Ciara-Beth Griffin: Product Design for Autistic People | Inspirefest 2019

Ciara-Beth Griffin: Product Design for Autistic People | Inspirefest 2019


We live in a world where we’re told our words have power and I absolutely agree with that. Our words do have power but
what I found recently is our world also takes a lot of power from numbers – particularly statistics. So when we’re diagnosed with a deadly illness, we’re
comforted by the statistical number of people who survive that illness or live
a long happy life dealing with that illness. When we’re diagnosed with a
disability or a condition, we’re often told we’re 1 in a number. In my case, when I was 14 years old I was told I was 1 in 65. 1 in 65 people who have autism
spectrum disorder diagnosis. While the labeling of it was new to me, I knew I
was different from the minute I started preschool. Not in a good way, and not in a bad
way. I just knew my brain didn’t seem to process things the way other people’s
did. Shortly after my diagnosis, I started diving into loads of different research
and learning how my brain worked, why my brain worked that way, what other people
feel like when they have autism, what challenges we all face and very shortly
after I decided I was going to start developing apps specifically for people
with autism. And I emphasise that phrasing because I stopped using that
phrasing about 6 months ago, I no longer design after specifically for people
with autism. I design apps for people bearing in mind the challenges people in
with autism face. The reason I changed the way that I talk about my work is,
about 6 months ago I received an email that will stick with me for quite a long
time. It was a person who is not on the autism spectrum who reached out and said
“Hello, I am NOT an autistic person but I really struggle with eye contact. Would
it be okay for me to still use your app?” And this kind of struck me as odd
because I never had given much thought about it. Like, the reason I had always
emphasised the autism element was, it was a problem I knew was specific to an
autism population. I knew that a lot of my friends who have autism struggled
with this. I know that I struggled with it. So, I never gave much thought about
labelling it in any other way but that one email kind of made me look at it a
very different way. When we say 1 in 65 people have autism, it kind of seems to
create a sense of divisiveness. It’s a sense of us versus them. They should be
feared, they should be kept at a distance. They’re different, they don’t understand
us. But an interesting statistic! 65 out of 65 of those people are human beings.
Those human beings have feelings and thoughts and beliefs that are all as
valid as anything that any of us hold. While these labels are absolutely
essential in some cases – without these labels we’ve no way to decipher who
needs what supports – using them needlessly in certain contexts just creates
discrimination. We hear a lot about inclusion on diversity at the moment,
particularly in the media, and the slightly concerning thing for me is because
they’ve become buzzwords, number one, they’re starting to lose a sense of what
they actually mean and, number two, people are using them interchangeably. Diversity
and inclusion are not the same thing. The best way I’ve heard it described, or well
I read it described, on the internet was “Diversity is receiving an invitation to
a party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” So, with that in mind I continue to
build apps that help people with a specific focus on issues
that are specific to an autism population, but at the end of the day
they are apps, designed for people and this is a crucial element that we all
need to remember in technology when we’re designing something, when we’re
developing something…Even though we will have a target user base, it’s not always
vital that we stress that target user base in our in our tagline or in our
product name. Sometimes it’s okay to target our advertising, absolutely, send
emails to relevant organisations who would be interested in the tools we
develop, get in touch with those same organisations to make sure that our
products are true to the experience that are helpful for that population
but when we needlessly label things number one, people think they don’t have
a right to access a tool that would be just as helpful to them without a label
as it is to a person with a label and that’s cutting people out of society.
At the end of the day those 65 and 65 human beings they just want to be
accepted and heard. They’re just like you and me. Sometimes our wiring is just a
bit different. Thank you.

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