In May of 2013, August de los Reyes, the former head of design for Microsoft’s Xbox, fell out of his bed and badly injured his back. Negligent care by hospital doctors caused Reyes to become paraplegic. Reyes was awarded compensation for his injuries, but also added a special stipulation to the legal settlement.
At the time of his fall, Reyes knew he had ankylosing spondylitis, a rare disease that causes the spinal vertebrae to fuse together and make the spine brittle and. Reyes understood that an injury to his back could have broken a vertebrae or part of the spine, and repeatedly warned the doctors around him of his condition.
The first emergency room doctor diagnosed Reyes with a lumbar fracture, but the doctor did not enter his notes into Reyes’ medical file for five days. Reyes had two more visits to the emergency room where doctors continued to ignore Reyes’ warning. On Reyes’ fourth visit he was taken for an MRI. As the doctors positioned him, his body went limp and he was paralyzed from his chest down.
Reyes will never be able to walk again, and now uses an adaptive wheelchair. He pursued legal action and was awarded $20 million in compensation from Overlake Medical Center.
Compensation usually signifies the end of a medical malpractice case, but Reyes, a designer by trade, wanted more from the hospital. Upon his request, his legal settlement from the hospital included a case study into the communication breakdown that led to his injury. Already Reyes has taken part in two meetings with top members of the hospital, including the Patient Family Advisory Council, to work on pinpointing where negligence occurred and how care can be improved both at Overlake Medical Center and hospitals around the country.
Improvements have already been implemented at the hospital, including health-record alerts and a new system to review difficult cases. Reyes wants to help ensure that the same mistake doesn’t harm somebody else.
Since his injury, Reyes has been pioneering the field of inclusive design, a practice of designing for people with disabilities as a way of improving design overall for everyone.
The first typewriter was designed by Pellegrino Turri in 1808, and it was built to allow his blind lover to write letters to him. The blueprint for email was created by Vint Cerf in 1972 to communicate with his deaf wife while he was at work.
Reyes has been a part of a team that designed a new font and text wrapping technique that helps dyslexics, and everyone else, read better. He has also worked on a navigation system that better accommodates the way many people navigate by landmarks and visual cues more than cardinal directions, so a new directions app for Bing will give directions like “turn left at the McDonalds”.
Reyes is moving into a new position as the design manager at Pinterest, but plans to stay engaged with Overlake Medical Center to improve patient safety.