in the United States where disabled people occupied multiple different government buildings for a little over 26 days. This was done to force government officials to sign a document that would require that all federally funded organizations to provide adequate (for the time) accessibility for disabled people. Without this there wouldn’t have been access into libraries, government buildings, educational institutions, etc.

Protest, the act of dissent, is something that has been an effective tool to demand needs and accountability from large-scale organizations, and with this contextual understanding I can design knowing that the medium I use is validated in history, academically, and within the context of the community I’m designing for.

two images of excerpts from a publication called "the art of dissent". it details categories of protest activity and practical implications as well as graphs them in a pie chart based on the distributions of activities by type.

The Art of Dissent (Ratliff and Hall, 2014)

The Art of Dissent gave me the academic but also informative justification and validation I need for the use of illustration as a medium to represent the data.

In this publication different methodologies of protest (dissent) are listed and categorized as well as quantified for how often they’re used. Under “Literal, Symbolic, Aesthetic, and Sensory” the use of illustration and graphics are included as methods, and within the pie chart infographic this category can be seen taking up 61% of the pie chart: the majority.

Testing and collateral production

a page of concept illustrations depicting piles of broken wheelchairs, a cartoon person getting their legs broken, and a doodle person getting their legs stolen by a flight attendant. these concepts are next to text that reads: "Testing: visual metaphors, empathetic narratives, literal (visual) representation of scale."
two black and white illustrations with a line of bold black text underneath. the first illustration is of a conveyor belt of luggage being loaded onto a plane. drawn in orange is an innocent pair of human legs, detached at the top of the thigh, wearing sneakers and socks. the second illustration of a conveyor belt of luggage being unloaded from an airplane. drawn in orange is a pair of human legs, detached at the top of the thigh, on the conveyor belt mangled and broken. one is missing a sneaker, and one has the foot completely separated from the rest of the leg.
illustrations of piles of broken wheelchairs of varying size and height. the largest and tallest on the left, a middle size next to it on the right, then a small size, then the text "Literal visual representation of scale", then one unbroken manual wheelchair.
a well-dressed character with fluffy hair walking with a rolling carry-on bag.
a well-dressed character with fluffy hair that was walking with a rolling carry-on bag has their legs pulled off of their body, out from under them, by a flight attendant.
a fluffy-haired character with no legs, only torso, wearing a blazer and "sitting" on the ground. the first drawing of them looks forlornly at nothing with ellipsis in a speech bubble beside them. the next drawing of them they are looking up with tears welling in their eyes, pleading "but i have an important presentation to get to... what do i do...?"
a page depicting a multitude of generated graphics on wheelchair and mobility scooter damages, organized by airlines and percentages of damages. a small line of text reads: "*using statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation."

Platform of the strategy

a page on social media strategy. large bold text reads: "social media as a platform of organizing, information sharing, and activism". the examples displayed are puuhuluhulu, protectihumatao, and protectmaunakea. all are accounts on Instagram.

Field Reviews: How are others doing the work?

Social media: Protect Mauna Kea, Pu’uhuluhulu, Protect Ihumātao, Ihumātao Protectors, Organise Aotearoa, and Access Centered Movement.

The social media accounts on Instagram are a relevant example of community-based movement and organization that all utilize infographics, illustrations, and other multimedia to demonstrate and communicate.

They all utilize the level of speed and unrestricted time and space it takes to communicate information and organize bodies to create action and awareness of the specific issues they face.

Protect Mauna Kea & Ihumātao, Pu’uhuluhulu & Ihumātao Protectors, and Organise Aotearoa are all dedicated to specific goals relating to current events and all utilize multimedia and the quick spread of information and content across social media to share their messages and intents to a large audience.

All of these social media accounts are relevant examples of organized initiatives towards a goal and how they utilize media to communicate information and create awareness.

a page depicting a social media strategy on Instagram.
a page depicting a social media strategy on Twitter.

Visual strategy


a page about font. the title is large orange text reading "Neue Haas Grotesk". beneath this is black text in different weights: medium, roman, and italic, and have the alphabet, numbers, and special characters in each weight. the creators name is Christian Schwartz. a text excerpt beside the font display reads: "Less is more when it comes to accessible typography. The easiest way to make your typography accessible is to choose a common font and limit the number of fonts on your website. (Fisher, 2018)"

Color Palette

a page of information on color scheme and accessibility. the 3 primary colors are orange, black, and off-white (gray) with their appropriate hex codes. next to this is a row of contrast combos: orange with white and black, black with white and orange, white with black and orange. they all have their contrast ratio numbers beside them, all meeting minimum ratio for large text, and specific ones meeting minimum ratio for normal text.
a vertical orange rectangle, text aligned to it on the right reads: bright, alarming, attention grabbing, political (NZ), safety, energy, charged, action.


an illustrated infographic of a specific methodology and its steps, going from one to the other using arrows. it begins with: "listening to the community" there is a wheelchair user explaining something, three empty speech bubbles coming from them. next is "decisions" which has a paper and pencil, written is 'choices' and next to it is a list with 'make, create, test, think' written and underlined. next is "review & reflect" with a character looking at a paper they are holding in their hands. the arrow to the next one has text that says 'inform'- implying reviewing & reflecting informs the next step: "context and research" there is a computer with an informational web page loaded up. the arrows then lead back to the beginning, "listening to the community" or go to "decisions". the cycle repeats.

Human-centered design and reflective practice

My methodology informing my practice is a form of human-centered design. As my project focused on a social issue and involves disability rights activism, human-centered and empathy based methodology is most appropriate to honor and respect the individuals I design for.

My process is heavily informed by listening and reading what the disabled community communicates about the issues, theory, and solutions for their own problems. I use this to inform the rest of my design and research process.

an illustrated info-graphic explaining a specific methodology: "1. What do you need?" a tiny bar graph with text reading 'priority' going up the side. "2. Can you find out first?" a small laptop with a question mark displayed on-screen. "3. Who are you approaching? 3.5. How will your actions reflect your intentions?" two people talking, a little envelope with wings launching into flight. "4. How are you respecting time, energy, and the individual with communication?" two papers of written text, one very long and one short and brief. the long one is marked incorrect with an X, and the short one is marked correct with a check mark.

Communication Methodology

This is a cyclical method I created for communicating with utmost respect and courtesy to a community of individuals that do not owe me their time, energy, and experiences.

Through my research and reading of publications from the disabled community I’ve learned a lot about one of the largest violations of a disabled person's rights: the invasion of privacy and the sense of entitlement that able-bodied people possess over a disabled person’s story, experiences, and why they are disabled or how they came to be disabled.

Here are the steps I created for drafting email copy to disability organizations:

  • Needs to introduce myself and show transparency and honesty.
  • State intentions clearly and respectfully.
  • Explain actions I have taken/considered before taking this action (show effort has been made and that handouts are not expected).
  • Explain why I haven’t just gone and approached individuals directly, clarify my respect of others boundaries.
  • Clarify the lack of expectations and understanding and potential for fall-through.
  • Express gratitude for time and energy taken to read and synthesize my correspondence.
  • Use te reo Māori appropriately and correctly; part of honoring tangata whenua and my privileges as non-Māori.