2015 Design Challenge:
Inclusive Design & Technologies
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In 2014, the World Health Organization radically revised their definition of disability. The crux of this change was to define disability as context dependent rather than as an attribute of a person. Interactions with technology are a clear example of this shift. Design solutions can create new access and new barriers for people participating in society.
Consider the things that are common to all human beings as we interact with the world around us. We all are motivated to achieve something greater than our momentary tasks. We all build relationships that change over time. We all have limits to our abilities: physical, social, emotional and cognitive. How can we design to embrace these universal things that make us human, but also create solutions that are highly adaptive to an individual person?
Physical interactions with technology depend heavily on what a person sees, hears, says, smells, and touches. Yet a person’s physical abilities are constantly changing. With increasingly longer life spans and increased ubiquitous technologies, designers must create adaptive solutions that address a person’s permanent, situational and temporary constraints.
Consider that a person’s physical abilities also change dramatically as they move through multiple environments. In a loud crowd, they can’t hear well. In a car, they’re visually and cognitively impaired. A new parent spends much of their day doing tasks one-handed.
What innovative interaction systems address the spectrum of human capabilities in changing physical, social and technological contexts? What are the new requirements that enable adaptive and proactive systems via voice, touch, sight, or otherwise? How could these systems scale across a range of contexts such as domestic, public, office spaces, or on the body?
Design a product, service or solution for someone with a context-dependent disability. Your creation can improve that person’s abilities in an existing context, or change their context to lessen or remove the disability. It must meet a clear need and be extensible to wider applications. Demonstrate how your solution maps to a person’s motivations and addresses them in context. Your project may be near-term practical or blue sky, but the idea must be innovative, technically feasible, and have a realistic chance of adoption if instantiated. Imagine a future of adaptive systems that puts human empathy at their design core.
Disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.
—The World Health Organization, 2014
In the context of health experience, a disability is any restriction or lack of ability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.
—The World Health Organization, 1980
Why Design for Inclusivity
Designing for people with permanent disabilities can seem like a significant constraint, but the resulting designs can actually benefit a much larger number of people. For example, curb cuts in sidewalks were first created to make it safer and easier for people in wheelchairs to cross the street. But curb cuts also help people with a wide range of circumstances, from kids riding bicycles, to parents pushing strollers, to workers hauling heavy equipment.
High-contrast screen settings were initially made to benefit people with vision impairments. But today, many people benefit from high-contrast settings when they use a device in bright sunlight. Similarly, the OXO Good Grips were initially designed for people that suffer from arthritis, but later became widely popular.
In its inactive state, the Nest thermostat is subtle and unobtrusive on the wall. Motion sensors light up the interface when a nearby hand is detected; particularly useful in a darkened hallway so there is no need to drag your hand along the wall to find and operate the device. In a similar way, vehicle manufacturer Ford, is aware of how cumbersome it is to open your car when you have your hands full. They recently added a feature that allows people to “kick the bumper” as a way to open the trunk.
Also consider situations that leave you in a temporarily disabled state, such as being in a foreign country. When you travel to a foreign country, you now have a different level of ability. Because you’ve never been there before, you are not familiar with your surroundings, you don’t speak the language, you need to look at your cellphone, or walk around with a guide book, etc. This is a very different situation than walking around in a familiar environment and culture.
The project Cities Unlocked creates a 3D soundscape to aid people with severe blindness in navigating a city. They use sound as an element of navigation. For all other humans, wouldn’t it be great – without getting out your phone or book – to be guided in your own language and be informed about the environment around you, while keeping your eyes free to explore the new city?