Designing interventions without sufficient thinking on contexts of users with disabilities, can set
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
In September 2019, through sudden, unseasonal showers, we made our way to a school for blind girls in the outskirts of Lucknow. The teachers, some of whom were blind themselves, allowed us to talk to the girls during recess. Soon, we slipped into easy conversations, deviating from our detailed discussion guides, going into softer territories of fears, aspirations, and ambitions. “I want to learn dance, but I also want to teach dance. But I haven’t thought about how I will be able to see how my students are learning,” ventured Anita, 17 years old and full of curiosity for languages, music, and dance. “My favourite subject used to be maths, but we don’t study that any more,” said Rita. “Why?,” we asked. “They don’t teach us maths after 8th standard,” she shared. This was perhaps the team’s first immersion into the massive obstacles that still remain for education, careers, and learning for people with disabilities in India.
Over the remainder of our time in Lucknow, we found that schools and colleges hesitated, and often outright refused to teach people with visual impairments subjects like Biology, Geography, and higher Mathematics. Anything that required people with low vision or blindness to visualise the structure of the world, bodies, or anything remotely theoretical was immediately taken off the table. But as we would eventually discover, there was also an immensely detailed world of tools for non-visual and tactile learning; plastic boards with cell structures and tactile maps of the nervous system, complex tools which allowed you to solve algebraic equations, e-learning apps, audio learning repositories, and high-end Braille computers.
While some of the tools for educating people with visual impairments in science and technical subjects were obviously beyond the means of government funded schools to source, other, more affordable solutions too were missing from the spaces of higher learning. Month-long, rigorous, ethnographic field work, and narratives from people with disabilities allowed us to build the Innovations for Independent Living for People with Disabilities Study.
Several such experiences in the field led us to a world of half-realised visions and failures to achieve independent living goals, not because solutions or measures did not exist, but because they did not speak to differentiated contexts, and were rarely imagined as operating in a complex arrangement of socio-cultural and economic phenomena.
Our upcoming programme, AccelerateAbility, a Disability Innovations Pre-Accelerator Lab, emerges up from where the Innovations for Independent Living study concluded, with an early vision to address this lack of context and create the platform to design not just solutions, but situated solutions.