Meet the Woman Pushing for Businesses to Be More Size-Inclusive
Most of us are regular users of reviews online, whether it’s seeing what people say about the food at a restaurant, how people feel about the hairstylists at a local salon or what kind of equipment is at your nearest gym.
But here’s something you may not have had to evaluate: Whether or not your body will fit in the chairs. For people of size, this is a real issue, and two women are out to help solve it. Rebecca Alexander and Michele Amar have cocreated an app called AllGo.
AllGo will feature the ability to rate things like whether chairs have arms (a frustrating, often nonessential design feature that can leave larger people without a place to sit), whether tables move in order to create more space, what width aisles are, what parking in the area is like, whether there are stairs outside or inside the restaurant and whether the waiting area has seating.
Alexander and Amar have just launched a campaign on Kickstarter to raise at least $50,000 so their app can be handed to developers and made into a reality. Cultural powerhouses Roxane Gay and Tess Holliday are putting their support behind it, so you know it’s going to be awesome.
We talked with Alexander to get background on what inspired the app and what she imagines for its future.
SheKnows: What inspired the app?
Rebecca Alexander: As a fat person myself, I have noticed this behavior in myself when I get invited to a new place or one of my favorite bands is playing in a theater I’ve never been to, whatever the situation is, I worry about not being able to fit. In seats or in booths or what have you. So typically, I go online and I try to find images of a restaurant’s seating. I can’t tell you how many pictures of ravioli I have scrolled through to figure out whether or not a restaurant’s chairs have arms.
I started to feel sad about that, the anxiety I was experiencing, and then I read a couple of great books. Hunger by Roxane Gay and We’re Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. Both of those authors described a similar behavior where they had to do an intense amount of research before going to a new place so they could essentially work up the courage to go. And I just was like, "OK, I’m not alone. Who else out here is experiencing this?"
SK: Which types of businesses you’re focusing on at launch?
RA: We’ve asked our users what is most important to them and what we have found is that restaurants are really important, theaters are secondarily important, and then that’s followed by gyms and medical offices.
Some items on our wish list are airlines — we want to be able to review different airlines in different airports because people have a lot of questions about how airline policies are implemented in different spaces because it’s largely staff-dependent. So are they aware of the customer size policy at PDX but they’re not in Austin? Those sorts of questions.
And then, also, another one we would love to add is theme parks, so making sure those are very specific to different locations, so that will be pretty easy, and it may not even be crowdsourced because those data points are pretty fixed.
This is not about our bodies being too big for seats. This about seats really being too small for our bodies.
SK: How are you hoping it will impact society?
RA: I don’t think businesses necessarily understand the impact of some of their decisions when it comes to seating. I think people are making decisions primarily based on aesthetics and cost, and I think with a little bit more information, they could understand how they’re sending messages that places aren’t welcoming for people of size.
SK: Do you imagine this being useful for other identities too?
RA: Fat people are not just fat. We have a variety of identities. Understanding the intersections in our lives, we would want to make sure that people aren’t having to go to multiple sources to get their needs met. But also, we found in our user research about 10 other groups of people who want accessibility information that is crowdsourced. Wheelchair users are a good example. Some of the data points will be very similar; some of them will be more specific to different identities. The long-range plans are to truly answer the question, “Can we all go?” in this app.
SK: What else should people know?
RA: One of the things that I want people to understand is that this app is designed with fat bodies in mind, but we really think that one of the user groups for this is going to be “straight-size” people who have fat friends and family members. So when you’re going out and you want to suggest a venue, we hope that you’ll go to AllGo and see if there’s seating available.
I have a dear friend of mine who is a small person, and I have been going to her barbecues for years, and she has never noticed that I’ve never sat down. She doesn’t have any chairs that I can feel confident in… I started talking with her about this app and this business, and the next time she invited me to a barbecue, she said, “Oh, and I’m getting new chairs.”
She loves me dearly, but she’s never thought about this because she hasn’t had to. Now she is. If that can happen for people en masse, where people are making decisions about the furniture they buy for their homes, I would be so happy.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.