Disability is a design problem (and I’m working on it)


Here's a preview of what Disabled List founder, Liz Jackson, will be speaking about at Sydney Opera House's Antidote festival this weekend.

Disability didn’t exist before industrialisation.

Sure, there were blind people, and people with cognitive impairments and amputees – but they were never grouped together. There was no designation of ‘disabled’ that bound them. When industrialisation rolled around, it brought with it this expectation that bodies could perform in mechanised and rote ways. And suddenly there was a certain subset of bodies that could not perform as expected. Industry decided to turn to doctors and philosophers of the time to determine which bodies could not contribute, and suddenly these bodies were ‘diagnosed’ medically as disabled. Those bodies were segregated and institutionalised.

So, that’s one outmoded medical definition of disability. But then there’s the enlightened social understanding of disability that I prefer – we are disabled not by our bodies, but by the world around us. 

We are disabled not by our bodies, but by the world around us. 

We can’t change our bodies. But time and again throughout history, disabled people have proved we can change the world. Beethoven, Frida Kahlo, Steven Hawkings, the list goes on. 

Disabled people are the Original Lifehackers. We spend our lives navigating a world that isn’t built for our bodies, so we cultivate an intuitive creativity. Perhaps Disability Design Historian, Aimi Hamraie, said it best when she said:

"Disabled people have used their embodied knowledge and self-directed design practices not only to hack their everyday environments but also to use design as an act of political protest."

But we can only change the world if we’re included in the design process. Inclusive design rarely credits us for our contributions. That’s why I created the Disabled List. It’s an online listing of creative disabled people – a reference for companies keen to invite disabled designers to the table. 


Join Liz Jackson at Antidote festival on September 2 when she reveals how insights offer opportunities for design and innovation. Hosted by Fenella Kernebone.