“Designed by a person with autism”

I’ve heard too many examples of person first language (PFL) usage in environments that are supposed to be accessible, inclusive and everything about both. It irks me, even if I know the intent of the people is good.

As an example heard today, a water bottle “designed by a person with autism”. What? How does the designer’s autism or lack of play a role for the design of the water bottle? Assuming the bottle was not designed to meet any specific sensory or other needs, and just function as your typical water bottle, that stuck me as pointless. Why would it be needed to point out? If I were a designer, or architect (like I was supposed to), would every single piece I design have to be sold as “designed by a person with visual impairment and autism” (or “for, the same categories of users”)? That’s just pointless.

Or as another thought it makes about as much sense as highlighting the designers’ any other health or neurodiverse issues. Designed by a person with high blood pressure. Designed by a person with morbid obesity and moderate rheumatoid arthritis. Designed by a person with severe postnatal depression. Designed by a person with infertility issues and who’s mum has alzheimer’s”. Makes no sense? To me neither. So why bring up the autism, or dyslexia or other neurodiversity? Don’t. If you are “a person without autism“, and want to highlight the autism, dyslexia, Down syndrome or you name it, in an irrelevant context, cut it. Because otherwise for the sake of equality, when you reduce someone you don’t know to be a “person with disability”, you only see them as a label, that of some defectiveness; so for you to be seen as equal, your own health, mental health or neurovariety should definitely be highlighted. “Person with history of teenage self injury and undiagnosed alcoholism, high blood pressure, and genetic disposition to breast cancer impressed by the design of a water bottle by a brown-eyed, multiethnic, baseball-loving designer who just happens to be autistic”. There, fixed it for you. 😉

That said with the exception that there is a strong relevance of the neurodiversity or disability to be mentioned as it actually plays a role in the design or product. So if I were a designer or an architect… I would do the best to design products for “people like me”, while learning about all other disability and neuro related issues. And in my case that would mean learning from deaf people more about deaf space, about good design for wheelchair and other mobility issues, about other autistic people about their sensitivities. I would design hospitals which would have noise controls, quiet spaces, windows that can be opened, rooms that can be dark and quiet at nights, places that actually feel safe, and get rid of the endless corridors that are a hell for anyone navigating without landmarks. Yet I wouldn’t want to sell a hospital as “designed by a person with visual impairment and autism” because that’s not the point, and also because I hate person first language. Ok, the building design is begging to be a post of its own, with a lot more thoughts and links to existing materials I’ve studied (with notes about what doesn’t work). That will need some more research…

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