Disability, Access and Universal Design Panel and Trans Realities

Author: Noah Reid

My name is Noah Reid and I am a second year Mechatronic Systems Engineering student. I came upon the opportunity to attend CDE through the Western EngiQueers as VP Events. Prior to the conference I was expecting the weekend to be busy and serious. Though it was busy, all of the events and talks were so engaging and fun, the weekend flew by and now I just wish I could go back! The speakers were all incredibly enthused by what they were speaking on, and did an amazing job getting everyone to learn new things, and encouraging questions.

Of the several workshops I had the pleasure of attending, the ones that caught my attention most were Disability, Access and Universal Design Panel and Trans Realities by Estelle Davis. They each had very different focuses and brought many new perspectives for me.

To speak on the first workshop, Disability, Access and Universal Design Panel, I was very intrigued by the panelists. One of the Panelists was Hansel Bauman, the resident architect for Gallaudet University. Gallaudet is a University for the deaf and hard-of-hearing as well as blind and visually-impaired. His perspectives on design were fascinating. One of the discussion points were how to engage the community that will be using the space he designed. He explained to the room that he often had the students input design ideas. The most innovative thing about their approach to this, was that everyone agreed to not use translators. This meant that they had to communicate through means that they both understood, through feel and motion. I thought that was an incredible way to eliminate the confusion that words can bring. Allowing people to communicate through mutual feeling. This helped lead the design team to better understand the problems with average buildings and see details that they would have never even thought to pay attention to. The most surprising design feature he mentioned in my opinion, was the use of flooring in buildings for the deaf and hard-of-hearing that doesn’t reduce the vibration of footsteps as strongly as typical flooring. This is for when you are unable to see around a corner perhaps or through a closed door. That just struck me as an amazing idea. Overall the panel provided amazing insight into how subjective design can be, and how much details can matter depending on the perspective you assume on the project.

The second workshop, Trans Realities by Estelle Davis, got off to a great start. Unfortunately, to catch our train we were only able to stay for one of the two hours. However, in this time I was incredibly pleased with the session. First and foremost, I was delighted to see the attendance, as other workshops were taking place at the same time, it was encouraging to see other people out to learn about the community. They began discussing what gender is and some common misconceptions, and then delved into what transgender is and things trans* people can encounter. One moment that specifically caught my attention was when they brought up the concept of “passing.” For those who don’t know, “passing” in the trans* community refers to being seen as the gender you present as in public. So in essence, a trans man “passes” when people see him as male in public. Personally, I disagree with the term “passing” (because it makes it seem like there is a way to “fail” at being trans* or something – and there certainly isn’t), however I see the need for it when explaining trans* experiences and identities. The intent of the workshop was to give people insight into how to better support the community, and understand the problems facing the community, so they can help bring awareness as well. The concept of “passing” illustrates how hard it can be when you first come out, to feel valid and as though people are seeing you – especially when you perhaps don’t have the resources or haven’t gone through the processes for changes in clothing, legal name and gender marker, or beginning HRT or for those who want and/or need it (and not all trans* people do) gender-affirming surgeries. The first time someone uses your proper name can be so overwhelming, and “passing” is a term that resonates with people about how conditional acceptance is, in conjunction with how important and reassuring it is. When the speaker brought up the term, she asked if everyone knew what that meant, and nearly everyone was nodding. When the speaker went to continue however, a delegate raised her hand and said “wait, I don’t understand what does that mean” and honestly I was so excited that she asked. It showed an actual desire to understand, and it lead the speaker to digress for a moment from the slides and explain what the term meant. Though we had to leave not long after the introductory part of the workshop, I left with great hope that the people attending the workshop were going to learn a lot and that people would leave the workshop later with a better understanding of how to support the trans* community.

In Engineering, diversity is so important, it allows ideas to be shared and developed and improved through everyone’s perspectives and thoughts. The entire conference was amazing, and I am so glad that I had the privilege of going. I strongly encourage anyone with a passion for inclusivity to apply next year, it was definitely an experience I won’t soon forget!