Wonderful marble run made out of fidget spinners, and a parable about accessibility and abled people

Fidget spinners are wonderful.

Hear me out. Accessibility advocates have always said that disability is a spectrum and the line that separates an abled person from a person with a disability is arbitrary. I am not legally visually impaired, but I can't read low-contrast text at all, and I use browser plugins designed for people who have formal visual impairments to read much of the web by increasing the contrast and size of the type on my screen.

In the same way, there are lots of "auditory learners" who don't have a formal diagnosis of a reading disability or ADHD, but who find audiobooks allow them to process text in a way that they never could before, overcoming struggles that they had assumed were just a fact of life — and the fact that there are now so many instructors and book-clubs who look for titles with readily available audio editions means that these people benefit, too.

(This is why the publishers who opposed the Marrakesh Treaty on the rights of people with disabilities were onto something: when they argued that allowing people with disabilities to convert works into accessible formats would lead to an ever-expanding pool of people who avail themselves of these transcoding systems, they were right in the sense that more and more people would start to identify areas in which a barrier could be lifted through some kind of assistive technology)

(But to be clear, that's a reason to support the Marrakesh Treaty, not oppose it!)

Which brings me to fidget spinners. We've started talking about autism as a "spectrum" and one of the things we know about spectrums is that they taper off into sub-perceptual gradients. So while fidget spinners are of enormous potential benefit to people who have obvious traits that lead to formal definitions of autism spectrum and who can self-soothe with "stimming," there is an even larger pool of people who derive some benefit from stimming as well — people who found fidget spinners and other fidget toys to be oddly satisfying in a way that they loved and even craved.

And because of this combination of factors — a group of people who derive enormous benefit from an assistive technology, and an even larger group that finds the tool to be oddly satisfying — we were able to mass-produce fidget spinners, throwing enormous amounts of distributed R&D at improving both the tool and the manufacturing process, and at the same time branching out into other kinds of stimming tools. We're living through a stimming boom.

That's why fidget spinners have been largely deprecated, as stimmers move into slime and other tools, tactics and techniques for self-soothing. It's a coalition of people who derive undeniable medical benefit from stimming, people whose use of stimming hasn't been pathologized but who still find it very pleasurable, and people who come to slime (or spinners, or whatever) for other reasons: because they like learning to be a lab-tech, or because they're curious about chemistry, or fluid dynamics, or the physical/coordination challenges of handling semi-Newtonian fluids.

Fidget spinners, slime, audiobooks, wheelchair accessible spaces, screen readers and magnifiers — these are all tools and techniques to configure our environment to meet with our preferences and accommodate our idiosyncrasies — to hack the world into the shape that suits you best.

We should fight for accessibility as a matter of simple human justice, because people with disabilities deserve a11ies. We should fight for accessibility as an investment in our futures, because as Liz Henry says, you're only temporarily able-bodied, and eventually you will likely have a disability, assuming you live long enough.

But accessibility is also something that benefits all of us, right away, even if you are notionally abled: because the more configuration options there are, the more ways you can tailor the world to your needs, the better your life is.

Which brings me to this fidget spinner marble-run, created by Kaplamino, who creates amazing tabletop marble-mazes, and who has taken advantage of the deprecation of fidget spinners in favor of more advanced stimmers by repurposing a whole mess of them as components in an amazing tabletop marble maze, assembled entirely by means of hot-glue-gun.

Which is just another benefit you get when the needs of people with disabilities and the needs of abled people converge.

Here's the best use for those unused fidget spinners
[Thuy Ong/The Verge]