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Mapping Disability with CIDNY

Back in March 2020, DSI students Grace Kwon, Xuan Cheng, Vanessa Yip, and Janvi Ghatalia partnered with CIDNY to workshop the process of improving public transportation services by identifying the needs of those with both visible and invisible disabilities.

CIDNY (or the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York) is a nonprofit organization that provides services, education, and advocacy work to ensure full integration, independence, and equal opportunities for all people with disabilities. Over 50% of their employees have disabilities themselves, and most use public transportation every day as an act of political participation.

The DSI team collaborated with a group of participants living with mobility and sight-based disabilities to compose a journey map of their daily commutes. Their goal was to find points of access resulting in a greater design intervention to help the city to better serve its disabled population.

During the design process, our students were immersed in experiential learning. By inviting community members with disabilities to co-create with them, they came up with over 23 ideas that touched upon policy, culture, and design. With all the ease and utility that comes with tech driven solutions, it’s easy to assume that tech is the solution to mending flaws in the transportation system. However, by drawing out journey maps and listening to experts with lived experiences, many of the potential solutions were instead creative micro-interventions that guided thought toward preventative measures, and therefore helping lessen the chance of injury for these individuals.

The disability-led process changed the way that our students wanted to work, too. Grace added that they all “learned to fall out of love with traditional ‘experts’. It was extremely eye-opening to see and hear ideas from the people who experience barriers to access every day… Our assumptions and biases towards disability are what blocks our imaginations and creatively when designing with folks with disabilities. The participants were super open to learning design tools to design for their communities; all we needed to do was reach out and design with them, instead of designing for them.”

Janvi, who will be going into her 2nd year at DSI, plans to continue working with the disability community as part of her senior thesis project in the coming academic year.

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