Intent is all? Intent for all?

A place can be Disabled. A person can be Impaired. But a person always has Intent

The description of Accessibility has passed through several models and also many ways of describing people with physical and/or cognitive impairments.

One of the most important changes was the shift to the Social Model of Disability. This model argues that people are not disabled, places and things are. The inability to cross the space, the inability to use the tool was in the design of the architecture or the object; not the person.

This model affects the responsibility of design failure. It is not the weakness or incapacity of the individual user but the failure of the designer or architect to recognise and design for incapacities.

The Social Model has been very useful in shifting, for want of a better word, blame. It’s not the user’s impairment, it’s the designer’s work that creates disability.

However, I’ve been uncomfortable with Social Model for a while.

Removing disability from the person and putting it in a space between the user and the provider has had a slightly odd effect.

In de-personing the disability, it removes the need for empathy. The designer is focused on the physicality of impairment and building an architecture to meet that.

It’s not user centered, it’s impairment centered.

The distance created is bridged well by some designers but it’s also allowed the creation of Checklist Accessibility. What has (by typo accident alone) been known as Unclusion.

Unclusion: the space between Exclusion and Inclusion where, technically, needs have been assessed and met but not really

The state between Inclusion and Exclusion where administratively all the needs for Accessibility have been met but the user need hasn’t really.

This is why I’m wondering about a new model: Intent Model of Disability

Rather than focusing on the impairments, recognise the purposes of people. Intent and aspiration are core to all people.

Designing for intent means being truly user-centered. You have to ask and observe.

You can have a checklist

The number one point is: “Have you talked to people about what they want to do?”

Intent is inclusion. Remember everyone is impaired at some point; by age, by situation, by birth.

Intent means you can share empathy. We all want to do things.

Using a model of Intent, design is about understanding and enabling the person: not just the place or the device.

The other reason I have for wondering about Intent is that some accessibility work is getting trapped by identifying impairments as problems. This doesn’t work when people identify with their impairments as what makes them who they are.

Neurodiversity, for example, shows how we can think beyond the typical, the norm. It shows the breadth and capacity of humanity not the narrow world of the typical.

Intent moves us away from identifying and creating solutions for the “problem” of, say, Autism and instead reframes the questions into how do enable all people to share and work successfully in a place. It’s not symptoms and treatments, it’s different ways of living and coping with the complexities of modern life.

Thinking and designing better ways of living together. Realising the need to talk and understand before assuming that what you observe and perceive as a problem is actually a way of living successfully.

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX