Inclusive by Design

Monday, August 10, 2015

I saw the following notice at a makerspace (its identity has been hidden to protect the guilty)

The sign did its best to connote that visitors to the makerspace were a problem. In fact, it even served a warning to those who might think of welcoming a stranger inside, “If YOU let someone in, they are YOUR problem.”

To me, this goes against the sense of openness and inclusiveness that informal learning academies should be engendering. There are cues we provide, the way we smile (or not), greet (or not), and the language of the signs we affix to our property that indicate whether a stranger is welcome (or not). The sign on the makerspace makes it clear that visitors are not only not welcome but are actually a problem. This is affordance of a makerspace, or its lack thereof, at its ironic worst.

affordance, n.
2. Psychol. A property of an object or an aspect of the environment, esp. relating to its potential utility, which can be inferred from visual or other perceptual signals; (more generally) a quality or utility which is readily apparent or available.1

Maker/hackerspaces have become very popular around the world, and for good reason. They appeal to our innate sense of curiosity, and have the potential to revolutionize access to science for those otherwise outside the system. They have the potential to be the hub for exciting projects in real citizen science that is conducted by citizens and not just where citizens are recruited by traditional scientists. To do that, however, makerspaces have to be explicitly welcoming and inclusive by design, and not just for those already a part of the club, for whosoever hath not, to her should be given.