Design Careers and Students with Disabilities

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For students with disabilities interested in a creative career path, design fields—such as architecture, interior design, apparel design, landscape architecture, and graphic design—offer many opportunities. Practitioners in these fields experience the satisfaction of seeing their ideas turn into objects, buildings, or websites.

Design Fields

There are many types of design majors and careers that you might consider pursuing. Below is just a small sampling of the sorts of opportunities available.

Architecture. Architects use technical knowledge and artistic creativity to design small and large spaces—from home remodel projects to shopping malls to skyscrapers.

Landscape Architecture. Landscape architects work with plants, bushes, trees, and structures, including natural and man-made objects.

Interior Design. Interior designers help make a variety of spaces inviting and attractive as well as practical and functional to suit the needs of their clients.

Apparel Design. Apparel designers combine technical knowledge, precision, and an artistic eye to make clothing, footwear, and other garments.

Industrial Design. Industrial designers create many kinds of everyday products from household items to electronics to vehicles with consideration to aesthetics, ergonomics, and usability.

Web Design. Web designers use a mix of technical skills; design elements such as type, images, and color; and usability knowledge to create websites.

Graphic Design. Graphic designers communicate ideas visually through effective use of words, symbols, and images. Graphic designer's work can be used in many mediums including print, web, product packaging, and signage.

Urban Planning. Urban planners develop cities, taking into account issues such as affordable housing, public transportation, the environment, land use and zoning, and economics.

[Picture of two students designing a structure using dried spaghetti.]

Why should students with disabilities consider studying design fields?

Design fields offer multiple, interesting career options that allow you to be creative, develop technical skills, and see your ideas turn into reality. Designing buildings, planning cities, or creating websites offer students opportunities to improve the world around them. Moreover, by being designers, individuals with disabilities can help to make the world more welcoming and accessible to other individuals with a wide variety of disabilities.

According to the Institute for Human Centered Design's publication Building a World Fit for People: Designers with Disabilities at Work, design itself is improved when individuals with disabilities participate as designers. Designers with disabilities found that "living with a disability while thinking about improving designed spaces had heightened their thoughtfulness, determination, maturity, problem-solving skills, empathy, aesthetic consciousness, kinesthetic awareness, and social justice in design." An important skill that individuals with disabilities often bring to a career in design is many years of practice in developing creative approaches to maneuvering through the physical environment, using technology, and otherwise actively engaging in personal, academic, and community activities.

What can I do to be successful studying in a design field?

To be successful studying a design field, plan ahead, attend college, be pro-active in school, and prepare to move beyond college and into your career.

Where can I find more information about design careers?

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

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DO-IT Funding and Partners

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant#HRD-0833504 and by the Institute for Human Centered Design. Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. AccessDesign has been developed in partnership with Access to Design Professions, Institute for Human Centered Design in Boston, and is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Copyright © 2011, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, non-commercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.