It turns out that Lady Gaga has fibromyalgia. You wouldn’t know by looking at her. It is one of many invisible disabilities. A walking cane, a wheelchair, or a guide dog almost announces disability – not a word is needed (unless you are blind). Invisible conditions are not always viewed with the same care or understanding. From an inclusive design perspective this can mean invisible conditions remain invisible to designers. We all know about ramps, but that’s not the end of the story. A new publication has emerged in UK called Voices, which includes the Lady Gaga item. It is written by people with disability and gives voice to their experiences. The stories give insights into their everyday lives, the way they are treated by others, and the way they would like to be treated. Easy to read – just scrolling through the articles gives some good insights for designers and public policy makers. The website includes an audio version of the magazine, or you can access the online word version. Contributions are welcomed from around the world and you can submit online.
Ted Talker John Carey makes some great statements. “Dignity is to design is what justice is to law and health is to medicine”. “The design reflects back to you your value”. “If good design is only for a privileged few, what good is it?” “Good design shapes our idea of who we are in the world and what we deserve.” John calls fellow architects to account – to design for people other than themselves – who, for the most part, are white males. Unlike law and medicine, architecture has failed to attract and sustain women and people of colour (in the US). A passionate talk that does not mention accessibility in particular, but is a call for good design for everyone – to consider everyone. Worth a listen/view.
The New York Times has a great article, How Design for One Turns Into Design for All. It traces the number of designs that were originally meant to solve the problem for one person and later it was found many others could use the item too. The article also addresses the issue of ugliness; most designs for people with disability have been constructed by engineers without any user input. Those days are starting to disappear. Prosthetic limbs in different designs is one case in point. You can’t hide the prosthesis but there is no need to make it ugly – or too sci-fi either. This statement says much:
“This is plain logic, really. All our shoes, coats and sweaters, the beds we sleep on, the forks and knives we eat with, our lamps and loudspeakers, stairs and elevators, central heat and air-conditioning exist to compensate for what every human being, to some degree, lacks and needs.”
Yes, all technology is “assistive” but “assistive technology” is a term assigned for people with disability and when it comes to design, too often no thought is given to aesthetics. That includes some hideous ramps added to buildings. Lots of pictures illustrate the article.
Runaway Play has embraced the concept of inclusion for their virtual reality games. And they go beyond physical accessibility. Some people get motion sickness, so they came up with a solution. Some people get anxious, particularly from sensory overload – another solution found. The company’s approach to design stemmed from working with a return to work rehabilitation organisation. The title of the article is Learning to design virtual reality for accessibility, by Emma Johansson, and is featured on the Venture Beat website. Good to see IT, AI, and VR going in the right direction.
In line with UK Supermarkets, Coles is the next to introduce a quiet shopping hour for people who are sensitive to noise and hub-bub. The pilot project has been designed in partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia. Some of the features would also suit people with cognitive issues such as dementia – but perhaps not the low level lighting. But an hour of no PA announcements, aisles free from stock cages, and low level piped music could be enjoyed by many. Parents with children with autism can be more assured of successfully walking out with their groceries – something a Melbourne mother said was a milestone for her.
Editor’s note: It makes me wonder how many people would actually prefer no piped music, a minimum of PA announcements (use a mobile device) and aisles without clutter.
Smart phones have changed many things about the way we live.There are apps for almost anything. Some are of particular benefit to people with disability and create greater convenience and independence. Smart phone owners will be familiar with Google Maps for navigating both short and long distances. The maps also contain additional information about parking, places to eat, toilets, and more. For people with wheels, knowing the level of accessibility is critical to their journey and destination planning, whether its a holiday or a local restaurant. Google is encouraging people to sign up to their mapping project that will expand their database of accessible places, spaces and points of interest. You can find out more about this project and see two really interesting videos. One is a wheelchair user in Chicago, and the other is in Indonesia – she uses a modified motor bike to get around. There is also a short introductory video with the key points.
Of course, parents with strollers or anyone with wheels, or with difficulty walking will find this map information useful, so this is taking us closer to a universally designed world.
Looking to update your kitchen? Here are some nice little additions to make life easier for everyone in the “connected kitchen”. Height adjustable work-surfaces and sinks, cupboards and drawers open with the minimum of effort. It won’t be long before these features are standard. And not forgetting the in-bench screen – you can watch your cooking show right there while working in the kitchen.
In Shari Eberts’ blog article, Does Hearing Loss Make it Harder to Remember Things? she explains how people with hearing loss are using most of their brain capacity to interpret sounds. Consequently there is not much left over for remembering.This is particularly the case where there is a lot of background noise. In information situations, such as fire training, this is an important factor in ensuring everyone will remember what to do. In learning situations it also a significant consideration. This finding supports the case for instant captioning of live events and closed captioning in pre-filmed situations. A study on student learning also found that captioning helped learning. Where captioning is not possible, reducing cognitive load is another strategy. That means selecting places where background noise is minimal, speaking clearly and not too fast, using a microphone, and allowing sufficent time for questions. Other studies have found that visual information is more easily remembered by everyone, so pictures and videos would work well in information sessions and instructional situations.
A recent article in The Guardian explains how video game developers are designing avatar elements to be more representative of population diversity. There is a growing realisation that choice of skin tone, gender, ethnicity or physical ability for a character is important to players for the “looks like me” appeal. Games are a key element of childhood and teenage life, so it is important to have avatars that represent them. Xbox now have avatars that allow players to depict themselves as wheelchair users or having prosthetic limbs, as well as other atributes such as body shape and skin colour. The article includes a section on gender non-conforming players using gaming as a means for helping them with their coming out process. Games are also a way for children to share time with others when they might not be able to communicate verbally. The article nicely counters arguments about diversity being a fad or holding back creativity:
“When people dismiss representation as a political fad, as an imposition on the creative process, as a means of ticking off lists, they are almost always doing this from a position of privilege. The argument that it’s not the gender, ethnicity or physical abilities of a character that are important, but whether they’re written well and fun to play, is easier to make if you’re already being comfortably represented. It is easy to assume your experience is universal. But it isn’t.”
A very readable article covering the diversity spectrum in gaming. Short explanatory videos are included.
“Vertical Villages” are sometimes mentioned as a solution for housing for older people. The version in the video below is in Singapore, but there is no mention of older people or accessibility. However, accessibility and universal design is written into the Singapore Building Code, which should mean it is automatically included. Hoping for a time when Australia no longer needs to mention accessibility as a feature because it is just present! Ms Goh Siam Imm from Singapore was a keynote speaker at the 2016 Australian Universal Design Conference in Sydney, and featured this development in her presentation. The video below gives more detail.