The curb-cut effect refers to the phenomenon that policies initially created to serve a marginalized group end up serving a much more significant portion of society, benefiting even more people than it was originally designed for.1
Where does the naming of the curb cut effect come from?
The name comes from curb cuts: little slopes and ramps on sidewalks that allow wheelchair users to move around more safely. Curb cuts were then of course beneficial for other members of the public as well: cyclists, people on skateboards, parents with buggies, or anyone pulling a wheeled suitcase or a wheelie bin.
Closed captioning in films was designed to include hard-of-hearing folks, but of course, now are used by all kinds of people. Subtitles help with language learning, especially reading and pairing up pronunciations with spelling. Using closed captioning can also be useful when you want to watch something muted or on a low volume due to sleeping kids, or it’s easier for you to follow dialogue if there’s also written text. Or, if you are eating something crunchy and don’t want to miss the plot due to noise. 🙂
Why is the curb-cut effect a good thing?
The curb-cut effect is a good argument in favour of creating accessible solutions, lowering barriers to access and introducing inclusive policies, as it’s never just about helping a tiny portion of society — even though that alone should be a good enough reason, but sometimes decision makers are more convinced by wider effects than just simply doing the right thing for moral reasons.
Curb-cuts and neurodivergence
Most of the policies that are created to include neurodivergent folks will automatically help others as well. A few examples of curb-cut adjustments that could help neurodivergent folks and also benefit neurotypicals:
- Intended group to help: sensory-sensitive people, autistics
- It also helps: anyone with a temporary sensitiveness to sight and sound or smells. For example, harsh lights can trigger migraines or can make a bad hangover worse. Strong smells can trigger nausea in pregnant folk, or cause allergic reactions or irritation for asthmatic people.
Signs and labels
- Intended group to help: people with learning difficulties
- It also helps: visual reminders, pictograms, symbols and signposts in public areas help tourists, the elderly, visitors and guests, and even people who don’t know the language or struggle with reading due to poor eyesight or not knowing how to read (yet).
Clarity and documentation at a company
- Intended group to help: ADHD, Autistic people
- It also helps: knowing who does what, what steps come after which, and having a clear protocol for common use cases helps everyone at the company – from the onboarding of new employees to someone coming back from holiday trying to pick up the thread.
- Meeting summaries and action steps sent out after the meeting: creating transcripts and summaries after a meeting makes it clear what decisions were made, who’s doing what, and what is the definition of done. It’s beneficial for anyone absent during the meeting or unable to focus properly due to anxiety or exhaustion.
Flexible remote working policies
- Intended group to help: anyone with executive dysfunction or sensory issues, people with mobility difficulties.
- It also helps: basically everyone. Working from home is beneficial for parents, part-time carers, and people on the mend after any kind of health issue. Having an all-or-nothing (either come into the office or don’t work here) mentality harms the company’s bottom line and the employees as well. Working from home helps with focus, and positively impacts productivity — but it is important to note that not having a clear boundary between work and home can lead to overworking and burnout. When creating remote working opportunities, companies should have a clear sense of boundary when it comes to expected availability. 2