Color Blind Study #1 Mandala
Painting: “Color Blind Study #1” acrylic on 12" vinyl record
My dad is color blind. He has never seen the color red before, or any other form of red in the colors of pink, violet or even browns (all brown has some red in it). I never thought much about it except when he accidentally bought a pink baseball glove for my son (which was awesome!) or try to put together color coated parts to a tent when we were camping. Or trying to pick out flowers for his garden or paint colors for a piece of furniture he is building.
It makes me consider how we think about disability. When I was in art and design school, we had one class devoted to universal design. The concept is where a design is usable by almost anyone of any ability. This encompassed anyone from wheelchair accessibility to the elderly aging in place to people who were blind and/or deaf. I though it was the most important and meaningful class from the entire program.
It wasn’t until much later I realized I never considered that people were mostly not disabled. The disability was only created by the limitations of our environment. This can be true for any disability. You can design a home around the needs of a blind person where they can live completely independent and without barriers.
My husband and I intentionally purchased a one-story home because we are only going to get older and what if one of us would someday need a wheelchair? On top of the life altering abilities of that experience, your environment can quickly become your most debilitating aspect of your life.
This is also true for autistic individuals.
Here in America, we like it loud.
My husband and I went into a cell phone store to switch phone carriers and the music was so loud I could not understand a word the employee was trying to say to me. I literally could not make my mind compute the words coming out of his mouth because all I could hear was the blaring 80’s music coming from the speakers. It was like being in a night club from hell. I must have looked like an idiot to him. I looked around and no one else seemed to notice. It left me agitated for the rest of the day and irritated they created such an environment.
That situation made me disabled in a way I had not previously considered. Looking back at my childhood, school was such a challenge because it was so hard to pay attention when there were so many noises and distractions. I tried as hard as I could to be a good student and sit still in class, but most of school life was misery. That was 30 years ago and I hope in some ways we have learned to design better but I sincerely doubt it.
This is why it is so important to include differently abled people in the design process. Whether that be someone on staff at an architectural firm, or within an industrial design team. All types of people really must be represented and supply input because otherwise we will always live and deal with disability in a burdensome and negative way.
We are coming along but we are not there yet. We should be making goals of not just accommodating but including differently abled people every step of the life process. This goes for all types of ability.
This is especially true for autistic individuals. For whatever reason autism is still so misunderstood as a behavioral issue. Behavior only comes as a byproduct of an individuals environment. If you change the environment, you can change the behavior. Autistic kids want to thrive and be loved just as they are. It makes so much sense to me if we modified our environments, even just a little, it could make a huge difference for so many.
I’m an adult. I’ve made it to an age where I am comfortable enough to assert myself and get my needs met. Most autistic children are taught their needs don’t matter and it’s more important to make them change to fit into society. This is WRONG thinking and will only cause distress for these individuals the rest of their lives.
It’s time for autistics to stand up with their advocates and start making the changes we want to see for ourselves. We deserve it just as much as everyone else and we should expect no less.