The Inclusive Design studio works with faculty, staff, students, and community partners to identify opportunities to design inclusive digital spaces. Our approach is grounded in an ethic of care, an orientation toward equity, and a commitment to inclusive design practices. Contact Dr. Sarah Lohnes Watulak to get involved!
The Inclusive Design Studio (IDS) at DLINQ is an initiative launched by the Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry (DLINQ) in January 2019 that explores inclusive design through a critical, inquiry-based approach. It is an open initiative that seeks to be in community with students, faculty, staff, and anyone interested in working together to understand and work toward addressing the needs of people who are marginalized by design in its many forms. Unlike a typical studio located in a physical space, we are a virtual and distributed community. What makes us a studio is our orientation toward a model of informal learning that is driven by inquiry, focused on creation, and conducted in collaboration with peers and mentors.
We see the work of the Inclusive Design studio intersecting with a number of Envisioning Middlebury strategic directions, including digital fluency and critical engagement, full participation in diverse communities, and emergent teaching, learning, and research horizons.
Our view of design is broad; it “is the intention (and unintentional impact) behind an outcome.” (Creative Reaction Lab, 2018, p. 11). In other words – design is everywhere! Inclusive spaces work to purposefully and meaningfully bring together “diverse perspectives and creat[e] a better outcome for all. Inclusion is an invitation that not only accepts differences, but celebrates and embeds them” (Creative Reaction Lab, 2018, p. 10). Taken together, “Inclusive design is design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference” including social class/economic background (Inclusive Design Research Centre, n.d.). While Inclusive Design touches on all aspects of life, the Inclusive Design Studio is particularly interested in inclusive design in digital spaces.
We asked Middlebury Institute of International Studies students what they think inclusive design is, and why it’s important. Listen to what they had to say! (Audio file, approx. 5 minutes long.)
Transcript of Audio File
I don’t know much about inclusive design. However I believe that every city should be designed inclusively. Ah for example I think that a lot of the infrastructure that we have is not accessible for handicapped people, so it makes it really hard for people with disabilities to walk on the sidewalks, um. It’s a problem in Monterey for those who don’t have cars to find jobs in more remote areas, so I believe that the concept of inclusive design is beneficial for everyone.
Well it’s interesting for me coming from the perspective of someone coming from the perspective of a native born American, because we sort of take for granted how much things are tailor made for a naturally English speaking as your first native language person. Um all of the technology that comes out seems to be tailor made first for English and then for other languages. Which means that it’s very easy for us, (laughs) well I’m not going to say for us, for people to generally think you know making, taking the extra effort to make something inclusive is taking extra time, extra money, those people won’t even use these kinds of programs. And that’s such the wrong way to think about things because if you, any sort of technology that we make, any sort of design that we make, any one person who is left out from experiencing that, is one fewer customer, is one fewer person engaging, is one fewer person learning. So the more that we make these sorts of things expansive, and you know able to capture all sorts of different lived experiences, the more experiences not only do other people get to enjoy themselves, but the people who a lot of these programs are originally tailor made for, they get to learn about things outside of their bubble.
I think, they’re both important, inclusive and exclusive. Um, exclusive is not just the antonym of inclusive, but it’s actually um exclusive can mean more specific. So I think, exclusive design is also good. It just means more variety, and, of course you need more inclusive and generic design ah for something like, um everybody’s going to have, for, everyone at MIIS is going to have, then if you don’t want to discriminate, you just want to have one design for everybody, then inclusive design is important. But in terms of offering selections, different selections for many different types of people with many different backgrounds, I think creating more exclusive designs, I think that’s more helpful, so.
I think inclusive design means to include all the user, or as many users as possible, and the thing that I can think of that sort of qualifies as inclusive design is the phone, in general, I’m not saying an iPhone or a flip phone, but like, the um, existence of phone. And um, I think the essence would be to have a lot of options for different people, for example for like people who are blind, they cannot see, then they probably need some sort of patterns on the phone to touch, to understand which place to press. So I would say that you probably want to have features for, to cater all kinds of needs, which I think is pretty hard.
I think most of us are inclined to be in favor of inclusive design ,but the question is inclusive design of what? Inclusive for whom? Do we mean inclusive for all cultures? Do we mean inclusive for all disabilities? Do we mean inclusive for anything else in particular? And then, ah, what are we talking about designing? (unintelligible) …are we talking about designing courses? Or buildings? Or websites? Or something else? That’s, can be very broad. So, to really have an opinion on it, I’d need to, I’d want to discuss ok, what are we talking about being inclusive (unintelligible), for whom?
So, the more we let people in on inclusive thinking, and inclusive strategizing, the more experienced we get to share with the world, we get to take in ourselves, that maybe we wouldn’t have noticed before.
Not only is design everywhere, but as Kat Holmes points out in her book Mismatch,
“Design shapes our ability to access, participate in, and contribute to the world.”
Furthermore, when we consider who is invited to the table when designing products, built environments, learning spaces, and more, we share Sasha Costanza-Shock’s concern that “…the people who are most adversely affected by design decisions…tend to have the least influence on those decisions and how they are made.” Inclusive design isn’t just a feel-good buzzword; we see inclusive design as a social justice issue. We aspire to engage with the ways in which design processes and solutions intersect with social, historical, and economic factors that reproduce unjust systems. The studio also explores the potential for design to disrupt these systems and create digital spaces that embrace inclusion. We intend to work toward mitigating the harms of exclusive design. As a starting point (but not an ending point), this means co-designing with people who are typically marginalized by design.
The Inclusive Design Studio is excited to partner with Midd alum Nadani Dixon (Director of IncluTech at The Coding School) and her IncluTech Team at The Coding School to develop an inclusive design track for The Coding School’s tech ethics & bias training. DLINQ Interns Alivia Kliesen and Kaylen Rivers are working with the IncluTech team to create the curriculum for the inclusive design track, which will be delivered to middle and high school students participating in The Coding School’s programs. According to Nadani, the goal of the tech ethics & bias training is “for students to understand that bias exists in our society and it gets built into the technology we make and can disproportionately affect individuals of varying identities.” We’re excited to be able to support this work!
Made for Whom? Event
“An inclusive environment is far more than the shape of its doors, chairs, and rampways. It also considers the psychological and emotional impact on people.” (Kat Holmes)
This exhibition, which took place at Middlebury College and the Middlebury Institute for International Studies in April 2019, invited students, faculty, and staff to critically engage with the design history of everyday objects. Attendees were invited to interact with a series of everyday objects, learn about the object’s design history, and reflect on critical questions related to whom the design includes – and whom it excludes. The goal of the event was to raise awareness about inclusive design, and how it affects our everyday lives.