Modeling spaces of Accessibility

These are a couple of models of accessibility which I use when working on projects. They are to ensure that human-centered perspectives and design remains the crucial points. It is easy to drift into system perspectives and lose touch with both the history and the current meaning of accessibility in terms of personal independence, identity and respect.

Agency And Autonomy

A circular model of Agency and Autonomy showing the wider space of autonomy when person has greater control
A circular model of Agency and Autonomy showing the wider space of autonomy when person has greater control

Every time personal control is removed, autonomy is restricted.

Independence is central to a person’s sense of self. It interplays with their sense of being part of society. Without autonomy, a person cannot control their position in social systems. They are merely a part (the most reductive piece of User: a unit for consumption) in the system. How people can balance their autonomy and agency in wider socio-economic systems is part of the Capability and Capacity problem.

Capability And Capacity

A quadrant model of Capability and Capacity to show ideas of misaligned support in design and provision of capacity
A quadrant model of Capability and Capacity to show ideas of misaligned support in design and provision of capacity

Capability

Assessing and categorising personal capability, in physical and cognitive terms, was the defining factor in the Medical Model of Disability (and it remains very strong today). Knowing capabilities, naming disabilities and freezing the sense of person in system-defined terms.

Capacity

The counterbalance to Capability is Capacity. If capability is about the personal sense of ability and impairment then capacity is about the personal sense of how the system provides products and services that enhance capability.

Not enough capacity

The clearest failure is when not enough capacity is offered to enable a person do what they need. The lack of accessible design in a product, the inaccessibility of a place, the social exclusion of a community and the lack of funds (in salary or in benefits).

Wrong kind of capacity

Alternatively, there are situations where capacity is offered but it is misaligned with the actual capabilities of a person. Accessible design defined by a Medical Model idea of diagnosis can go badly woring because it is design that is centered around the impairment not the person. This is why good human centered design flexs capacity around shifting capabilities. Reasonable adjustment is a phrase used in accessibility regulations: making changes to meet the differing capabilities of people. However, there also needs to be the ability to customise such adjustments.

Capacity must be offered and must align with Capability.

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX

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