Interview with Raul Krauthausen

On Sunday the 15th of june i met with Raul Krauthausen. Raul is a activist for disability rights and founder of the nonprofit organisation „Sozialhelden“.

Raul has glass bones and sits in a wheelchair. I asked him several questions and a couple of them i will list in this essay:

Raul believes that people with disabilities are in a way sorted out of the everyday life. They are in special-needs schools, sheltered workshops, care homes etc. This results in prejudice and fear.

„Every tenth person in our society has a disability, but not every tenth person in our circle of friends is disabled. That means: They have to be somewhere! We are hidden. In „specialized institutions“. We are engaged in sheltered workshops, brought into care homes, because we are too expensive if we want to live alone…“

In our conversation, he emphasized, that people with disabilities are always associated with a cost-factor. But not only that. There is always a „special“ solution for people with disabilities. He gave me the advice, since I study product design, to always try to include people with disability into my designs. Not to try to find a special solution for people with disabilities but to mainstream it. This would be a big step towards inclusion.

We also talked about the „ Behindertengleichstellungsgesetzt“. (Disabled-equality-law)

This law aims to eliminate or prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities and ensures equal participation of people with disabilities in the life in society and enables them to independent living.

In Germany however, only the state is obliged to guarantee accessibility, e.g. in public offices, buildings, etc.

But if we compare how often we go to a state office and how often we go to a café, restaurant, cinema or supermarket, it is very unbalanced. Inclusion and participation can therefore only work, if the private sector must be involved. Furthermore private companies provide jobs, that may be also filled up with people with disabilities. It is unrealistic to believe, that the „disabled-equality-law“ is sufficient enough, if it only takes the state in the duty.

So to make a step towards an inclusive society, it must come to encounters between people with and without disabilities. But for creating encounters, we have to remove barriers. So the cause is the barrier and the result is the non existing encounter. For successful inclusion, in which it is no longer necessary to use term „inclusion“, we need accessibility.

I also asked Raul what he wishes for the social intercourse between people with and without disabilites. This was his answer:

„More normality. More everyday life. Not that someone needs to change his behavior, that happens naturally. I don’t want to teach a seminar with the topic how to interact with people with disabilities. Everyone will teach it themselves if we meet each other. This would mean, that we need to remove barriers. We have to open schools and universities for people with disabilities. If we would meet each other, we would learn from each other. I personally only learned how to interact with disability by interacting with disability. Its learning by doing. There is no school for that.“

Most down to earth take on disability that I’ve read.

@Moriel what an insightful interview!

Fyi I was surfing the net and saw that Berlin received the Access City award from the EC in 2013 for removing barriers to disability, especially in urban planning and transportation. Surely public policies don’t solve it, as Raul is saying, yet there is something about designing for the public space. It’s interesting because it’s so diverse - it’s more neutral, and hosts encounters of all sorts of people. Just a thought.

Labels and grids, again (and Darwin)

It looks like Raul is advocating the removal of special categories (“labels”) tagging underprivileged people. This means giving up our standard way of seeing the world by categories  that have administrative and legal relevance (“grids” in the language of James Scott).  It seems to be a letimotiv in OpenCare.

I do see the potential for lock-in when administrative grids become involved. You get organisations that “own a problem”: my organisation deals with blind people, yours with teenage pregnancies etc. As long as these categories have currency in the policy document and in the strategies of donors, the organisations serving them will prosper.

What I don’t see is why label removal should be so hard intellectually. We have something we can replace categories with: frequency distributions. Instead of saying “we need to accommodate the disabled” we can say “3% of humans cannot go up more than one step, and the step needs to be lower than 200 millimeters”. They can be disabled, but also simply old, or exhausted, or drunk. This is irrelevant. What’s relevant is that it’s just plain stupid to design a building that will not work every time!

This is the classic Darwinian move. Linnean biology tried to characterize a species by characterics: birds have beaks, pelicans have very large beaks, humans walk on two legs… wait, that would mean Raul is not human, since he does not walk. But neither is he a fish, though he presumably can swim. So what do we do? Do we make him his own species?

Darwin said “look, a species is simply a frequency distribution across certain characteristics. For example, most ants do not have wings, but some (males) do. About 98% (I’m making the number up here) of humans walk on two legs, but a 2% does not.” The frequency distribution captures all the information a designer needs. What’s so hard about using it?

This reminds me of a project The Invisible Labs/Chronically Driven and A different take on various health issues, and how they make people’s lives… better.