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All Assistive Tech

Week 3 Responses

The Cost of Accessibility

Disability often means a reduction to pay that intersects with the reduction to pay that can come from being a woman or gender minority and/or being a person of color. On top of that, everyday-necessity services for people with disabilities mean higher costs:

We bill our shared experiences under the so-called “disability tax,” which Wong says isn’t that different from the more well-known tampon tax.

It’s no secret that health insurance in the U.S. is a disaster with sometimes-lethal consequences for ~98% of the population (as this story horrifyingly details), but the savior that Medicaid should be often prevents people with disabilities from escaping it:

I am thankful to be on Medicaid, but it’s a poverty trap that unfairly penalizes disabled people who want the opportunity to work, own property, and have assets like any other person.


This looks like an awesome program, started at the University of Delaware. As makers & technologists we have so many skills we can bring to the table making tools & solutions for people with disabilities.

Back in 2017 I made a project called Blink at the UPenn hackathon, PennApps, with a team. For $20 in parts we built a communication hardware & software system with 3D printing, aluminum foil, an Arduino, & some basic sensors. Here’s a video showing it in action:

Great design is accessible, but sometimes bringing great design to accessibility is even more powerful. As designers, makers, & engineers we have a responsibility to do both.

Guest speaker reflection: Meg Waskiewicz

It was incredibly useful to hear from an expert about the medical details surrounding the potential causes, variety of symptoms, as well as how assistive technology and adaptive measure can aid in treatments for folks. Many of my friends have had concussions in the past, from Lacrosse and other sports, and they’ve been severely incapacitated, unable to use their phones, focus in class, etc. Though I haven’t been personally affected by concussions, Meg’s information about “palming” and taking care of eye strain, as well as her advice to us as assistive technology designers, I found pertinent.

Guest speaker reflection: Michael Ring

Michael is a fantastic storyteller. He told us his story straightforwardly but vividly. With his tone there was a funny contrast with our typical classes, since he was unafraid to be very real and frank about what worked or didn’t work for him, what was frustrating, and the realities of living with his condition. His discussion of “invisible” disabilities other people don’t notice was particularly compelling.

At one point he said, “it’s liberating to be able to go anywhere & be able to eat & drink.” Accessible, as well as gender-neutral, bathrooms/facilities should always be available without “registering” or asking, which places the burden on the victim and outs them. We as humans & designers create these facilities for other humans, but we’re also responsible for creating these problems, like there not being accessible, gender-neutral bathrooms in all public places. Luckily, that means these problems are also totally solvable by us designing better systems & facilities now & in the future.

We’ve learned extensively about probably hundreds of assistive technologies, and they can unquestionably be useful—but as we heard from his experience, even though they’re often incredibly expensive, they’re not always worthwhile. There’s grips for using toilet paper, but it turns using the toilet into a complex, long, difficult process. There’s grips for using buttons on shirts or pants, but wearing sweatpants or NBZ clothes is drastically easier. Especially when basic daily operations already take even more energy (for example, rolling a wheelchair, finding elevators/accessible entrances, etc), sometimes assistive tech can just be too much trouble to use. For him, elastic shoelaces, sweatpants, & “shittens” are just way easier than special grips requiring significant dexterity and patience. This is incredibly important to keep in mind when designing—sometimes, instead of a button gripper, figuring out the equivalent of sweatpants for your design makes a much more useful end product.