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Universal Design and Glitch Theory

The Stigma Around Disability and Universal design

In going about this class the thing that has stood out to me the most is the way that intellectuals view people with disabilities. This class had me question whether people with disabilities even want to be “normal”. I have not started to ponder whether it is right to assume that people who lose their arms even want a new prosthetic arm. This really interested me because it was a completely new way of thinking and I think that the stigma around people with disabilities in today’s world is that they need to be “fixed”, but what if there is nothing wrong with them at all. 

These concepts really come into play when thinking about universal design. Universal design is defined by Universal as “the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.” In thinking about universal design quite a bit, it becomes very clear to me that while universal design is starting to move forward, it is not nearly where it should be. In the ideal world, almost every product should be made using universal design, the reason for this is that most products today are designed today to specifically target the people who are “normal”, which I think in itself is assuming that everyone wants to be this “normal” body. This theory is called the “glitch theory”, glitch theory is essentially saying that there’s some beauty in something not working the way it is supposed to or “glitching”. Glitch theory is all about finding the beauty in something working in a different way then it is supposed to, and instead of trying to fix it trying to work with it. I think glitch theory is a great way to think about disability as it allows people with disabilities to not just be defined by their disability. 


The best example of this theory being put into practice is actually at Saint Joes. In my Com 473 class we have spent the semester trying to create instruments for people who suffer from disabilities. The thing that makes this class so special is that instead of trying to change the person for them to fit the traditional mold of the instrument, we as a class have been using pure data, a software program, along with sketches in order to create an instrument suitable for someone who has suffered from disabilities. This class has really inspired me because it puts glitch theory into practice as it stops treating the world like a one size fits all, and instead has broken the traditional mold in order to fit someone who doesn’t usually fill the “normal” role in society. 

In moving forward with universal design I think it is necessary to think about glitch theory whenever we are designing for everyone. The world should not be made with a one size fits all description, and designers need to think of that during the design process.

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