It won't stop once it starts.
When you start seeing injustices, you can’t stop seeing them.
This sentence have been trotting in my head since my passage in France.
It was raining that day. Summer rain. Loud but warm. The type that will be followed by rainbows. As I had forgotten my very bright yellow rain jacket *you know, the type that you only see in movies about Bretagne?*, I rushed into the subway.
That day I was carrying a large backpack. And I couldn’t get through the tourniquet (turnstile).
We, my bag and I, were too large. But really, we weren’t that large.
Squeezing, pushing, I wiggled my way through the metallic bars. Then, I turned back, looked at the machine again. Why would we make such a complicated device, so unadapted to most living beings? Why would this station, in the middle of Paris, the largest metropolis in France, not have a system more accommodating for anyone carrying a suitcase, anyone with a big backpack, anyone more than skinny, anyone with a cane, anyone with a broken arm or no arm for that matter (you have to also push quite hard against the rotating “door” after the turnstile)?
Another example. Parisian sidewalks also often curb ramps allowing for a wheelchair or a stroller to roll up and down the sidewalk. Aha! you would say. We have those in Los Angeles!
Los Angeles probably meets better accessibility criteria than Paris, on paper. But it still fully fails at its final purpose. Because sidewalks in LA are so broken - due to tree roots making their way through concrete, and often a combination of endless sun, earthquakes and lack of infrastructure fundings - that they are unusable to anyone depending on a wheelchair or a walker (or a skateboard) to navigate the city.
In LA, inaccessibility is so famous that it has been made a joke.
In the show Grace & Frankie, an episode shows Frankie struggling with her older friend to cross the PCH to reach her favorite restaurant. It is turn into a comedy moment / fight again ageism / f* the city and end with a big IDGAF episode finale.
It would have been funny if I hadn’t seen this exact scene happened through my window on Santa Monica Blvd: an elderly man who couldn’t speed fast enough with his wheelchair to make it across the 6-lanes boulevard in the time given by the crosswalk countdown. It took four tries. Eventually, he gathered speed before the green and finally reached his destination, just on time.
Anyway, where was I?
Oh yes. When you start seeing injustices, you can’t stop seeing it.
The correct saying would be: “when you start seeing injustice, you can’t unsee it,” right? But there’s not one injustice. There are many. Injustices are plural. Just like data are. Once it starts, you can’t forget them. And you won’t stop noticing them.
This is where data visualization and design for good comes in. We may think it doesn’t matter. We may think that no one cares. We may think we’re treating a subject that everyone already knows about. We may think we’re not good enough to do it the right way. We may think it’s not our job to create for a better world. We may be right.
We may also be wrong: we don’t know what Chris in front of his computer would find concerning or what Marina on her phone would stop scrolling for. If there’s anything that I learnt from reading about reactions to data visualizations, is that we are not fully sure about what works or what doesn’t.
But who needs to be sure to try?
From rainy Los Angeles with affection,
PS: If you see a sidewalk with limited access in LA, you can submit a request to get it fixed here.
I know this newsletter has taken a weird turn into philosophical subjects. You’ve been warned! Let me know by answering this email if you’d like to see me to talk more about data, art, or how cute cats *
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