Teresa Lee has been providing direct services to persons with disabilities in Toronto, Canada, in one form or another for the better part of a decade. While existing programs and services were good, she was driven to make them better. It was this commitment that brought her to +Acumen, an experience that would provide a ‘turning point in her life.’
Teresa describes herself as a ‘chronic daydreamer and a new-experience junky’; the most recent proof of that is her solo adventure cycling 260 km along the Canadian Rockies between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park.
As a naturally curious person, she developed a career in behavior sciences. “I am always curious about what motivates people and how we can use this understanding to help them change their behaviors to accomplish virtually anything! As a behavior analyst, I get to experiment with this idea every day.”
This skill has helped Teresa design programs and services for people with disabilities, including children with autism, that are responsive to people’s needs. It was this desire to create responsive programs and her commitment to continuous improvement that connected her with the +Acumen community through the Human-Centered Design (HCD) course.
“Participating in the Human-Centered Design course was a turning point in my life. On the first day of the course, I was instantly inspired and empowered to take actions for a cause I deeply care about - creating better employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. I never thought I had the guts to reach out, connect and create partnerships with people in the community as I had throughout the course."
Much of what Teresa learned during the program was consistent with her experience as a behavior analyst and helped her develop a stronger framework for applying HCD in her day-to-day job to make service provision more inclusive. She also came to an even more valuable understanding: how to bring together people with similar goals, but from very different backgrounds and with very different skill sets, to build a better community.
“I love meeting new people, experiencing new cultures – I think I learn best when I’m in that situation, rather than reading the news or Googling or reading books. I don’t absorb information that way,” she added.
Joining a team of more than 6,000 peers to complete the HCD course, she quickly came to appreciate the diversity of people who were interested in making communities more inclusive for marginalized people —not only those living in poverty, but also those living with disabilities. “Meeting real people, working on real issues in their own communities… it really breaks down a lot of barriers for people,” she said.
By the end of the course, Teresa and her team designed a prototype to provide employment support and resources to people with developmental disabilities via a social media platform similar to LinkedIn. The prototype was conceived to be accessible to individuals who would otherwise struggle to use LinkedIn or other tools developed without people with disabilities in mind.
Following this, Teresa was invited to become a +Acumen Course Catalyst for the HCD course to help facilitate the experience for the next cohort of students. She also helped +Acumen pilot two more design-related courses, Prototyping and Facilitator’s Guide, and joined the +Acumen Corps, a newly launched community for individuals who are committed to growing and using their skills to tackle problems of poverty and social justice.
“It [the +Acumen community] is like a big sandbox for people who want to make a difference, who want different perspectives, who want to work with people at different points in life, from different career paths – all working together to create a better community.”
Teresa’s experience with +Acumen helped her to understand just how many people there were, around the world, eager to get involved in design-oriented social impact work. Like her, they wanted to break their own habits of complacency in running programs, question how to make things better, meet other like-minded people with diverse experiences and skills, and work together to develop solutions that could have powerful impacts in their own communities.
“My experience with +Acumen has renewed my commitment to creating an inclusive community where everyone - including but not limited to those with physical and developmental disabilities - is able to participate to their fullest potential.”
Teresa continues to be an active member of +Acumen Corps and recently completed a redesign of the +Acumen Course Catalyst experience. Due to an encounter with a +Acumen course peer, a professor at the Inclusive Design Research Centre in Toronto, she also recently started a graduate program in Inclusive Design to further develop her new passion and put human-centered design at the heart of improving people’s lives.