Design a platform to support disabled and chronically ill college students. The platform should serve as a social media hub where these students can find support and encouragement and where their friends, family, and other supporters can learn about the struggles and challenges facing them.
Co-creator, UI/UX designer, and co-content designer
Co-facilitator and co-content designer: Cameron Lynch
Cameron and I during the first time seeing each other after Cameron’s return to the US.
During the summer of 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic being at an all-time high, many college-age students were defying CDC guidelines and gathering for parties and posting their festivities on social media–the same as always. Many colleges were making return-to-campus plans. In the shadows, isolated and lonely in their homes were many others who simply couldn’t afford such freedoms: the disabled and chronically ill.
My childhood friend Cameron, and I were among those in this marginalized, high-risk population. Our daily FaceTime calls–Cameron in her London loft and me in my bedroom in the suburbs of Northern Virginia–became a lifeline for us. We knew there were many others like ourselves who could also benefit from support and encouragement. Thus, the idea for a support system of some kind was born.
Our goal was to support and encourage disabled and immunocompromised college students, educate others about the struggles and challenges of disabled and chronically ill college students, and offer suggestions for how we can make the world a more equitable place for the disabled community.
One of our weekly Zoom meetings
understanding the user
Being a chronically ill college student myself (I have Type 1 diabetes), I understood firsthand the needs of the population we hoped to serve. However, I knew I needed to better understand the many other chronically ill and disabled students out there. To gain insight into the broader community, Cameron and I began gathering with a few other immunocompromised friends over Zoom. There were just five of us on that first Zoom call. During that first call, Cameron and I quickly realized we weren’t alone in our struggles. These other immunocompromised college students from across the country were all feeling the effects of isolation and frustration caused by the pandemic.
Evolving the Solution
The afternoon of our first Zoom call, I started a Group-Me group chat, where these friends could invite their other immunocompromised friends. A bit later, I started a Snapchat group. Within days, our group of five had grown to more than 75–all of them attending our weekly Zoom gatherings. Over and over again, they shared how much they appreciated the support and encouragement of the group.
Despite the growing number of members, Cameron and I knew there were many others in need of support. As our numbers grew, so too did our original objectives. The more we learned of our audience’s needs, the more we wanted to accomplish. We wanted a place where we could:
- Support and encourage disabled and chronically ill college students
- Educate the friends, family, and other supporters of these students about the challenges facing their loved ones
- Educate others on the range of conditions represented by the group and the unique struggles and successes of each
- Redefine the impression many have when they think of people with disabilities, especially those with “hidden” disabilities–after all, an outwardly healthy 20-year-old college student isn’t what pops into your head when you hear the word “disabled”
- Raise awareness about how the actions of some can threaten the well-being of others–both physically and emotionally
Instagram, a platform already widely used by our core audience, seemed like the best platform to allow us to creatively accomplish all of our goals. We surveyed the students who regularly attended our meetings, and they confirmed this choice. With that mission in mind, I began designing!
Determining the typography and colors
I wanted the site to have a common look and feel, despite the variety of posts we would feature. I settled on this color palette and confirmed the design decision with a core group of our members who gave me regular feedback.
On any given day, I am challenged with creating designs that feature our various words of encouragement or featured facts. Here’s the evolution of one such design:
Here is the final product:
Not only do we have motivational posts, such as this one, but we also cover important topics such as the Spoon Theory, the Social Model of Disability, how disabled students are treated on their campuses, the negative affects of certain rhetoric on the disabled community such as inspiration porn, and even touching on topics such as the recent election and what it meant to members in the group.
As the moderator for our account, I’ve definitely had to learn diplomacy skills! I’ve learned that in most cases, it’s best to ignore negative comments from those who don’t understand our purpose and are just looking for an argument. Responding to them only gives the light and attention they don’t deserve. This is easier said than done, but it’s a goal.
The Chronic & Iconic Instagram account has allowed me to combine two of my great passions: design and advocacy. It’s given me a platform to practice my design skills, apply classroom and professional lessons, and encourage my friends–all while promoting disability rights. Check out some of the press coverage from my advocacy work:
Press coverage from our advocacy work
I really do love advocacy! Chronic & Iconic is a project I plan to continue with for years to come. When the pandemic comes to an end (please God!), Cameron and I hope to organize a conference where all of our members and followers can gather to meet in person and continue to educate one another and others about the different disabilities in the world and the many ways we can improve conditions to make the world a more equitable place for all.
- Adobe Illustrator