Design justice in engineering courses

Typical engineering courses have plenty of design content but they lack concepts of design justice. Engineers have done much to improve lives for the better. However, there are instances where the opposite occurs and unintentional harms are caused. Time to introduce the concepts of design justice into engineering courses, according to a recent paper.

Using a design justice lens, the inequities in the built environment come to light. Design justice seeks to address the ways in which design decisions perpetuate systemic injustices.

A six lane highway through an urban area.

The paper describes how undergraduate students were tasked to assess an established neighbourhood where major highway now divides what was a thriving neighbourhood. Students were asked to review the case using principles of design justice.

Principles of design justice

The 10 principles of design justice are compared to the Engineering Code of Ethics. This is important because engineering ethics are about engineer practice, not who they design for. For example, avoiding conflicts of interest is not the same as being collaborative and a facilitator of design. The list of principles focus on the users of the design and introduces elements of co-design. These principles shift the focus from their skills as engineers to their skills of listening to and understanding users.

Self reflection on the learning

The author tracks the methods used and then uses direct quotes from students to highlight the learning. Here are two examples:

“The real lesson of the exercise though is just how big of an impact design can have on people and how long that the impact can be felt even generations later.”

“I have been aware that design can cause unintended harm but have never had a list of principles to reference when creating a design. I can now use this list to create just designs in my life.”

A group of men in hard hats, and with tools in their hands, stand near a bulldozer in an urban road. A run down apartment block is in the background.

The principles of design justice are a good framework for engineers and others involved in design. The engineering profession is seeking ways to improve diversity and inclusion within their ranks. Now it is time to ensure diversity and inclusion is part of their everyday activity.

The title of the paper is, Incorporating Design Justice Activities in Engineering Courses, and good for all built environment educators.

Teaching engineers empathy

Universal design and empathetic design for engineers discusses similar issues. Here is an excerpt from the abstract.

This article explores the relevance of universal design and empathic design in education. Universal design focuses on creating accessible and usable products, environments, and systems for individuals with diverse abilities.

Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others, encompassing cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Teaching empathy to engineers is emphasized as a crucial aspect. By developing empathic skills, engineers gain a deeper understanding of user needs and perspectives, leading to more inclusive and user-centered design solutions.

Effective communication techniques such as asking open-ended questions, active listening, observation, and perspective-taking are explored. The article also explores methods for measuring empathy, thus enabling engineers to assess the effectiveness of their empathic design approaches. The challenges facing students, teachers, and university authorities in implementing such courses are also bulleted.

Spatial justice and creative co-design

Inclusive design concepts go beyond codes and standards. This requires new approaches using creative practices according to Janice Rieger’s new book. She presents creative co-design methods well beyond standard workshop techniques. For designers in any discipline these techniques shine a light on spatial justice and creative co-design methods.

The case studies centre on museums, malls, universities and galleries illustrate co-design methods applicable to other public places. The book exposes ableism in architecture and design and stimulates debate about current practice. Rieger challenges and expands our understanding of power in architecture and design that creates injustices.

Using a justice-based lens the case studies in each chapter have take-aways for creating inclusive, universally designed places and spaces. The language in this text is generally for professionals and scholars.

Perspectives of power leads the discussion followed by issues of ableism and how to design differently. Here Rieger uses her experiences of using short films and multisensory storytelling. Part 3 looks at constructing inclusive experiences followed by a look at spatial justice in the future.

The title of the book is, Design, Disability and Embodiment: Spatial Justice and Perspectives of Power. The book is available for purchase from the Routledge website with access to a preview and the table of contents.

From the Overview

This book explores the spatial and social injustices within our streets, malls, schools, and public institutions. Going for a walk, seeing an exhibition with a friend, and going to school are conditional for people with disability.

This book stimulates debate and discussion about current practice and studies in spatial design in the context of disability. Case studies of inclusive design in museums, malls, galleries and universities challenge and expose the perspectives of power and spatial injustices that still exist within these spaces today.

The international case studies purposely privilege the voices and perspectives of people with disabilities, to expose the multisensorial perspectives of spatial justice in order to understand inclusion more holistically through embodiment.

This book is for anyone in the design or arts who want a world where spatial justice is possible. It offers a new perspective of spatial design through critical disability studies, allyship and codesign, where tangible approaches and practices for inclusive design are explored.

From Rob Imrie’s review of the book

Highly regarded researcher and author Rob Imrie has written a review of Rieger’s book in Disability & Society. He writes of her challenge to the power of ableist architecture and the bias towards sight and seeing. Here are two pertinent extracts from Imrie’s review:

“For Rieger, echoing earlier work by Oliver (1992), about the need for emancipatory research, there can be no such thing as inclusive design based on data generated by conventional social relations of research, in which disabled people are objects of the process. Rather, what is needed is a transformation in the conduct of research, in which disabled people participate in a process of co-design. While the book describes a variety of co-design projects, I wonder if these are sufficient in tackling disablism and spatial injustice?”

“[Rieger’s observations] raise the question of how far design professionals are willing or able to cede control, and embrace a different set of relationships with their clients and users? More importantly, how will such changes transpire, given that much of the design of space is channelled through corporate development companies, in which architects have little influence?”

Community driven design

Architectural competitions can bring design quality to cities. But the design competition process misses the opportunity to engage deeply with the public. And that means social value could be missing too. The process of community driven design competitions addresses unequal access to design decisions and cultivates social ties.

“Design has a role in building social capital. During a design competition, there are opportunities for placemaking and designing in social connectors.” Georgia Vitale

Image: 11th Street Bridge Park. Courtesy OMA + OLIN

An aerial view of 11th Bridge Street Park which spans a river. It was community driven design.

Community consultation takes many forms, some of which are perfunctory while others are more meaningful. That is, meaningful for the public – the users of places and spaces. The judges of architectural design competitions are other architects. So how does community consultation and engagement fit into this process?

Vitale’s article explores the drawbacks of limited or no meaningful public participation or interaction with users of the building or place or other stakeholders in design competitions. This is at a time for an increased need for social capital to be included in the planning and design process for more socially sustainable communities.

Social infrastructure, shared spaces and streets, and public transport are the outputs of design. However, community engagement with diverse community members helps create new connections. it also encourages people to become involved in the lives of their neighbours. That’s the social benefit of community driven design competitions.

Case Study

Vitale uses 11th Street Bridge Park DC as a case study. The goal is to knit together the two communities on either side of the river. And that’s without displacing people in the marginalised neighbourhoods on the eastern bank.

Bridging community and design: a new way forward is the title of the article in The Fifth Estate. See the original article for links to cited research and case study.

Co-design and engineering education

Project-based learning is common within engineering education, particularly in design courses. This is where students follow a standard design process to solve a specific problem. In some cases, students are paired with community partners to solve real-life problems.

A research paper documenting how engineering students engaged in co-design methods uses the design of a clip mounted on a mop bucket as an example. The aim was to make the mop and bucket easier to move and transport. What began as a two-week design assignment turned into a 10 month iterative co-design experience. The result was the implementation of a successful product for multiple users across campus.

The commercial mop bucket did not have a restraint for the mop when the bucket was being wheeled to a new place. The users were concerned that the mop could cause an accident on campus. They had complained about it, but until the student project nothing had been done.

A black commercial mop bucket similar to that used in the project.

The case study

Over time, using the mop bucket, the “pet peeve” eventually became something really annoying. The community partners became worried about the unpredictability of the mop handle. The new clip not only secured the mop handle, it improved the ergonomics for the users. The co-design process also revealed how users felt their worries were ignored and how they felt belittled.

The paper, Embracing Co-Design: A Case Study Examining How Community Partners Became Co-Creators explains the process and the outcomes. Both the actions and reactions of the students and community partners are documented. With the success of this project, the authors hope more engineering educators will promote co-design in their project-based assignments. A good example of how good solutions emerge when everyone works together.

Co-design ensures the desires, opinions, and concerns of people affected by the design, are incorporated. This widens the circle of designers and improves the final design and the experience for all participants. Incorporating community partners early in the process produces more novel ideas and improved ergonomic products.

In addition, communities tend to embrace the solution more and support its long-term maintenance because they were involved in decisions. However, it’s important to make sure no marginalised voices are excluded, unintentionally or otherwise.

From the abstract

Co-design increases the number of voices in a design project, which enhances the experience for all co-creators and produces a better product. A case study is presented of a ten-month co-design project-based learning experience between two engineering design students and two community partners during a first-year engineering design course, which resulted in the implementation of the device across campus.

This paper evaluates the elements of co-design in the design process that was employed, documents the design product that was produced, and examines the experience of the community partners through a qualitative study. The design process demonstrated an increase in the amount of collaboration between co-creators as the project progressed and identified 15 iterations of the design.

Comparing the experience of community partners throughout the design process, five themes emerged from the semi-structured interviews: (1) emotional effects, (2) physical and mental effects, (3) productivity, (4) safety, and (5) job satisfaction. Documenting the experience of community partners throughout the design project can encourage educators to adopt co-design practices in project-based learning.

Teaching engineers empathy

Universal design and empathetic design for engineers discusses similar issues. Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

This article explores the relevance of universal design and empathic design in education. Universal design focuses on creating accessible and usable products, environments, and systems for individuals with diverse abilities.

Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others, encompassing cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Teaching empathy to engineers is emphasized as a crucial aspect. By developing empathic skills, engineers gain a deeper understanding of user needs and perspectives, leading to more inclusive and user-centered design solutions.

Effective communication techniques such as asking open-ended questions, active listening, observation, and perspective-taking are explored. The article also explores methods for measuring empathy, thus enabling engineers to assess the effectiveness of their empathic design approaches. The challenges facing students, teachers, and university authorities in implementing such courses are also bulleted.

Older people, ageism and digital design

Do stereotypes of older people affect how digital technology is designed? A team of researchers found that ageism has the potential to influence design in negative ways. They found co-design partnerships overcame ageist attitudes and were more likely to produce digital technologies that are needed, wanted and used.

Ageism can have a detrimental role in how digital technologies are designed. Participating with older people in the design process has the additional benefit of countering stereotypes. Image shows a group of older people on a desert camping expedition.

Of a group of older people having fun together on a camping tour.

Older people said the “ultimate partnership” in co-designing is to be involved from the beginning through to the end of the design process. Sharing control over design decisions was an important part of the process. They are more than informants – they are equals who have valuable contributions.

The researchers noted that although this vision of co-design is shared by designers, it is not always the case in practice.

Image shows older people working together on a workshop question.

Older people sit at round tables discussing questions. There are four round tables shown in this picture.

Older people in the study also said that ageism emerges in implicit and explicit language about ageing. And ageist images can influence the design process. Consequently, the researchers say it is important to view the diversity of older people.

Co-design with older people

How and when to involve older people in digital design is also important. Understanding co-design with older people has the potential for avoiding insufficient prototyping, biases and errors in the design process.

The title of the article is, An “ultimate partnership”: Older persons’ perspectives on age-stereotypes and intergenerational interaction in co-designing digital technologies.

From the abstract

There is a gap between the ideal of involving older persons throughout the design process of digital technology, and actual practice.

Twenty-one older people participated in three focus groups. Participants experienced ageism in their daily lives and interactions with the designers during the design process. Negative images of ageing were pointed out as a potential influencing factor on design decisions. Nevertheless, positive experiences of inclusive design pointed out the importance of “partnership” in the design process.

The “ultimate partnership” in co-designing were where they were involved from the beginning, iteratively, in a participatory approach. Such processes were perceived as leading to successful design outcomes, which they would like to use, and reduced intergenerational tension.

Co-designing with people living with dementia

A diagnosis of dementia used to mean staying home and being cared for. Those who work in the area of dementia are doing their best to change this view. But is the design community prepared to embrace people living with dementia? Paul Rogers reports in Co-designing with people living with dementia disruptive design interventions to break the cycle of well-formed opinions and mindsets. The co-design method has provided ways for people with dementia to continue contributing to society and have fulfilling lives.

The co-design project was to create a new tartan design. Each person with dementia directed the researcher to co-create their digital design one colour at a time.

A tartan from the research paper with orange and green colouring. Co-designing with people with dementia.

The paper describes the process in detail. The Disrupting Dementia tartan project shows how co-design methods and tools can enable people living with dementia to make a significant contribution to society after diagnosis. Although dementia changes some aspects of a person, it does not affect their sense of self. Projects such as these not only inform designers, they also give a sense of inclusion and belonging to people with dementia.

From the abstract

This paper illustrates methods for co-designing with people living with dementia in developing a mass-produced product. The research was carried out in collaboration with Alzheimer Scotland using a range of disruptive design interventions. The aim was to break the cycle of we-formed opinions, mindsets, and ways-of-doing that remain unchallenged. The research has resulted in co-designed interventions to help change the perception of dementia.

People living with dementia can offer much to UK society after diagnosis. Co-designed activities and interventions help reconnect people recently diagnosed with dementia to help build their self-esteem, identity and dignity. Co-design processes help keep people with dementia connected to their community, thus delaying the need for formal support,

We worked collaboratively with over 130 people with dementia across Scotland in the co-design and development of a new tartan. The paper concludes with recommendations for researchers when co-designing with people living with dementia.

Altering design mindsets

Breaking Well-Formed Opinions and Mindsets by Designing with People Living with Dementia is a similar paper. You will need institutional access for a free read, or access via ResearchGate.

The paper reports on three design interventions using co-design activities with people diagnosed with dementia. The interventions offer innovations for co-designing with this group.

Inclusive tourism with universal design

Research on the business opportunities in accessible and inclusive tourism is extensive. However, the intent of this research is largely staying on the shelf. A mix of attitudes towards people with disability and a sense of “not knowing where to start” are likely reasons. But you can get inclusive tourism with universal design by co-designing with tourism operators.

” Surprisingly, many cases did not meet the minimal requirements for “older people” and “people in a wheelchair.” … but this result did function as an eye-opener”.

A hotel receptionist is talking to a man and woman across a reception counter. Inclusive tourism.

A research group in Belgium has devised a method to uncover business opportunities through universal design. Collaborating with 17 accommodation providers they came up with a seven step process to integrate universal design into their business model. The process is also a way to increase knowledge and understanding of diverse guests and their experiences.

The research group documented their project in a conference paper. It begins by explaining inclusive tourism as a right, a business opportunity and a challenge. They devised a method to use the potential of universal design as a “business transformer”.

Co-designing the 7 steps

  • Step 1: We created a literature-based universal design screening based on mindset, management and infrastructure.
  • Step 2: We tested and updated the screening in each of the 17 accommodation providers.
  • Step 3: We analysed the data for each business which was given to them in a report.
  • Step 4: The results were further processed with the participant, who decided on priorities.
  • Step 5: An action plan was devised based on step 4.
  • Step 6: A concise checklist and a guide with relevant information (tools).
  • Step 7: A re-evaluation of the business to assess the actual improvement after interventions. Unfortunately the COVID pandemic impacted this research and the last step was not possible with the downturn in tourism.
Hotel bedroom with polished floors, orange and red pillows on a couch and textured wallpaper

The title of the paper is Inclusive Tourism: Co-developing a Methodology to Uncover Business Opportunities through Universal Design. Scroll past the first paper in the conference proceedings to get to this one.

From the abstract

We describe a 2-year project where the possibilities of universal design were explored. The purpose was to structurally uncover and address potential business opportunities.

The method was based on: inclusive customer journey, linking mindset, management and infrastructure, and diverse user needs. We collaborated with seventeen accommodation providers and developed a seven-step process. The process integrates universal design into their business model.

The Disabled Tourist: a book

Here is the overview from the publisher of The Disabled Tourist: Navigating an Ableist Tourism World. It’s an academic text by Brielle Gillovic, Alison McIntosh and Simon Darcy.

This book addresses a growing demand to hear the authentic voices and understand the lived tourist experiences of people with disability. The latest volume in The Tourist Experience series challenges what is arguably an exclusionary, marginalising, discriminatory, and ableist (tourism) world.

Front cover of The Disabled Tourist.

By drawing attention to the ‘dis/’ in ‘disabled’, the authors provoke the need to change binary thinking about people who live with disability so that they may be ‘able’ to assume the role of tourist.

They engage critical tourism and critical disability studies, and their respective theories, perspectives, and debates, around, for instance, models of disability that shape conceptualisations and worldviews, inclusive research and enabling language, and the ethics of care.

These are pivotal to dismantling normative structures to enable a more inclusive, equitable, and socially just tourist experience that promotes a more independent and dignified tourism world for people with disability.

Tourism and Disability: Book review

A woman in a yellow jacket is being assisted onto the tour bus by two men up a ramp.

Tourism and Disability is a new book addressing the existing  challenges and opportunities related to tourism for people with disability. The Booktopia review describes this as an underdeveloped and underestimated niche market. While there is a larger market for family group travel, there is also a market for disability-specific tourism products. 

The book examines the strategies, policies, and initiatives at regional, national, and international levels. The aim is to foster the development of accessible tourism.  It examines the different social, cultural, legal, and information/interactive barriers to inclusion. The book’s focus is on the distinctive travel demands of people with disability and how their needs differ from the preferences of travellers without disability. 

The various chapters provide a multidisciplinary approach to the topic covering management, economics, and statistical analysis. This makes it useful for academics and practitioners alike. 

The Title of the book is Tourism and Disability: An economic and managerial perspective. Published by SpringerLink you can purchase individual chapters online. The book is also available from other suppliers. The editors and most contributors are based in Europe where tourism is a key part of the European economy. 

Front cover of Tourism and Disability.

Who do we include in co-design?

Traffic light icon with Problem in red, Analysis in Yellow, and Solution in Green. Academics talk about “vulnerable groups” based on ethics approval language. But what they mean is, people who have difficulty participating because they have a disability, illness, or some other condition. Indeed, some ethics requirements are so protective of “vulnerable groups” that they make it difficult to include them from research projects. Consequently their voices are silenced. So how do we include them in co-design and when?

While co-design is the new buzz word, participatory design has been around in academia for many years. Involving communities in decision-making is now recognised as being responsive to community needs. That means going beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to design. 

Participatory design

Participatory design, or co-design, is about genuine inclusion. That is, not just informing the design, but being participants in the design process. However, involving people with complex needs poses some challenges. It’s easy to make assumptions about their capacity to participate and collaborate. However, this comes down to the way the participation process is designed. 

Participatory design and the inclusion of vulnerable groups is the topic of an article from Finland. They use three projects to compare how participatory design might work best. The first explored co-design activities with people with intellectual disabilities living in supported housing. The second focused on culturally diverse young people experiencing crisis situations. The third dealt with nursing students with learning disabilities adapting to work in the health sector.

Challenges and power dynamics

The article covers the challenges, the power dynamics and their methodology. Each of the three projects is documented in detail. The findings show some similarities between the projects, but when it came to users, there were different outcomes and processes. Participatory design became more challenging when there were more pronounced differences in power dynamics.

These three projects provide good information for involving vulnerable groups in participatory design processes. Questions of equality and genuine inclusion is about both the design activities and how the entire project is planned. 

The title of the article is, Whom do we include and when? participatory design with vulnerable groups

From the abstract

This article makes three contributions to participatory design (PD) research and practice with vulnerable groups:

    1. A framework for understanding stakeholder engagement over the course of a PD project.
    2. Approaches to making user engagement and PD activities more inclusive.
    3. An analysis of how the design and power dynamics of PD projects affect vulnerable groups’ participation.

A map of engagement evaluates stakeholder involvement from initial problem definition to design outcome. 

The first looks at codesign activities to support decision-making in the context of intellectual disabilities. The second looks at culturally diverse youth navigating crisis without adequate assistance from public services. The third examines nursing students adapting to work in the health sector without accommodations for learning disabilities.

Comparing the projects reveals patterns in project planning and execution, and in stakeholder relationships. The article analyses how users are defined, engaged and supported in PD; how proxies shape vulnerable groups’ involvement and PD projects as a whole; and opportunities for greater inclusion when the entire PD project is taken into account.

Co-design is not new

Scandinavians have a reputation for good looking and functional design. But there is a gap in the story of an evolving design culture across society. Designers began involving users in their design processes in the 1970s. So co-design is not new and is not a fad, but it is absent from design history.

Maria Görandsdotter says there are two probable reasons why user-centred design has not been included. One is that history has favoured aesthetics, meanings and impact of design rather than the design process. The other is that little has been written about the way design methods have evolved. It’s all been about Scandinavian design and not designing.

… the design methods movement sought to understand and describe ‘the new design methods that have appeared in response to a worldwide dissatisfaction with traditional procedures’.

A desk has highlighter pens in different colours, working papers and a smart phone.

Görandsdotter traces different histories in her book chapter including collaboration with experts in other fields. The idea that only professional designers should design was challenged at an international conference on design participation in 1971. This is where the lines began to blur between designer and user.

There could be two reasons…

Görandsdotter presents two design histories to open up thinking about what design has been and what it might be in the future. Ergonomic user-centred design methods expanded the role of designers in relation to users. This was linked to Swedish disability legislation and research funding. Participatory design came about as a result of designers’ and users’ co-development of computer-based work tools. It expanded ideas of what design was, how how it happens, and with what kinds of materials. 

For anyone interested in design, and particularly collaborative design, this is an interesting read. It puts co-design into an historical context. In doing so, it shows it is not the latest fashion or fad in designing.

The title of the chapter is, Designing Together: On Histories of Scandinavian User-Centred Design. It is published in the open access book, Nordic Design Cultures in Transformation,1960-1980.

From the abstract

This chapter focuses on the emergence of user-centred and participatory Scandinavian design ideas and practices in 1970s Sweden. Many of the concepts and methods still highly present – supported as well as contested – in contemporary design stem from the turn towards collaborative designing through the late 1960s and early 1990s.

However, in Nordic design history, these radical changes in design practice have been more or less invisible. A shift in perspective is needed in design history to address this design historical gap.

The two examples: The first highlights how ergonomic user-centred design methods expanded the role of designers and designing in relation to users. The second discusses the challenges of designers’ and users’ co-development expanded ideas of what design was, how and with whom designing took place, and with what kinds of materials.

Co-designing public buildings

An Australian article looks at co-design processes specifically for people with disability. The researchers explored stakeholder perceptions and experiences. The findings support participation of people with disability in architectural design processes.

The title of the article is, Co-design in the context of universal design: An Australian case study exploring the role of people with disabilities in the design of public buildings. You will need institutional access for a free read.

From the abstract

This study aimed to explore stakeholder perceptions and experiences on co-design processes. Twenty six people with disability, advocates, and design professionals participated in workshops. Four major themes emerged: there are challenges to practicing co-design; co-design is inclusive, accessible, and genuine; co-design is planned and embedded in all design stages; and co-design delivers positive outcomes. 

Findings strongly support participation of people with disabilities in architectural design, highlight challenges and limitations to current practice, and provide insight into factors that optimise outcomes and the experiences of those involved.

Co-designing for the digital world

If you want to create something really useful for intended users, asking them to participate in the design process is a good way to go. And that means the design of anything – guides and toolkits included. From Ireland comes a toolkit for co-designing for the digital world where participants are people with intellectual disability.

A series of iterative workshops involving people with intellectual disability formed the foundation of an accessible design toolkit.

A collage of faces from around the world and pictures of smartphones. co-design for the digital world.

Co-design is important in the area of digital design and computer interaction. However, projects that claim to be user-centred often become technology led rather than user driven. A university in Ireland teamed up with a community service that supports people with intellectual disability. With the guidance of researchers, computer science students and community service users engaged in a co-creation process from which a toolkit was developed.

The collaboration highlighted the need for accessible design resources and training materials for both students and users. While there are many resources on co-design processes, and design thinking, few address people with intellectual disability. Those that do exist are not accessible or suitable for people with intellectual disability.

The toolkit is about co-designing with people with intellectual disability. Two overarching principles emerged. Use simple English with short sentences and simpler grammatical structures. Provide visual aids – icons and images – to overcome literacy limitations.

The paper explains the co-creation process in detail. The authors call the users co-designers, which is confusing because co-design usually means all participants including designers.

Understanding the complex process of consent to participate had to be resolved for the users. Another difficulty was encouraging participants speak up about design flaws or issues.

The title of the paper is, An Inclusive Co-Design Toolkit for the Creation of Accessible
Digital Tools
.

From the abstract

Existing toolkits and resources to support co-design are not always accessible to designers and co-designers with disabilities. We present a study of a co-design process, where computer science students worked with service users with intellectual disabilities. The aim was to create digital applications together.

A series of co-design focus group sessions were conducted with service users previously involved in a co-design collaboration. The information from these sessions was used to devise an accessible design toolkit. This toolkit is intended to generate a sustainable resource to be reused in the student programme at TU Dublin but also in the wider community of inclusive design.

Editor’s comment: Most guides and toolkits are based on well-researched evidence, but the value of the evidence is sometimes lost in technicalities or too many words. A co-design process will seek out the key information that guideline users want and need.

Designing technology for all

one hand is holding a smart phone and the other is pointing at the screen.

It’s not just a matter of fairness. Technology is generally better for everyone if it’s designed for people with disability. People who are blind use the same smartphones as sighted people. They also use computers by using screen readers. But screen readers can’t improve the way websites are designed. A website that causes problems for a screen reader is likely to be more difficult for anyone. So designing for disability is designing technology for all. That’s universal design.

An article in The Conversation explains the issues in more detail. One of the issues for web designers is that prototyping software is not compatible with screen readers. Consequently they can’t get blind users to test their designs. It also means a blind designer wouldn’t be able to make mock-ups of their own.

The researchers said that accessibility is the hallmark of good technology. Many technologies that we take for granted were developed around disability. The article concludes that no matter how much empathy a designer has, it doesn’t replace the benefits of technology built by people who actually use it. 

The title of the article is, “Why getting more people with disabilities developing technology is good for everyone”.

See a screen reader in action in a previous post. 

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