March 24, 2021


This book by Kat Holmes made such a big difference in terms of how I understand accessibility, how I explain it to others, and how I approach accessibility in my design. It got to the core of the emotional aspects of accessibility and I found myself nodding, vocally agreeing and getting teary-eyed as I read it.

I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone interested in understanding accessibility and inclusivity, seeing people with empathetic eyes and questioning everything we thought we knew about our interactions with people and objects in our everyday lives. Here are some highlights from the book that really spoke to me.

The first point the author makes that really stroke a chord with me was when she started talking about children on a playground, and prompting the reader to remember moments when we happily played alone in the playground, moments when we played with other children and moments when we felt left out. I think this experience is universal, able-bodied and disabled folks, cisgender and transgender, people of all sexual orientations and genders. I feel we all had every single one of those playground experiences, at least once. And we are already at a point of mutual understanding and empathy.

Examples of this are all around us. It’s the reason a child climbs onto a counter to wash their hands at a sink. It’s why people are left searching for instructions on how to navigate a software application when it’s updated with new features. Anyone who’s tried to order lunch off a menu that’s written in a language they don’t understand is in the middle of a mismatched interaction.

Holmes, Kat. Mismatch (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) (p. 132). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

Kat structures the book around a circular framework with five interrelated elements that make up both the cycle of exclusion and the solution.

  • Why we make: The innate motivations of the problem solver.
  • Who makes the solution: The problem solver, the person who is accountable.
  • How we make: The methods and resources employed by the problem solver.
  • Who uses it: The assumptions that the problem solver makes about the people who will interact with, receive, or benefit from the solution.
  • What we make: What the problem solver creates.

When talking about who makes the solution, the author places an enormous responsibility on the shoulders of designers, and explains how we are all designers. The key takeaway of this section is the importance of developing the skills necessary to recognize and resolve mismatches.

When we think about disability in terms of mismatched interactions, it highlights the responsibilities of people who make solutions.

Holmes, Kat. Mismatch (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) (p. 52). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

In the chapter about how we make, Holmes speaks with Tiffany Brown about her experience in joining design and inclusivity and they bring up this very important sentiment:

“Nihil de nobis, sine nobis” or “Nothing about us, without us,” which was made prominent by the disability rights movement. This phrase personifies the idea of designing with a community: that no course of action should be decided without total contribution from the people affected by that course of action.

Holmes, Kat. Mismatch (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) (p. 132). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

And in a second chapter on this element talks about the leadership perspectives on inclusion, and how to create successfully, with inclusion in mind rather than falling for the “super hero” or “for others” mindset and applying top-down approaches that disregard lived experience.

There are many challenges that stand in the way of inclusion, the sneakiest of which are sympathy and pity. Treating inclusion as a benevolent mission increases the separation between people. Believing that it should prevail simply because it’s the right thing to do is the fastest way to undermine its progress. To its own detriment, inclusion is often categorized as a feel-good activity.

Holmes, Kat. Mismatch (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) (p. 132). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

When discussing who uses our creations, the author brings up our assumptions about people, how we believe in the existence of “normal”, “average” or “edge cases” and encourages the reader to test those assumptions and use data to design for inclusion.

In the what we make section, Holmes discusses inclusion as fuel for innovation, thinking outside the existing uses, applications and solutions. Advocating for a focus on flexibility, seeing how people who use our creations are doing it in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

The book wraps up with a chapter on why, why inclusion matters. The author mentions business justifications, professional reasons, and what they consider the biggest reason: uncertainty; uncertainty about ourselves, about what the future will bring and about the ways technology will develop.

And there’s our collective future. A future that is built on the choices that we make today, to create great solutions that connect people to each other and to opportunities in the places where they live. Some designers will make choices that reach millions of people and will endure for many years. If nothing else, I hope this book illustrates the weight of that privilege and opportunity.

Holmes, Kat. Mismatch (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) (p. 132). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.