By: Monika Myers & Jason Crockett
Manifesto for Queer Universal Design
Disability activists have long supported the concept of “universal design”: a standard for how buildings, educational activities, websites, and other materials should be designed so that all users, regardless of their ability or disability, have equitable access. We apply the concept of space to queer theory in a novel way: specifically, by applying the concepts of universal design to queer theory.
In applying these principles to the concept of queerness, we do not imply that queer bodies are somehow distinct from non-queer bodies. Instead, we use these principles to try to imagine a social system that is universally designed for all sexual orientations. We imagine a “universally designed” family, career, religion, community, friendship, politics, parenting, and other social institutions.
PRINCIPLE ONE: Equitable Use The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.” In terms of queer bodies, we imagine a world where queers have the same access, not special and unique access, to social institutions. For example, there should not be “special” bathrooms designated for transgender people. Instead, all bathrooms should be available to transgender people. Similarly, we imagine a world where queers have the exact same access to social institutions, such as military service, rather than separate access under different restrictions.
PRINCIPLE ONE: Equitable Use Social institutions are equitably available to people with diverse gender and sexual orientations.
PRINCIPLE TWO: Flexibility in Use The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.” Social institutions, like marriage, can be used for different reasons by different people.
One couple may use marriage for the purpose of reproduction. Another may use marriage for a different purpose, like honouring a lifetime friendship. The same institutions should be available to all people. Another good parallel would be options of intimate partner relationships. Currently, heterosexuals and some queers have access to marriage. Queers and some heterosexuals have access to civil unions. Others have access to domestic partnerships. In our queer vision, everyone has access to all of these options. A straight couple and a gay couple should each be able to select from a range of options including marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, depending on their individual needs.
PRINCIPLE TWO: Flexibility in Use Social institutions accommodate a wide range of individual, family, and lifestyle preferences.
PRINCIPLE THREE: Simple and Intuitive Use Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.” We believe that being queer should not require special paperwork. Some social institutions, like parenting, require substantial more effort for queers. For example, in many states, a gay couple must provide evidence of their committed relationship in order to be eligible to adopt. This requires them to meet a higher and different standard than heterosexual couples. We believe that a queer vision involves LGBT people being free from additional requirements to document their relationship.
PRINCIPLE THREE: Simplicity Requirements are easy to understand, with no additional requirements based on gender or sexual orientation.
PRINCIPLE FOUR: Perceptible Information The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.” This principle is about obtaining information efficiently. We imagine the relevance of this principle to queer lives to be about the communication abilities of information providers. We envision news media communicating about queer lives using accurate, appropriate, and current terminology. We imagine a world where information about queer lives is accurately communicated and prominent.
PRINCIPLE FOUR: Information is clearly and accurately transmitted in a way that demonstrates awareness and sensitivity to queer lives.
PRINCIPLE FIVE: Tolerance for Error The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.” We imagine a world where ambiguity and confusion about sexual orientation is tolerated; where teenagers who are uncertain about their sexual orientation are safe from harassment. In our queer vision, gender and sexual confusion, ambiguity, and change are welcome and expected. We imagine a world where individuals with fluid sexual orientations are seen as normal.
PRINCIPLE FIVE: Tolerance for Ambiguity Ambiguous, conflicting, and changing sexual and gender orientations are welcomed and seen as normal
Universal Design: “PRINCIPLE SIX: Low Physical Effort The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.” This principle is ultimately about physical freedom from discomfort and pain. We interpret this principle to focus on freedom from physical violence of all types. Many sexual minorities experience high rates of gender and sexual violence, both from strangers and intimate partners. We imagine a world free of physical violence against queers and non-queers, where a couple is free to kiss in public without being afraid of physical harm, and where domestic violence is non-existent. We imagine a world where sexual or romantic interest that is not reciprocated is not taken as a pretence to violence.
PRINCIPLE SIX: Freedom from Violence People are free from physical and sexual violence, both in and out of intimate relationships.
PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Size and Space for Approach and Use Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.” This principle focuses on having enough physical space to operate comfortably. We apply this principle to queer lives by focusing on having enough psychological space to operate comfortably. In reference to privacy, we believe that queers, like heterosexuals, should have privacy.
PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Privacy People have the privacy to disclose or not disclose their gender and sexual orientation.