Do you remember the last time you were at the airport and found it hard to reach the sink for a quick face wash and felt the taps were placed too far from the sink? It’s a feeling Sinead Burke puts up with almost every day at various points in time and across varied locations.
Burke says, “Achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism) occurs in approximately one in every 20,000 births. About 80 per cent of little people are born to two average-height parents. That means that anybody in this room could have a child with achondroplasia. Yet, I inherited my condition from my dad.”
She informs us, “I use the accessibility services in the airport because most of the terminal is just not designed with me in mind. Take security, for example. I’m not strong enough to lift my carry-on bag from the ground to the carousel. I stand at eye level with it. And those who work in that space for safety purposes cannot help me and cannot do it for me. Design inhibits my autonomy and my independence. But traveling at this size, it isn’t all bad. The leg room in economy is like business class.”
The airport and lavatories are just one hurdle to get through. Everyday life around us is not designed considering the height of those with disabilities. A trip to a coffee shop might be an eye opener, when the barista calls out one’s name and completely ignores the fact that there’s a little person, concealed in the crowds of customers who share average-height characteristics. It’s daunting enough to place an order, but what happens when that order is delivered? How do individuals like Burke climb up a chair, reach out to the counter, hold the coffee and lower themselves to the ground? These are questions that would have flown under the radar, had someone not pointed it out to us.
Summing up, she tells us, that design is a way in which we can feel included in the world, but it is also a way in which we can uphold a person’s dignity and their human rights. Design can also inflict vulnerability on a group whose needs aren’t considered.