The Art of Adaptation: Disability and Design
While people with disabilities comprise nearly a quarter of the world’s population, they are often overlooked as a powerful user demographic with valuable insight. Embracing design with and for disability is not just a business or moral decision; it is an opportunity to incorporate new perspectives and unique ways of problem-solving. This panel, hosted by the Industrial Designer’s Society of America (IDSA) brings together a group of design students, educators, and professionals who represent a broad range of disabilities. These panelists will share challenges, successes, and strategies gleaned from their experiences as disabled designers. This session will promote a much-needed conversation about how the design community can facilitate diversity and inclusion in offices, classrooms, and in the products we create.
Ariel Pershman is a design student at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. She has previously attended Industrial Design programs at the University of Illinois - Urbana/Champaign and Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. She is a co-leader of her university's student chapter of D.R.E.A.M, a disability rights student organization, a member of her university's ADA and Accessibility Advisory Committee (ADAAAC), and co-founder of the IDSA Disability Section. In 2021 She was named a Patricia H. Weisberg Innovation Scholarship Recipient and a Wisconsin Inno Under 25 finalist for her company Mira Eyewear; fashionable eyewear for pain from light-sensitivity.
Alex Lobos focuses on design, technology, sustainability, emotional attachment, and neurodiversity, as means to elevate quality of life. He is Graduate Director and Professor of Industrial Design at Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as Research Fellow Emeritus at Autodesk. His work and design courses have been sponsored by Autodesk, AT&T, Colgate-Palmolive, General Electric, Makerbot, Stryker, Staples and Unilever, covering topics such as learning futures, generative design, digital fabrication, sustainable behaviors, and everyday living.
Emily Siira is an industrial designer and disability advocate focused on the importance of empathy and human factors in design. Emily was driven to design after suddenly becoming disabled as a young adult; she has found that creative problem-solving is necessary to navigate environments, systems, and products that aren’t developed with accessibility in mind. Emily strives to apply perspective and insight from this lived experience to help cultivate universal design practices. Emily is currently an industrial designer at Milwaukee Tool. She previously spent several years designing in the medical product space with GE Healthcare, and practiced in consulting prior to that. Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD). Emily serves on the leadership team of IDSA's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council (DEIC), and is chair of IDSA’s Disability Interest Section.
Kam Redlawsk is a disabled industrial designer, artist, advocate, traveler, writer and speaker. She has been an advocate for the rare disease and disability community for over 14 years: using art, writing, travels and tools that connect us as humans. She has lived with a very rare muscle-wasting condition called GNE Myopathy for over 20 years. In this time, she became an industrial designer while candidly advocating her perspective on disability, its humanity and the need for greater representation, accessibility and awareness in the creative and design community that creativity is adaptation and adaptation is creativity. Disability isn’t a bad word and can be a point of innovation. Typically, you’ll find Kam on road trips, in nature, scavenging for art destinations or concocting exploration plans. She’s a daydreamer, a chaser of inspiration and believes stories and design create bridges within humanity.