WITH New York: Promoting Designers With Disability, Not For Disability

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WITH Design New York City program for designers with disability

WITH is a new program that will place New York City’s creative disabled talent into the city’s top agencies and design studios through a 3-month Fellowship that will begin in September. It’s the brainchild of Liz Jackson, the founder of the Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective which has evolved into The Disabled List, a curated list of disabled creatives who are available to consult and collaborate.

To help nurture the pipeline of talent, WITH seeks to create new pathways into design for more people with disabilities with this first fellowship program. As its website states, “The life of a disabled person is spent cultivating an intuitive creativity that allows us to navigate a world that isn’t built for our bodies. It is a level of design thinking that has yet to be tapped in the design community, even though our ingenuity has led to the bicycle, the iPhone touchscreen and curb cuts.”

There are many reasons why disabled people aren’t entering design fields. Googling the phrase ‘Design for Disability’ yields more than twice as many search results as ‘Disability Design,’ i.e. accessible design for disability considerations. As WITH notes, “The implication that things are designed for us, rather than with or by us, keeps us from seeing our contributions as creative or valuable.”

While inclusive and accessible design is important and benefits more than just people with disabilities—for more, check out Elise Roy’s recent TED talk and episodes 53/53 of The Brand Hole podcast (with Dan Hendrickson of Volum8)—it’s crucial to expand the community of designers with disabilities across the board, and not just to work on disabled-related issues, but on everything that design encompasses and touches.

That’s why WITH is focused on nurturing the skills needed to recruit, train and retain more disabled people into the world of design, advertising and branding—and as WITH puts it, to elevate “the value of our creativity” and inspire creative people with disabilities “to discover our ingenuity (and) create a pipeline by facilitating a process of designing with rather than for disability.”

The WITH program will launch on May 16th (on the eve of Global Accessibility Awareness Day) as part of NYCxDesign at an event in New York featuring a dynamic roster of programming and talent:

ON DISPLAY, a Heidi Latsky dance performance, deconstructed art exhibit/fashion show and commentary on the body as spectacle and society’s obsession with body image.

• Liz Jackson, the afore-mentioned activist, teacher, TED speaker and resident, and founder of The Disabled List, who is also promoting the launch of WITH at the monthly CreativeMornings/New York event on Friday, May 18.

Shannon Finnegan, a disability advocate, designer (at SYPartners) and artist based in Brooklyn.

• Jerron Herman, a writer, teacher and dancer with cerebral palsy.

Mama Cax, a Haitian-American blogger and disability advocate.

Ryan Hartley Smith, a New York City-based illustrator whose painting—a collaboration with Jerron Herman—was featured in AMPL!FY, a New York City public art and design initiative earlier this year by the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), the Museum of Art and Design (MAD), Harlem Stage, Make Art With Purpose and World Studios Social Initiatives.

WITH is launching specific short-term and long-term goals, including “To cultivate this talent so we can begin building NYC into a hub for disability ingenuity. Imagine a fully accessible ‘sit lab’ at a local design school and innovative career opportunities through a community that fosters and attracts the most creative disabled people from around the world.”

The May 16th launch in New York is the beginning of its journey “to carve out the pathways into design that we need to begin to live out this greater vision.”

The first class of New York WITH design fellows will commence on September 10, 2018. Applications will open on May 21st, so if you are an interested business (design studio or creative space) or an interested disabled person, contact hello@inclusivecollective.org for an application.

Along with our parent company Interbrand, brandchannel is a proud supporter of WITH. We hope you will be too, and join the conversation on Instagram and Twitter as you consider your organization’s growth, purpose, diversity and creative mission.

Hopefully other cities and countries will join the WITH movement—and consider adopting more inclusive recruitment for designers and related roles such as project managers, account execs etc. to inspire fresh thinking and perspectives.

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