I received my Surface Book after surgery to stabilise my neck went disastrously wrong and became medical misadventure. This meant I could not return to my job as a designer and medical illustrator due to the paralysis of some muscles in my arms and hands. Prior to the surgery, I had an existing spinal injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident where my mother had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving when I was 17. This meant I needed a wheelchair for mobility, but I had the use of my arms. Despite the loss in hand function from the neck surgery, with the help of the touch screen and pen, I was able to do some rudimentary design work and I was able to start on my PhD. I even put together a children’s book specifically for my young nephew with the help of the pen and Adobe software.
The PhD has required me to travel to a number of countries in Europe, America and Canada – an interesting and occasionally challenging exercise while using a wheelchair! I took my Surface Book everywhere as I needed it for my work. What I love about it, is how light it is. Popping it into my hand-luggage was easy, and because my arms are not quite what they used to be, having something easy to manoeuvre into bags due to the compact and slim nature of the design made the whole process so much easier.
I had travelled overseas before with my former laptop and found the process much more difficult due to the weight and bulkiness of my former computer. I can’t say I was looking forward to dragging the surface book around the world with me, but it was such a different experience. I was able to work in any country and the biggest hassle was finding adapter plugs for the different countries (Swiss electrical sockets are different to the standard European adaptor I had).
I had also grown up using Mac due to my design work and although my prior computer had not been an Apple, I did miss the sleek sexy design and intuitiveness the Mac was well known for. I used to cheekily say Macs were designed by women as they seemed much more intuitive to use than other computers. The surface Book has certainly changed my mind, I’ve found it seems to understand my sometimes irrational and unusual creative thought processes. When jet-lagged and extremely tired – it takes around 30 hours to fly from New Zealand to Europe - I remember wondering if the Surface Book could read my mind as it seemed to guide my foggy, tired little brain to locate files and change settings as I needed.
As a designer, I am very aware of the way objects and environments work harmoniously together. I did struggle through parts of Europe’s environment while using my wheelchair, and found some of the attitudes confronting regarding my spinal injury. In many areas such as Switzerland, there was an assumption I’d always have someone with me to help – a notion quite foreign for a little kiwi from New Zealand who is used to being independent in spite of my physical limitations. On one occasion, the lift up to the cable car was locked and I needed to climb the stairs to get the key to open the lift at the bottom of the stairs – which defeated the purpose of an accessible lift. As frustrating as these situations were, I’ve learnt to approach them with humour and well-intentioned suggestions to proprietors! Kindness, a warm smile and gently assertive accessible suggestions always makes a bigger impact than simply getting angry towards someone whose only crime is ignorance to a situation they know nothing about.
I found that understanding the history and how old some of the cities and towns are certainly made me appreciate some of the efforts that had gone into making places accessible – even if you needed a key for the toilet occasionally! It wasn’t just physical accessibility that made a place easier to navigate, having access to wifi and charging stations also made life much easier.
Universal design is a term I frequently use when describing inclusive design. This term enables anyone the ability to use and have access to their environments. An aspect to my PhD is exploring design and how it affects the end users. I strongly believe you can create something beautiful, sculptural and functional, it just takes a little more thought. And this affects all aspects of life, the environments we live in, the products we use, the way we interact with one another through technology.
My dream now is to get people thinking about universal design within all aspects of life. I believe it is possible to create objects that most, if not all of the population can use. I dream of the day I can enter a barrier free environment that also engenders feelings of harmony and beauty within its structures. And I don’t begrudge design that is ignorant to my needs. It’s about voicing what my needs are and conveying the value in creating all inclusive design that makes life simpler and easier for everyone, not just those with impairments. However, done right, creating objects suitable for my needs will mean it will also be easier for everyone to use.
I also see an aging population especially within the western world, and an increase of people with impairments, and I see an opportunity to create a world where everyone has access and is entitled to live an independently supported life. Some might consider that an oxymoron, but none of are completely independent, we all require the help of others, through the devices we use, the cars we drive, the transport we travel on, often even the food we eat. Which brings me back to my Surface Book. Although not specifically designed for someone with my impairment, it’s universal design has meant I can do just about everything I need to do on a personal computer. It is light enough to travel with, it’s robust, intuitive and has been reliable. It’s not often I can identify a piece of equipment that has made my life significantly easier, but I will say my Surface book ticks every box, including the sexy design, I love it.
Editors note: This Childrens Book was written and designed by Claire using the Surface Book and a Surface Pen.