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Inclusive Design Practice Series: (Un)conscious Practices in Design: Shifting from Surviving to Thriving

Natasha Trotman

Equalities Designer

This blog was written as part of a new series on Inclusive Design practice, highlighting the work of the members of GDI Hub’s Inclusive Design Network. The Inclusive Design Network brings together individuals and organisations passionate about inclusive design and disability innovation. Find out more and sign up here.

In these times referred to by some as the ‘Covid pivot’, the vast majority of people are working remotely online with some now shifting to a hybrid working pattern as we emerge from pandemic restrictions.

A black and yellow sign on the pavement that reads: Covid, hands, face, space
Image: Natasha Trotman

I am an Equalities Designer with a background in Inclusive, Human Centred Design and Information Experience Design. The complex set of disciplines that form part of my background enable the use of mixed methods as part of my trauma-informed design practice, which works across different sectors. My focus is addressing the pain points and challenges of the underserved. This can translate into the illumination of previously unseen and unaddressed barriers to entry and engagement, as well as raising awareness, creating solutions and encouraging fluidity of thought through emergent intersectional methods and approaches.

Designers like myself, who exist at the intersection of the African diaspora, working class and neurodivergence, witnessed the great (Covid) pivot with shock and awe as the world ‘opened up’ illuminating that attitudinal barriers are most likely to have delayed and prevented reasonable adjustment such as hybrid working arrangements pre-pandemic. While the pivot to digital working and engagement is not a ‘fix all’, it is a step towards much needed changes to access and inclusion. However, Baroness Brinton’s powerful words shared in the UK House of Lords last month illustrate that even post-pandemic, some attitudinal barriers endure as we emerge from lockdown/pandemic restrictions.

A hand of Afro-Caribbean origin, holding a round crystal ball, a small grey figure  of person is within the ball, a larger version of the person, parallel above
Image: Natasha Trotman

Many of us watching the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, will have seen a paired down opening ceremony that addressed and reflected some of the global challenges faced during the pandemic whilst simultaneously acknowledging the transformative power of sport. The challenge is maintaining this balance; as demonstrated by four-time neurodivergent Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles withdrawing from the Individual all around gymnastics final in Tokyo, stating that she had to focus on her mental health.

How can we ‘design in’ safe and restorative places to land in such terrains and beyond?

A collage of 9 coloured spheres, red, green, blue and white, green and pink,  brown and dark green, light green and white
‘Worlds within worlds’. Alt Experiences workshop. Tate Britain.

Whilst continuing to work in adapted conditions often described as the, ‘new normal’ during the pandemic, I learned that anxiety, a response to uncertainty (and more), can manifest in various forms. Designers and Design Researchers need to consider the impact this can have and consider ways to help mitigate it when conducting engagement, consultation and other research activities during unprecedented and uncertain times.

What is the scope for change? I believe the design industry is responding to lessons learned over the past 18-months. I have decided to rise to the challenge as an Equalities Designer, by contributing to the creation of kinder, safer, more mindful spaces. I will ensure that my work continues to represent underserved and previously unheard voices to deliver outcomes that align with the social model of disability, the neurodiversity paradigm and the idea of ‘neuroception’ – how the mind/body scans and adapts for safety and danger.

Neuroception/social engagement (theory) is one tool I am using to aid the reframing of tasks and questions which has proven helpful to support trauma-informed design. However, this will vary dependent on participants and modes (digital, analogue etc.). We must also be aware of our positionality as Designers and our own reactions in our work in order to be inclusive.

My question to you is how will your work respond to these challenges as we emerge from Pandemic restrictions?

Views expressed in this blog belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Global Disability Innovation Hub and its staff.

Author Biography

Natasha Trotman

Natasha is an Equalities Designer and researcher whose practice explores extending the frontiers of knowledge around mental difference, non-typical ways of being and marginalised experiences in addition to also reframing mainstream notions of equality, equity, diversity, and inclusion through an intersectional design lens; forming physical interactions through investigative play to policy design for varied audiences, participants and organisations. With an MA in Information Experience Design from the Royal College of Art (RCA), a background in Inclusive Design, Data Systems analysis from Oxford, coupled with expertise in access and inclusion, Natasha has gone on to exhibit widely and create workshops at cultural establishments including The V&A, National Gallery and Tate Modern. Previously working as a Research Associate at The RCA’s Helen Hamlyn Centre and Wellcome Trust (Wellcome Hub) on Research project Design and The Mind, leading to co-authoring universal design and higher education in transformation (UDHEIT) paper on co-creating with neurodiverse communities. A Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, a member of the Chartered Society of Designers and a member of the Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners (MIEDP). Currently an artist in residence at Somerset House’s studio 48, a consultant for Wellcome, sitting on the WCIT Advisory panel and a Design Expert specialist (Equality Design and research) for the UK’s Design Council (the UK Government's advisor on design). Natasha has been selected as a 10×10 emerging Artist by the British council and Named on the Shaw Trust Powerlist Top 100 Influential Disabled People 2019 & 2020.