How can we simplify and explain an intricate narrative of legal, historical, and social significance to a variety of audiences?
The first step to mapping the Americans with Disabilities Act is to gain a holistic understanding of it. To represent the act solely on its explicit contents disregards its reason and impact and takes away the soul of the law. We studied a wide breadth of sources regarding the ADA before, during, and following the passing of the act. This research- firsthand accounts, news stories, law books, etc., was woven together in the form of an essay. Writing the paper helped my team and me fully understand how seemingly unrelated aspects of the atmosphere, actions, and opinions of the time connected to create a complete story. But 5,000 words packed with legal citations, lengthy quotes, and court cases proved not to be the most digestible format of information outside of people in the know.
Untangling the web of information into a concise map started with connecting concepts. Visualizing how the social climate influenced legal actions and vice versa gave a clear timeline to work around. The problem that we encountered at this stage was the sheer amount of information we were working with. By simplifying everything significant down to a few word title the viewer may gain an understanding of how nodes are connected but they lose a greater understanding of why they are connected in the first place. But a concept map that merely links paragraph definitions becomes an intimidating, impenetrable wall of data. What system could be constructed to combat this?
Three layers of information
The system that I designed appealed to three different types of viewers: the passer-by, the light-reader, and the deep-reader. The most prominent feature on the map is a short, easy to read sentence that quickly explains how everything is connected. This sentence serves two distinct roles. First, it presents the most simplified version of how the ADA fits into its context to viewers who don't want to read all of the information. And, second, the sentence acts as a guide and provides more structure for the full concept map above it. The concept map outlines explicitly the timeline of each item and puts it into a context. At this level, a light reader would be able to fully grasp the information on its surface. For a viewer who wants to know more about the nodes that are not self-explanatory, we provided descriptions and definitions at the bottom of the page. Using a color coded system, one can easily explore further to gain a deeper comprehension of the series of events. My system design breaks down the information into bite-sized pieces that puts apprehension in the hands of the viewer while keeping it approachable and attractive.
Down to earth
This research along with our team's further brand and promotional for the NCMNS was highlighted in the STEM Career Showcase of Students with Disabilities featuring Dr. Temple Grandin.