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.
Understanding the problem
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?
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:
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.
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
Platform of the strategy
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.
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.
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.