Celebrating Women’s History Month: Spotlight on Caroline Criado-Perez and Haben Girma

As we bid farewell to March, we also say goodbye to Women’s History Month. In case you missed the series, we’ve been shining a spotlight on women who have made an impact on history around the globe. I’m proud of the efforts we’ve undertaken to help improve diversity, equity and inclusion.

Another reason I am incredibly proud to be a Hylander is our dedication to a product that efficiently meets customer needs. As a member of the User Experience team, I get to see firsthand the kind of impact we have on tens of thousands of individuals’ day-to-day lives.

For many people, however, technology and products in general are not typically designed with them in mind.

Women, making up more than half of the world’s population, are still marginalized, and this is heavily reflected in the way they are often missing from data. You may have heard the term “gender gap,” particularly or solely in terms of annual pay. However, there are several kinds of gender gaps, and in my opinion, the data gender gap can be one of the most insidious in a world that relies more and more on data.

Exposing data bias

There are countless examples of this phenomenon, but I will name a couple as provided by Caroline Criado-Perez in her book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men:

  • Symptoms of heart attacks are different between men and women, but due to over-representation of men’s symptoms in academia and society, clinicians are 50 percent more likely to misdiagnose cisgender women* when they have a heart attack.
    • Note: the study referenced here does not specify whether transgender women were included in the results, creating a barrier for trans individuals to understand their own health.
    • * Cisgender: people whose gender identities correspond with the sex they had or were identified as having at birth.
  • When a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured and 17 percent more likely to die than a man, which correlates with the fact that most car crash test dummies are based on the average male body.

These situations demonstrate the immense value of representation in research and development. Womanhood, in many cases, comes with an asterisk: you may need to find your own way in this increasingly data-centered world. We can say the same, perhaps tenfold, for people with disabilities and particularly disabled women.

Breaking barriers

Haben Girma is one disabled woman who has broken barriers and defied the biased data that worked against her throughout her life. Even when she was a child, when her parents asked her to do gendered chores such as cooking, she insisted upon doing whatever activities the boys were doing.

As the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law, Girma initially did not feel inclined to make a fuss about things able-bodied individuals may not think about, such as inaccessible menus, until she realized that the same issues she faced would affect other students with disabilities as well. By virtue of existing in a world not designed for her, like cars not designed for women or doctors not trained to help women, Girma became an advocate for experiences that were equitable to those of the societal majority.

Girma went on to speak with former President Obama using a braille computer called BrailleNote, which allowed Obama to interact with her quickly and efficiently using a connected Bluetooth keyboard. Girma was actually the person who came up with the idea of attaching the keyboard to the Braille computer, making it easier to connect with people.

“Disabled people constantly have to come up with our own solutions,” Girma told Marketplace. “Most things in this world are designed for nondisabled white men who are right-handed. Most designs [are] for a very limited segment of our population, and everyone outside of that has to be creative and thoughtful and come up with solutions, especially disabled people.”

That’s why organizations need to include a set of diverse stakeholders to vet their products and services. Because even if you inadvertently overlook a population that wants to use your products or services, you’re essentially denying them access.

Expanding our horizons

The phenomenon of exclusive design is not just an issue for Haben Girma or Caroline Criado-Perez. It is an issue for anyone who research and development excludes from consideration in the process of solution-building. We can feel this effect in most aspects of our lives, whether it’s entering a building while both of your arms are full of belongings, driving a car that leaves you at a 47 percent higher chance of being injured than your male counterparts or trying to order lunch at a cafeteria without being able to access the menus designed for only sighted users.

These predicaments are not a result of carrying a lot of things, being a woman or being blind. The root of these problems is the way we design our world and, specifically, who we design it for.

What Haben Girma knows that many of us have yet to harness is the real power of data and technology to equalize our world’s playing field. In her talk at Google called “Bringing Helen Keller to Silicon Valley: Designing Technology with Accessibility in Mind,” Girma said:

“Digital information is just ones and zeroes. We can convert it into any kind of format. The people who develop these services — programmers and technology designers — have an incredible power to increase access for people with disabilities. And I hope they use it.”

Most of the Hylanders I’ve talked to in my wonderful time here understand the impact our technology has on our tens of thousands of customers. I believe that we have the capacity to broaden this impact and create truly inclusive experiences for all of our customers, both existing and potential, by ensuring we design universally and representatively.

And, by educating ourselves and partnering with Hyland employee resource groups and other means, we can all create a more equitable workplace.

Donna Payravi

Donna Payravi

Donna Payravi is a UX researcher and has worked full-time at Hyland since June 2020 after graduating from Kent State University with a BS in Digital Sciences and minors in... read more about: Donna Payravi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.