“I wanted to challenge the idea that design is just a tool to create function and beauty. Design greatly impacts upon people’s lives, all lives. Design is a way for us to feel included in the world but it is also a way in which we uphold a person’s dignity and human rights.”
Sinéad Burke’s TedTalk is live now and it is as insightful, funny and engaging as you’d imagine it would be. In the thought-provoking ten minutes, the writer and activist confronts the downfall of design in accommodating the needs of many people in our society.
“The bathroom is an example of where design impinges on my dignity,” she relates to a captivated audience.
With her characteristic humour and clear-headedness, Burke talks us through the experience of navigating public toilets as a little person: from simply trying to lock the door (she uses her iPhone) to the fact that she cannot reach the soap dispenser or sinks.
“The physical environment impacts on me in much more casual ways too, something as simple as ordering a cup of coffee. Now I’ll admit it I drink far too much coffee… but the coffee shop is not designed well, at least not for me.”
When the barista can’t see Burke over the high counter, she describes a fellow customer who “points to my existence and everyone is embarrassed…” With these seemingly mundane examples, Burke gives us a practical yet profound insight into how our world unthinkingly excludes so many of its inhabitants.
“Design impacts on the simplest of things, like sitting on a chair. I cannot go from a standing to a seated position with grace…. I have to crawl on my hands and knees just to get on top of it while also being conscious that it might tip over at any stage.”
Burke highlights that she must rely on the kindness of strangers but that not everyone is so nice.
“I’m reminded that I’m a little person, when a stranger points, stares, laughs, calls me a name or takes a photograph of me.” Shockingly Burke says that some variation of this happens every day.
“The word midget is a slur… Society has evolved, so should our vocabulary. Language is a tool. It does not just name our society, it shapes it.”
Burke, too, is shaping this society of ours in massively important ways.