Blog # 23- The Socioplasticity and Multidimensional Notionalities of Disability and Design- Gateway to Universal Design

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The one quote that stuck in my mind in Elise’s talk was when she stated, “Losing my hearing was one of the greatest gifts that I have received” (Roy, 2016). Roy was stating that becoming profoundly deaf allowed her to visualize the world in a different perspective. Although she could not clearly hear the concerns, the fears, the needs, and the worries of her surroundings that would indicate there are conflicts, she had what I called the “socioplasticity” to visualize the scope of her surroundings, and the issues that affected those surroundings. What do I mean by “socioplasticity?” And how does this term influence the ability to improve our world by promoting more efficient accessibility to people with disabilities and people without disabilities in society?

How I got the idea of the word “socioplasticity” comes from the notion of “neuroplasticity” which is in psychology referred to the ability to utilize other areas or regions of the brain in order to compensate for areas or regions of the brain that have become temporarily or permanently impaired or injured due to disability, disease, or trauma in order to perform activities of daily living. Now, while socioplasticity is not necessarily a word, it is a notion to be considered in the context of accessibility design when trying to improve the world for people with disabilities.

When I think of socioplasticity, I think of utilizing other means to communicate societal change, both at a micro level (the individual) and a macro level. Roy shows socioplasticity by communicating change by what she visualizes rather than what she hears. Roy, a disability rights advocate and lawyer, with a background in international policy, utilized “socioplasticity” because although she could not hear the societal issues that the people of Haiti were experiencing, which she belonged to over three-hundred people of Haiti who were deaf. In Haiti, there was no electricity, no safe drinking water, and no water. Roy, having a background in international policy, she worked with and gathered ideas from international organizations which they had pre-planned notions to help improve the living situation of Haiti such as utilizing solar light and developing a pen for animals for protection during the night.

Socioplasticity, a term I have coined in this blog, is the intellectual capability of promoting the multidimensional notionalities, another term I have formed here to reflect all the thoughts and ideas (note the word notion is in the word notionalities) that people have that come from various perspectives (whether horizontal, vertical, angular, sideways, black and white, gray, etc.) to help influence positive changes in the context of the ways in which human society is structured and developed. Expanding on the context of socioplasticity and multidimensional notionalities in supporting accessibility, the key is to influence the strengths of people with disabilities that will not only benefit themselves, but will also benefit other people with disabilities, and even, people without disabilities. One example that Roy pointed out in her talk included the development of texting which was originally designed for people that were deaf and needed to communicate in writing, and this has now been evolved into a universally designed assistive piece of technology in which people with and without disabilities can utilize to communicate all the events and stories that go on in society. Can you think of another device that was originally designed for people with disabilities is now considered universal?

The direction that Roy is taking is the direction of universal design. Universal design is acknowledging the needs of people of all contexts, and learning how to innovate for the purpose of addressing the needs of people of all contexts, and that includes people with and without disabilities.

Acknowledging universal design, we must first come to terms with the root or roots of the problem. For example, let’s suppose there is a person that uses a wheelchair and is unable to go up the stairs. Now, the direct way of approaching a situation may sound like, “Well, a person with a wheelchair cannot go upstairs, oh well.” However, one that thinks sideways will look at all the angles and moves in terms of how to best approach a problem.

Observing people with this similar problem is the next step in the design thinking process. The truth is that there have been people with disabilities with wheelchairs that have been able to go upstairs, but how? Generating ideas is key in the design thinking process. The question we have to consider is, “What if?”, such as, “What if this person was able to access an elevator?”, or, “What if the person was able to access the upstairs by utilizing a ramp?” or, “What if there were caretakers that had the physical capacity to lift the person in a wheelchair to the upstairs?”

Trial and error is key in the design process as well. Elevator buttons don’t work. The ramp was made out of the wrong material and it collapses. Caretakers break their backs, arms, and legs in helping the person with a wheelchair. While these errors may occur, you honestly don’t know unless you try. Sometimes, there are other thoughts and ideas that occur from originally generated ideas and thoughts that have never been thought of before. Maybe implementing assistive technology like a lift that attaches to the stairs to help a person get from downstairs to upstairs perhaps? Maybe building a ramp or an elevator?

Implementation is key as well in the design process, but the key will be to utilize the results of a cost-benefit analysis after conducting an evaluation to determine what option best works for that particular individual. Remember, what may work for one person with a wheelchair may not work for another person with a wheelchair. A ramp may benefit one person with a wheelchair, but a lift may benefit another person with a wheelchair.

Considering the ADLs and IADLs is crucial as well when considering the design process in solving problems, especially when supporting and working with people with disabilities.

Our society has to learn to adapt to change, especially when it comes to the inclusion of people with disabilities, and connecting them to the resources, supports, and services they need in order to reach and achieve their goals and dreams of life. We must have the dignity and respect to honor the needs of people with disabilities by providing them the guidance and the tools needed to design and implement the appropriate innovations to help them to meet their daily living goals. We must appreciate the gifts that people with disabilities offer in that they see the world in their own unique perspective, and can shed light on the world’s greatest obstacles and share their insights on how to make our society, and even our world a better place. Socioplasticity and multidimensional notionalities are what contribute to the phenomenon that we call universal design which is the message that was conveyed by Roy, and that is how we are not only going to help unlock the capabilities and strengths of people with disabilities, but also, help to ignite positive changes in the world.