There’s nothing like asking potential users what they think of a new product. Even better if you involve them in the design process. But sometimes it’s not possible and designers resort to personas. This is often the case in digital technology. The Inclusive Design Toolkit has a suite of 12 personas representing a broad view of potential users. Each one has a story to tell about their lifestyle and their connection to technology.
Many factors affect digital exclusion: prior experience, competence, motivation and general attitude about technology. The personas highlight these factors to make it easier for designers to be inclusive. Each persona has a description of their lifestyle, competency with technology, and physical and sensory capabilities.
The online resource is part of the Inclusive Design Toolkit with the option to download a PDF. You can take a deeper dive into the personas as a family set. This takes personas one step further by introducing family interactions. The Inclusive Design Toolkit also has an exclusion calculatorthat estimates the number of people unable to use a product or service.
The Inclusive Design Toolkit is based on thorough research over more than ten years. The personas were produced as part of a project to improve the inclusivity of railway journeys.
Doctors and architects speak different languages. That’s understandable – they’ve been to entirely different schools. We can get by in a foreign country with gestures. But when it comes to communicating detail we need a phrasebook. Similarly, architects and health professionals a similar tool – Playmobile. It helps with design translation.
Using Playmobile figures and 3D printed beds and hospital equipment designers and medical staff can shape the spaces together. Not everyone can grasp the concept of spaces on a two-dimensional drawing. Likewise, designers do not have an intimate understanding of how clinics work. But everyone has played with toys.
Ever wondered what it is like for someone with hearing loss trying to be part of a conversation in a restaurant? Or wondered what it is like to try and read a transit map if you have glaucoma? Now you can check this out using online hearing and vision simulatorsto get the idea of the way things sound and look.
The Inclusive Design Group at the University of Cambridge have come up with a hearing simulator that covers mild, moderate and severe hearing loss in five different settings: restaurant, classical music, rock music, a ringing phone, and a station platform announcement. Similarly, the vision simulator includes the main vision impairments including macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.
You can also use their Exclusion Calculatorfor vision, hearing, thinking, dexterity, reach and stretch and locomotion, to see how many people might be excluded if not thought about in the early stages of design. You can set the calculator for multiple capacities, such as sight, hearing, thinking and locomotion – all of which are needed to negotiate public transport, for example. A very useful tool for any designer.
Colour is often used in charts, maps and infographics, but what if you can’t see some colours? One in twelve men are colour blind, but not for all colours or the same colours. Infographics are becoming more popular as a means of explaining things. So choosing the best colours is to everyone’s advantage. Venngage website has an good guide and lots of tips on making charts more accessible. It shows the three types of colour blindness and compares them with normal vision. Different colour palettes are provided along with templates. The blog page includes links to other resources. Colour combinations to avoid include:
There is a growing body of science on the topic of colour use and choice. On the second page of the International Ergonomics Associationnewsletter there is an item advising that in developing an international standard (ISO 24505) for colour use, accessibility needs to be considered. In four parts, the first part of the standard has been published for older peopletaking into account age-related changes in human colour vision. The remaining three are under development. Here is a snippet from the newsletter:
This toolkit about communicating with customers follows its own advice. The information is written in a straightforward way. Lots of graphics illustrate key points, and the information is very specific, such as when to write numbers as digits or as words. While the information might not be new to some, it serves as a good reviser of current practice. Designed for organisations but good for everyone.
The Customer Communications Toolkit for the Public Service – A Universal Design Approach has sections on written, verbal and digital communication. At 134 pages it is comprehensive. Each section has examples, tips, checklists and links to learn more. The intention of the toolkit is for public service planning, training and informing contractors. But of course, it works for anyone who is communicating with the public.
Design isn’t just about tangible objects, it’s also about services and processes. This is where the Double Diamond of Design comes to the fore. The Design Council devised the Double Diamond as a way of graphically explaining the design process. The two diamonds represent a process of exploring an issue and then taking focused action. The key elements of this model are:
Discover. The first diamond helps people understand, rather than simply assume, what the problem is. It involves speaking to and spending time with people who are affected by the issues. Define. The insight gathered from the discovery phase can help you to define the challenge in a different way. Develop. The second diamond encourages people to give different answers to the clearly defined problem, seeking inspiration from elsewhere and co-designing with a range of different people. Deliver. Delivery involves testing out different solutions at small-scale, rejecting those that will not work and improving the ones that will.
Kat Holmes found the origin of include was to “shut in”. Similarly, the origin of exclude was to “shut out”. Maybe “inclusion” is not the right word for describing the inclusion of everyone in products, places and things. Holmes explains in the video below, that the topic of diversity is discussed in her workplace as gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, ethnicity, and race. Disability is usually mentioned last in the list, if at all. “But it is the one category that transcends all other categories”, she says. “Abilities are constantly changing”.
Holmes’ offers an alternative way for designers to consider diversity, and is based on her book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design. An engaging talk for all upcoming designers in any field. And not just professional designers either. We all design things every day, so we all have a role to play.
Editor’s Note: I discussed this issue in a 2009 paper. Inclusion is problematic inasmuch as it requires those who are already included to invite into the group those who are excluded. Semantics can be important. What we need is inclusiveness – that’s where inclusion has already happened and there are no exclusions. Inclusion is a futuristic concept insofar as it is something for which we are striving, for if it were achieved, no discussion would be needed.
Being able to find places easily is key to getting out and about at any age or level of capability. Online maps are becoming more sophisticated with interactive content and different layers of information. Graphics and colour are used to emphasise places and attributes. But not everyone can see certain colours. So, does your access map have the right colours?
The number of people with colour vision deficiency (CVD) is growing as some people acquire it as they get older. Map Design for the Color Vision Deficient provides a background to this issue and tools for selecting the colours when designing maps. You will need institutional access for a free read. A similar paper is available on ResearchGate.
From the abstract
The golden rule of map design states that one should carefully consider both a map’s purpose and its audience. Maps designed for the general public frequently fail to consider the portion of our population with color vision impairment or color vision deficiency (CVD), known more commonly as color blindness. Recent studies indicate that over 5% of our Caucasian male population are susceptible to congenital or inherited color vision deficiency.
CVD also can be acquired from chemical exposure, injury, illness, medication, and aging. With the exception of aging, little or no data exists on the number of people impaired by any of these non-congenital causes. Recent research has revealed that as many as 20% of those studied over the age of 72 suffer from a blue-yellow defect that increases with age to nearly 50% at age 90.
This acquired blue-yellow defect also is the predominant CVD for those suffering from chemical exposure. This chapter examines the effects of CVD and attempts to illustrate the impact of color choices on visually impaired audiences. It shows that the acquired CVD population is growing and suggests colors and alternatives in map design to minimize that impact.
Maps in shades of grey: is that what you want?
Map design usually relies on colour to convey information. But what if you can’t see all the colours? You get maps in shades of grey. Directional maps, such as street maps for example, use colour to indicate train stations and heritage sites. Geographical maps use colour to show height of land, temperature, and to separate land from water. And it’s not just maps – websites suffer the same issues.
Many of these are age-old conventions that designers follow. So how do you know what colours are best to use? The Colblinder website give examples of what geographic maps look like to people with CVD. It also has links to other references and a colour blindness simulation tool. Although this is about maps, it can also apply to websites and printed documents, such as guidelines, and manuals where pictures and graphics are used to inform and instruct.
For research on this topic Anne Kristin Kvitle’s article is worth a read. The article is titled, “Accessible maps for the color vision deficient observers: past and present knowledge and future possibilities”.
From the abstract
Color is part of the visual variables in map, serving an aesthetic part and as a guide of attention. Impaired color vision affects the ability to distinguish colors, which makes the task of decoding the map colors difficult.
Map reading is reported as a challenging task, especially when the size of stimuli is small. The aim of this study is to review existing methods for map design for color vision deficient users. The study identified two main approaches: pre-processing by using accessible colors and post-processing by using enhancement methods. Some of the methods may be applied for maps, but requires tailoring of test images according to map types.
Acceptable language regarding people with disability has changed, and standards continue to adapt as understanding and perceptions evolve. Many terms once widely used are now considered to imply inferiority and serve to marginalise people. The National Center on Disability and Journalismhas updated their Style Guide which provides alternatives to terms still seen too oftenin the media.
The guide also gives an explanation for why some terms are considered offensive, derogatory, and/or marginalising. Unless the context of the story relates to the disability, it might not be necessary to point to any kind of impairment. And think about illustrations and photos too.
Here are a few common terms to avoid:
Afflicted with: Implies that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life.
Able-bodied: Refers to a person who does not have a disability. The term implies that all people with disabilities lack “able bodies” or the ability to use their bodies well. Use non-disabled. Use person without disability.
Confined to a wheelchair: Describes a person only in relationship to a piece of equipment designed to liberate rather than confine. Use wheelchair user.
Stricken with, suffers from, victim of: These terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life. Use living with…
Demented: Refer to someone as having dementia only if the information is relevant to the story and a formal diagnosis has been made. Use “a person with dementia” or “a person living with dementia.” Do not use senile.
Special needs: This can be problematic where there are government funded programs for “special schools”. The term is considered stigmatising – use “functional needs” or describe the specific issue or disability.
Inclusive illustrations: What’s in a face?
It’s often someone other than the writer of an article that chooses a picture to go with it. Usually this is a stock photo that might not convey the intended message. Stock photos of older people are often patronising. They show young and old hands, or a young person looking lovingly at an older person. Most illustrations are far from inclusive.
Similarly, stock photos of wheelchair users often use non-disabled models and not real wheelchair users. An article and guideline from an illustrator discusses how to add diversity to your brand whether an organisation, service or a product. The title of the article is, Your Face Here: Creating illustration guidelines for a more inclusive visual identity.
Whether being used to distill complex messages or add a touch of whimsy, illustration is one piece that makes up a company’s visual brand identity.”
Language etiquette around the topic of disability seems to get some people tongue-tied. Fear of offending often results in just that. But so does using outmoded terms such as “handicapped”. So what are the do’s and don’ts of terminology and language use?
People with Disability Australia (PWDA) have a great guide. It gives a context to the importance of language and how it relates to dignity and respect. It is based on the social model of disability. That is, disability is not an individual medical problem. Disablement is the result of an environment filled with physical and social barriers.
Should you say “People with disability” or “disabled person?” It depends on the individual. However, government policies use the person first version – people with disability. The one to avoid is “the disabled” because it dismisses people and puts this diverse group into one category. The same can be said for “the elderly”.
Adaptations of the word disability, or euphemisms, should not be used either. Terms such as differently-abled, special needs, or handicapable sound clever but are demeaning. Other terms such as “all abilities” suggests the opposite – a special place for people with disability. If it is inclusive it shouldn’t need a “special” title. However, accessible features can be included in any descriptions of the place or service.
The PWDA guide gives an overview of ableist language and its impact, some advice on reporting on disability, and a list of words and recommended alternatives.
Disability is not about inspiration
One other important aspect of reporting on disability is what the late Stella Young described as “inspriation porn” in an entertaining TED talk. The portrayal of a person doing everyday things, or achieving a goal, as being inspiring gets the no-go signal. People with disability are often portrayed in the media as being “sufferers” or “heroes”. Rarely is either the case.