Berenice

A designer and creative exploring social communication through design. Past projects include visual representations of synaesthesia and developing a typeface based on a rural vernacular.

Everyday hero

Photography and design project.

This project is themed around the challenges that people with hidden disabilities face. The term ‘hidden disabilities is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of challenges that are primarily neurological in their nature.

These can include fibromyalgia, dyslexia, diabetes, sleep disorders, visual or auditory problems that are not necessary cured by the wearing of glasses or hearing aids, Crohn’s disease, aspergers, anxiety, biopolar, autism, lupus... it’s a very long list.

 

Inspiration

The inspiration for this piece, my final major project, came from talking to people who have neurological problems and considering appropriate responses. For the purposes of narrowing down the research within the timescale set for the project, I concentrated on dyspraxia because it’s something I know a lot about.

 

Research

I was moved by the account of a young lady with dyspraxia who, due to severe, high functioning balance issues, was sat on the seats on a train that are reserved for people with disabilities. She is registered disabled and sometimes uses a stick when she’s tired and her balance goes to pieces. As you can imagine train journeys are awful and this one, on packed train, was awful. It was made worse by passengers telling her she had to move as she wasn’t disabled. This induced an anxiety attack and she had to leave the train at the next stop. All because nobody knew was dyspraxia was and she was unable to articulate what it was as her speech is affected when highly stressed.

This story was a common tale sadly. Neuro-typical peoples ignorance about the condition affects the person who has the hidden disability.  As communication can be a problem, I devised different ways to collect responses that would make the project accessible. There was a workshop, an online survey and some first person conversations. I also updated this site and received many emails. I also spoke to support organisations.

 

Analysis

At the workshop we looked at the material available. Tools sold by groups and foundations comprise of factsheets, pens or pencils with grip and an assortment of promotional pieces including a wristband, hats and trolley coins. The factsheets came under special scrutiny. Whilst the content is clearly peer reviewed and offers advice from specialists, I was surprised to see it laid across an A4 page with very long line lengths with little visual divisions. This makes it hard to digest for most adults (see http://baymard.com/blog/line-length-readability) and worse for some dyspraxics.

Realistic appraisals of dyspraxia are important, but they are also rather miserable. Reading though each area it is easy to worry that one might be more high functioning in some areas than I assumed, despite a professional diagnosis. When I tried to find a positive role model there was very little evidence. At least material I wanted to read was set in a typeface I found accessible and in a design that wasn't aimed at kids. Even the unit at Goldsmiths use a child's drawing in their monthly newsletter! Anyone researching this disability to find help for a friend might be forgiven for assuming one could outgrow it. 

These support groups also have problems. Limited budgets means it’s hard for them to have fancy advertising as their funds are ploughed into research and diagnosis.

 

Interpretation

There are some incredible people out there doing amazing things. I heard from a coach of a premiership football team, a social worker and a firefighter. And a stripper who was at pains to tell me that she can undress but just differently and equally as well! Why? Because buttons and zips can challenge some dyspraxics motor skills. Tony has problems with escalators which almost made him move away from London. He said that for a while he felt like a prisoner in his city because every journey involved a challenge because his balance was so bad. But he has yet to qualify for any disability allowance as 'it's only dyspraxia'. He overcame his fear of the underground with NLP and wanted to share that. This lead me to the theme of super heros.

 

My research told me that the solution had to be

  • low cost
  • easy to update
  • modern and appropriate to a wide range of ages
  • a template that could be used for all sorts of disabilities
  • accessible

 

Solution

  • I wrote down a list of common challenges and mined the survey and social media to find people within a 60 mile radius of my location to interview.
  • Then I came up with a template that took into account accessible typefaces and colour.
  • In a change of plan to my proposal which considered asking people to send in photos, art or words, I decided to control the content into a sophisticated piece aimed at adults because dyspraxia is for life, but it need not be difficult. All photography in the project was taken by me (which meant placing my loved and expensive camera in a washing machine).
  • The theme was positive messages from ordinary people who just happen to have dyspraxia for dyspraxics and those haven't heard of it before. 
  • I also designed a set of postcards which can be used to educate when the person is struggling to cope. The back is blank apart from the website so the person can write down a message or simply show the url.
  • A website contains the poster set in full with the text and links to portals that contain more advice. 
  • Peer review was required by The Dyspraxia Foundation and DORE.

 

Next steps are to work these into a postcard pack, poster display and possibly a portable item such as a badge or bag with a QR code to the website. One problem dyspraxics encounter is ignorance. Just because you can't see it and not everyone has sticks or wheelchairs, it doesn't mean it's not real. Education could be though a subtle means. The website isn't attempting to replace professional guidance but aims to be a portal to those bodies such as the Dyspraxia Foundation. 

 

Update:

  • The set of posters are part of an exhibition on dyspraxia in Birmingham at DORE
  • The postcards have been printed and are in use by people with dyspraxia including the lady on the train
  • The templates have been created so this can be extended into other conditions