Design for the Other 90% is a website which highlights design initiatives which are intended to be accessible to the “5.8 billion people, or 90% [of the world’s population], [who] have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted; in fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter.”
The very fact that you’re looking at this website right now means that you are among the lucky 10%.
What does this have to do with disabilities?
Many of the technologies we use, including “basic” assistive devices which we take for granted, are inaccessible to most of the world’s population. A simple cane is out of reach. Prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, communication books, the countless items we talk about here (and which many of us use every day) are not accessible to people with disabilities in most of the world. Our access (however limited it may feel at times, especially when we are fighting with people who want to deny us) to these things is predicated entirely by where and when we were born.
There are a lot of charities which do things like providing prostheses to people who have lost limbs to mines, warfare, car accidents, and other events. There are a fair number of charities which work to provide people with disabilities around the world with other assistive devices.
This is all well and good, and a positive step.
But what I like about Design for the Other 90% is that it’s actually focused on working with people in the regions they are trying to help. Rather than importing technology and ideas from somewhere else and trying to shoehorn them into place, the designers profiled are actually thinking about needs on the ground, and interacting with the populations they’re helping. It’s a cooperative effort to get more things within reach, and it’s an effort which focuses not necessarily on passive charity, but on active interaction and the mutual development of effective, useful technology that will actually work in the places where it’s being applied.
I think that charity itself can be extremely problematic, which is something I’ll discuss at another time, and I’m much more interested in supporting programs which focus on autonomy and the promotion of cooperation and eventual independence. That’s what excites me about Design for the Other 90%; it’s far from being the only resource that collects information like this, of course, it’s just what I happened to stumble upon first.
One of the neat things about the site is that it profiles a lot of programs, initiatives, and designs, including programs which are focusing on people with disabilities. I think it’s a good starting resource for people who are looking for a way to do something for the other 90%, but aren’t sure about where to start. I like that they specifically talk about different levels at which people can do something, whether that’s working on programs in the classroom or traveling to regions where people are in need to share skills with them. There’s a recognition there that people can participate on a lot of levels at their own levels of ability, and that feels rare to me when it comes to initiatives like this, as often they demand money or time and leave no other options for contributing.
Readers, can you think of initiatives/programs which fit in with the cooperative ethos which you’d like to promote? What do you think about the ideas behind Design for the Other 90%?