My husband told me about a story he came across in one of his books. In the early 80s Xerox had put out a new and innovative piece of equipment....a copier that could collate and print on both sides of a page. As the story goes, though the copier was marketed to have these abilities, customers found it too complicated to use. A doctoral student, Lucy Suchman, was tasked with figuring out why this was the case.
So Ms. Suchman decides the best way to go about solving this riddle was to get two of her team members in a room with this printer and let them have a go at trying to do some double sided printing. An hour and a half into the task the two test subjects in frustration gave up and advised Ms. Suchman they couldn't get the printer to cooperate.
When Ms. Suchman shared the findings from her work with company executives, their response was "You must have got these guys off the loading dock!", implying the test subjects were not smart enough. Talk about taking the wind out their sales when she advised them that the two subjects were actually a computational linguist (Ron Kaplan) and an prominent computer scientist in the field of artificial intelligence (Allen Newel).
This incident has become a turning point in the way companies began to value the information gathered from user research. In this incident it became clear, though the copier and the competent humans were both capable of performing their functions, the user interface was negating both their capabilities. Cool right?
So why am I telling you this. This story really resonates with me on days like today when I come up against the user interface the system of disability bureaucracy demands I use....I feel like absolute idiots that Ron Kaplan and Allen Newel were presumed to be. In the last while, the absurdity of the interactions I've had feel akin to the ridiculous idea of demanding a person with no legs run up !0 flights of stairs to get an authorization form for a wheelchair. In my case, Bertha is my lack of legs, and the 10 flights I have to run up are the the systems assumption that I have the cognitive ability and reserves to deal with it. Needless to say I risk a considerable amount every time I have to do my legless multi-story dash for every single bureaucratic hurdle.
The system is not user friendly nor does it account for the very challenges that necessitate its very existence. As many other in my shoes can attest to, the bureaucracy of disability is a daunting one. I bet you that even back in my high functioning able bodied days, interacting with the disability system would have had me overwhelmed and reeling in a vortex of uncertainty, chaos and inefficiency. This opinion isn't just based on my personal experience. Research shows that the disability system that individuals with long-term and work-limiting disabilities HAVE to engage with is "excessive, obstructive, tends to unfairly penalize and often leads to destitution and poor mental health." Specifically it is the bureaucracy of the "administering institutions", that the research shows contributes to this.
Imagine the absurdity of that....sick people being required to interact with a system that punishes them for being sick and worsens their wellbeing. The nurse in me just rages at the insanity of this. Needless to say Bertha (my brain injury) isn't dealing to well with it either.
The system needs a Lucy Suchman to come in and point out the obvious flaws in a disability system that is so convoluted and inflexible that "healthy" person wouldn't survive it. But until Lucy Suchman does that, I'm going keep using creative outlets to help shore up my wellbeing after every encounter with this Unnecessary Convoluted Inflexible User Interface.
Here is a piece inspired by all this bullshit. It is titled "Save me Lucy Suchman"