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Jessica Oddi

Freelance Graphic Designer |  8 Years Experience

Jessica Oddi is a disabled graphic designer in Canada with versatility to spare. She specializes in crafting pieces tailored to exceed the desires of her clients. Freelancing since 2012, she undertakes projects on every scale — her work has even been featured in the New York Stock Exchange! She delivers quality designs with prompt turnarounds for clients in every industry, with a limitless and adaptable style.

Jessica is particularly interested in collaborations involving much needed representation, inclusivity and empowerment. You can find her on The Disabled List, or see her latest work here alongside influential people in the community. She also runs (or rather: rolls) The Disabled Life with her sister, Lianna. Her work is widely recognized and adored in the disabled community.

[ID: Close up photo of Jessica on an angle parked in her chair in front of Red Church Cafe. She is laughing, has long dark brown hair in a low side bun, and green eyes. She is wearing a white collared shirt.]

Portrait photo by Alexandra Del Bello Photography (@alexandradelbello). Makeup was done by Central Beauty Bar (@centralbeauty.bar).

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[ID: Non-binary figure in full colour and opacity against a dark maroon background. They are blue with pink hair, red lips, and red flowers. The wheelchair is grey with pink wheels and a pink joystick on their controller.]

CWID

At what point in your life did you learn about design, and what drew you to it?

J.O.

I learned about design through a high-school class called “Comm Tech” (Communications Technology). I was always drawn to art and to the creative fields, but what got me excited and interested in design was its accessibility. As my physical disability progressed, traditional art became exhausting. So I decided to switch to a digital platform.

Once I learned more about design, I became fascinated by its intersection of my love for math and structure as well as creativity.

CWID

What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day?

J.O.

Caffeine—it is a driving force behind my energy to begin the day. And after breakfast, I like to go through a mini-checklist, which includes practicing Italian on Duolingo and catching some Pokemon.

CWID

Who do you consider to be an inspiring female (alive or otherwise)?

J.O.

I used to have such a complex surrounding the word “inspired,” especially given its usual representation in the disabled community as “inspiration porn.” However, since I acknowledge the purpose of personal inspiration through example, I’d have to say my sister Lianna.

She will probably read this and maybe roll her eyes, but she knows she’s as much my older sister as she is a mentor. At every stage of my life, she’s been there with understanding, support, and guidance. She taught me what it means to own my disability, and her continuous pursuit of discovery and helping others makes me so proud to have her by my side.

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[ID: Home page for This Body is Worthy. Top main section is full height with a greyscale photo of someone naked holding their chest with their hand. On top is white text "This Body is Worthy" with a line over this body, and under worthy. Navigation at the top is stretched across the screen listing each item horizontally.]

CWID

What is your personal or professional motto/philosophy?

J.O.

“The day you're completely satisfied with your work is the day you can probably retire.” 

I don't want to get that confused with the problem I have of overworking a project because it's not "perfect" yet, because I also believe in knowing when to step back and finish a piece.

But in general, I feel that in design, we are always learning new methods, finding new ways to be inclusive, and shaking up what we think we know. In an ever-changing industry, I think it's important to be open to growth and improvement. I know I'm in a good place being able to look at past work and know what I'd do differently next time around.

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[ID: Line art sketch of D.A. Ramos (from the waist up sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a suit jacket, glasses, and smiling off in the distance) in a charcoal colour, against a light beige background. There is a darker beige coloured paint splotch (to the left half on the drawing). Text in the bottom corner in a charcoal colour reads "#TheDisabilityExhibit Instagram @jessoddi".]

CWID

What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your professional life?

J.O.

I traveled to NYC for the first time alone (without my family, but with my own Personal Support Worker coming with me) for a presentation of my work on Wall Street and at the No Barriers Summit in 2018. It was the most terrifying and liberating experience of my career life.

To balance my own care, accessibility, and transportation on top of the actual networking itself was a brand new experience for me as a young adult with a disability. It's also the event that led to me focusing on inclusion and accessibility in my career at a whole new level.

CWID

What does success mean to you?

J.O.

To me, success is based on the meaning and value my work can provide to the industry, and I'm not talking monetary value: If the projects I've worked on can help spread awareness, provoke thought, or include a new perspective to societal standards, that's when I will feel successful in my work.

On a smaller scale, success also comes from the impact on my clients. To know they're satisfied with my work or got to truly see their vision for their business come to life through my designs reminds me that I've chosen a great field to work in.

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[ID: ENA word mark logo in white with a red maple leaf against a navy blue background.]

CWID

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a female designer? 

J.O.

Frankly, the fact that I freelance really gives me a privileged advantage as a cis white female in the design industry. I don't have to deal with corporate levels of sexism, racism, or even ableism within a design firm.

As well, I get to pick and choose the types of businesses I do work with. I find my biggest challenge as a female disabled person is my internalized timidness when approaching accessibility. Unless I'm working on a disabled-run project, I'm usually the one bringing up questions surrounding designing with disabled people in mind. Even being in colleague design spaces I'm the one that has to advocate for my accessibility.

So I'd say my biggest challenge as a female designer is the intersection between having to address a mostly male-dominated group with also having to address a mostly non-disabled group.

CWID

What does it mean to you to be a woman in this business?

J.O.

To me, being a woman in this business means having the opportunity to uplift and to assist in diversifying the field. Being a woman means I know the importance of practicing inclusive and diverse values to remove sexism from production and branding.

Being a disabled woman means using accessibility practices and bringing a disabled perspective to design. But being a white cis woman brings me privilege in design as well. And it's just as important that though I may be part of one marginalized group, I will never experience the struggles for BIPOC, non-Black POC, or LGBTQIA+ members of the design community. So it's my job to use that privilege to amplify everyone's voices, talents, and value within our industry.

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[ID: Vector illustration of Farida Bedwei sitting on a stool with one leg over the other. Her arms are crossed over her knee. She is a woman of colour with medium length hair, is smiling, and wearing a red blazer with a pin stripe top and beige suit pants.]

CWID

Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night.

J.O.

Having bugs in my code or glitches on my websites that I wasn't able to fix that day... seriously, I cannot get a good night's sleep unless my websites are running smoothly across multiple browsers and devices. Another one would be coming up with ideas in the middle of the night but being unable to get out of bed to write them down (due to being physically disabled). So I just stare at the ceiling and hope I remember it in the morning.

I might have answered this one a tad too literally.

CWID

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when starting?

J.O.

I would have started networking with other members of marginalized communities from the beginning. It took me far too long to expand my work connections beyond my local level.

I feel many designers start by building their own portfolio and establishing their presence before they get the privilege and ability to use their connections to do the same for others. But seeing all the amazing disabled and diverse designers out there, I wish I had found my community far earlier than I did.

Oh, and I would have charged more (haha, the constant struggle for less-confident, new designers to know their value and worth)!

CWID

What advice would you give to a young female designer?

J.O.

I like this question because it makes me feel like I am older and can plant wisdom even though I'm only 29 and feel like I'm making this all up as I go along. But my advice would be to know your worth and to explore perspectives beyond your own. Challenge what you know about design and nurture a communal atmosphere. Listen to others and learn. Use your platform for more than just monetary gain, but do work you truly believe in and are morally-excited to participate in. And don't be afraid to speak out: Sometimes change can be uncomfortable but your opinions are worth being heard.

CWID

What’s your favourite thing to do when you come home?

J.O.

This is funnier than you think, because I work from home. But I am often so zoned into my work that my favourite thing to do is come into the living room and socialize with my family (pretending, of course, that I didn't ignore them all day while I was at work).

CWID

What was the worst trend in the history of design?

J.O.

An overabundance of raster effects. I think most of the terrible effects were due to a boom in technological advancement. Sort of along the lines of "look at this new thing called Photoshop and EVERYTHING it can do… let's cram all of its capabilities into one poster." At least, that's how I imagine that kind excitement played out in my mind.

CWID

What are your plans for the future?

J.O.

Ah, plans… I've never been one for plans. The majority of my life was lived with a misdiagnosis that gave me a life expectancy of about two years.

I never thought much about a future. Heck, I didn't even think I'd make it to adulthood, let alone a career in graphic design. And now I find myself here, eight years into my freelance career, with a longer estimated life expectancy (diagnosis still pending).

This figure-it-out-as-I-go mentality seems to be working, so I think I'll stick to it. I hope to continue connecting and collaborating with fellow designers, as well as with disabled creatives. And hopefully I can participate in implementing an accessible platform to graphic design.

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[ID: Close up of Jessica's hand on top of her controller of her electric wheelchair.]

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