storage | debates

all that glitters is not gold

03/2/2017

you’ve have come a long way, one would think. Inclusion is the idea that all people with disabilities should be integrated into society, from the kid in the classroom, to the adult in the workforce. It sounds great, doesn’t it? To make sure everyone got the memo, most western countries decided to create some laws in order to do what’s best. Schools are required to accept children with all disabilities and quotas ensure the integration of adults in the labor market. Anyone who would dare to question this narrative must be a bigot, right?

take a deep breath, get a cup of your favorite beverage and step aside from your little bubble. What you’re about to read might not be what you would like to hear, after you’ve been advocating the good cause throughout your career. But don’t worry, I know you mean well. So who am I to tell you all this? Well, I’m the one who technically would be on the receiving end. The one for whom you want to make the world a better place. According to many of you, I’d even be quite high on the “oppression” ladder as a non-straight, migrant female with a visual impairment. So there. Having lived in a few places I had the “luxury” to experience the whole spectrum of laws and regulations (or the lack thereof) first hand. For the record, I’m not looking for sympathy, I managed to make my way outside of the “system”, but that can’t be applied to everyone and it’s a different story for another article. And before you dismiss my observations as “anecdotal”, just look up the unemployment rates of people with disabilities in your country. If things were great, there would be no need for institutions raising awareness for inclusion and you would have chosen a different career path.

what could possibly go wrong?

employing people with disabilities can be tricky. Most employers have no idea what to make of all this, most of them have never met anyone who is disabled, some might or might not have a distant family member, but that’s about it. They don’t know what people with disabilities are capable of. Add a few misconceptions to the mix and there you have one reason why employers are so reluctant, and frankly, they can’t be blamed for it. Inclusion advocates then pushed for laws and quotas, to ensure that companies can’t weasel their way out so easily. So being forced to hire a certain percentage of [insert minority group here], candidates will be given the opportunity to work, employers do their duty and everyone is happy, right? Not quite.

Germany for example has protection laws make it harder for employers to fire disabled staff, the well-meant initiative turns out to be a nightmare for the disabled people themselves. As a result, companies find loopholes and tricks to go around the laws. Many rather pay the “penalty fee” rather than hire a person with a disability, others word their rejection letters carefully enough so no discrimination can be proven. Most people with disabilities end up in sheltered workshops with no chances to get into the regular work market. Those who are lucky enough to get a job often end up as “quota fillers” doing underpaid work and perform tasks way below their qualifications. Not many have the courage to speak up or complain, as they see this as the only alternative to being stuck forever on welfare. Since companies can’t get rid of them easily, many get bullied out of their jobs and end up devastated and discouraged.

The Netherlands has a different approach, the government (in this case the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency) bait companies with benefits by subsidizing jobs if a disabled person is hired. However, that comes at a price: The employee gets paid minimum wage, regardless of qualification. Any additional income they might make is going to be seized, which means that people get stuck in their positions with no chance to get promoted, much less paid what they’re worth. That is certainly not what inclusion would look like.

dream vs. reality

as of 2015, the UN has passed a treaty called “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” which is intended to protect the rights of people with disabilities and attempting full quality under the law. EU countries are now required to achieve this goal. As good as it sounds, there’s still lots of work to be done. The fact alone that such treaty was necessary shows that all too well and is a sad reminder on how misconceptions and myths dominate the representation of people with disabilities, not to mention the media, charity organizations and even misguided behavior of disabled people themselves.

opportunities instead of “safe spaces”

one way to solve this problem is create awareness of what people with disabilities are capable of and how they can help themselves to get their job done, instead of pointing out the weaknesses and expecting others to solve problems for them. Forget quotas, people should be given equal opportunities, instead of equal outcome. At the end of the day, a company needs a skilled worker, not a [insert minority group here]. If the person can get the job done right, they should be hired and fired in case it’s not the right fit, just like anyone else. If people with disabilities want to be part of society, they also have to deal with being treated like everyone else. This requires a huge amount of self-reflection and responsibility – which is something institutions should help with instead of creating “safe spaces”. People don’t need a “comfort zone” in their situations, they need solutions to change their situation in order to have a better life and be a productive member of society. Everyone is different and has different needs and capabilities and laws and “one-size-fits-all” approaches do more harm than good.

on a personal note…

while living in Thailand (before the political situation went downhill), I had lots of opportunities and freedoms, even though there are no protection laws for people with disabilities, or anybody else for that matter. Nonetheless, I have met people who believed in my skills and who were always there to help if I needed it. No laws and regulations were needed. That should tell you something.

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there is much more to it than meets your eye…

01/6/2016

whenever it comes to the topic of hiring individuals with disabilities, we pretty much stumble upon the same myths, distorted realities and misconceptions on both sides of the fence for years, if not decades. There are plenty of causes and institutions trying to fight the stereotypes, yet it seems that changes are coming too slowly. Why is that? I’ll try to examine it in this article. I will be focussing on visual impairment, but it may be applied to other disabilities as well.  keep on reading… »

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the design subversion

11/9/2015

art and design are one of many ways to express one’s own views, emotions and perceptions, as well as conveying a message to others. In the professional sector of art and design, conveying messages can vary from advertising a product, over illustrative comedy or satire, to campaigning a serious charity or cause. All of this can be diverse, thought-provoking and sometimes controversial. Some might or might not agree with one art piece or another, but the ability to choose the narrative that suits you is a luxury we have from freedom of speech. It’s one of the most advanced achievements of modern society and should be cherished dearly.

however, many politically motivated groups on both sides have a problem with free speech, especially when their views are to be criticized and challenged. So much so, that people would refrain to questionable methods in order to avoid any confrontation. Design and advertising for example have been portrayed by feminist groups as discriminatory for many years. I have explored the issue a bit further in.

this leads to one question: Why? The answer is simple: To push a political agenda on society in order to control it. There were many attempts to achieve this over the years. Since tastes are different and some might like alternative options to their lifestyles/goods, this is not about choice. The goal behind this is far more sinister: The purpose is to shift and destroy biological/psychological/societal differences between people and vilify them by imposing their version of how a society should function.

to get a taste of this, you can look at the latest attempt of political indoctrination in the gaming industry. In 2014, a couple of ideologically-motivated media outlets have tried to portray geek/gamer culture as sexist and unwelcoming towards women. Despite of this not being true, mainstream media has fallen for these false claims and continued on to vilify the geek/gaming culture. What no one expected is that male and female gamers alike decided to fight back. That is how the hashtag #GamerGate on twitter came about. But instead of being heard out, they were put in the same category as trolls. Despite the fact that trolls is an internet phenomena on its own, it was misused as a tool to dismiss their opposing voices. As if that wasn’t enough, other methods were used as well, such as:

  • disabling users from commenting
  • getting users blocked or suspended by abusing the report feature on social media.
  • filing complaints in order to get people fired from their real life jobs or otherwise denounce them and destroy their professional careers.

this however didn’t stop geeks and gamers from speaking out. This is also crucial for game companies, developers and designers. If some political groups would have gotten their way, any type of artistic expressive freedom will be brutally violated and undermined through policing and content control. Designers and artists will have to fear their work being labeled as [insert *ist/*phobic here] which will impact their future work and career, worst case even destroy their lives and their families’. As a result, many will comply, especially when have to put food on the table. Let this sink in for a second. Is this a society people would want to live in?

while it’s legitimate to have different views, it is not acceptable when any political ideology is trying to take over society and impose it on people’s lives. We’ve seen this fail miserably throughout history and the present and we surely don’t need any of this in the future. It’s ok to criticise and question, but it’s also it’s ok to disagree. People can decide for themselves how they think, but at the same time, they have a responsibility to deal with their views being challenged, yet still have a chance to respond accordingly. This is what freedom of speech and expression is all about and it should stay that way.

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socially responsible design

09/4/2015

I had a bit of a aha-moment when I was still in high school. I was bored one day and turned on the TV. While zapping through the channels, I kept stumbling upon a commercial for yogurt that was aiming to kids and their parents, claiming that their product is stuffed with all sorts of great and healthy things, to make the little ones grow faster and stronger. Then, a documentary was shown shortly after. It was debunking all sorts of health myths and marketing bullshittery for all sorts of products, including that yogurt I’ve seen in the commercial a few minutes earlier. I was in shock to find out that that supposedly healthy snack was loaded with tons of sugar and other chemicals that are anything but good for children. Apart from that, what I also couldn’t get my head around was what were the people who did that commercial actually thinking? How can they sleep well at night by fooling parents and children to buy such crap and risk their kid’s health?

fast forward. I am an adult now, I became a designer and I’ve seen many things along my way. One might now point the finger at the companies providing the products, accusing them to do whatever it takes to make profit. That’s surely one part of the bigger picture, but certainly not the biggest. In fact, it’s the design agencies presenting their marketing concepts to their client, it’s them who persue their client to take a certain path. The big boys on the market have good communication skills, so they can push a client into the direction they want, at least most of the time. That being said, they are also responsible for getting a certain message across. Even if the client stands in the way, the big boys could afford it financially to walk away if they chose to.

you now might say that if you don’t do it someone else will. Would you say the same thing if you replaced advertising with some other criminal activity? Sure, if you don’t rob a random stranger on the street, someone else will. That doesn’t make things better just because it’s not on you this time. Still not hungry for some thought food? Let me give you another example: Bad design or advertising can kill people. I kid you not! Imagine you’re in a hospital. The doctors and nurses use all sorts of hardware and software to make sure you get diagnosed correctly and get your treatment accordingly. No big deal, right? Wrong. Many of the systems have bad for quite a long time and believe it or not, people actually died because of it. Just like in the commercial example, there was a design agency (of one or more designers) creating these UI’s that were purchased by the client. Why didn’t anyone notice what’s wrong with it? Didn’t anyone care?

so, can we now just walk away and turn a blind eye to what bad design can do to humanity? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against advertising unless it’s highlighting the actual qualities and benefits from a product, because honestly, I couldn’t sleep well at night if I had to live with fooling people at the cost of their well being. We designers have a huge responsibilty as it’s us who shape the appearance of the world. Think about that for a second.

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back to the drawing board

06/24/2015

in order to attend design class, the future students are often required to prove a certain level of drawing skills. It becomes a large part in most beginner classes, even before the first pxl gets pushed on a computer. Many students find this odd and can’t wait till they can get their hands on Photoshop, unless they enjoy drawing in the first place.

there’s an ongoing controversy whether or not drawing skills are necessary to be a (good) designer. The topic is more complex than a simple “pro” or “con” type of answer. Lets look at the differences between a digital peace and artwork done on paper. Apart from the obvious, we can see different approaches and creative processes going on. There’s a huge amount of possibilites and effects that can be applied on digital work. With unlimited “undos”, we can also erase any mistakes. On paper, each shape, stroke or area takes longer, depending on the tools used, the “undo” options are quite limited up to a point of no return. Certain things are harder to do than with Photoshop unless someone has the skills to get it done.

The creative process underlying the workflows differs as well, and here’s what it comes down to: It’s all about decision. As strange as it may sound, due to the limitations on paper, the brain has to examine each step carefully. This allows the artist/designer to achieve more accurate, better quality results. This kind of decision process doesn’t stop with paper, it would also apply to digital work and that’s what makes the difference. Even more so, when it comes to communicating a message through design, which also requires making the right decisions.

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