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A news story a few years ago featured a hand soap dispenser that didn’t operate if used by someone with brown skin. You can still find a couple videos on YouTube with different models, showing men with darker skin trying to get the dispenser to operate to no avail. But if a man with pale skin tries, or if a white paper napkin is used, the dispenser works fine. The men in the videos chuckle at the absurdity, in that gallows humor kind of way.
The company behind the dispenser has long-since fixed the calibration of its sensors, but I think about those soap dispensers from time to time. The thing that gets me the most is that no ill will was intended. It was a design oversight, and perhaps the facility manager who tested them out also had pale skin so no malfunction occurred. But to the people who tried to use the dispenser, it was a little jab saying, “You don’t fit here. This space isn’t for you.” Some might say a soap dispenser that doesn’t work is nothing to get all fussed over. But microaggressions like that matter, and their grinding impact adds up over time.
Restrooms are a place of vulnerability where these slights are especially problematic. I think of the times I went into a public restroom with my baby and there was no changing table. Or of the woman in a motorized scooter who couldn’t get into the restroom at a convention center because a garbage can was blocking the path. I’m sure many of you could add to the list of times when something encountered in a facility otherized you.
This year, social justice has been frequently discussed, and the spaces in a facility directly play a part in that conversation. We tackle this topic in the restrooms article, but of course the concept applies to all spaces and places in a facility.
One strategy for getting over implicit bias is to recruit people from outside your viewpoint to help in seeing the facility through their eyes. A casual walkthrough with someone of a different gender, ability, race, or age can help reveal the places where the facility is inadvertently causing challenges.
And while we’re on the topic of seeing, Building Operating Management is trying something new this year — the Visualizer feature starting on page 8. Each month, instead of telling you how a project tackled a problem, we’ll show you. If you’ve created a solution in your facility to a problem and you have some nice photos to share, let me know. Maybe we can share your vision with the world.
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