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

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

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.

Good colour contrast for websites

How did you choose the colours for your last website update? Did you choose colours based on your brand logo and text or use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) algorithm? But can an algorithm guarantee good colour contrasts on digital screens? Probably not. Visual perception is personal and much depends on your eyesight. Maybe it means using humans and not algorithms. But we need some form of standard to guide colour contrast when designing web and app pages. The WCAG contrast formula has tried to do that. However, Sam Waller reports there are some deficiencies with it. 

In January 2022, the Advanced Perceptual Contrast Algorithm now proposes a more complex formula. The technical talk is that the legibility of text on websites is better with perceived difference than a mathematical contrast ratio. Sam Waller explains this more fully in his  article, Does the contrast ratio actually predict the legibility of website text?

This is important information for choosing brand logos and text so it isn’t just something web designers should know. Many website designs are guided by brand colours so choose carefully.  

The article has examples of greyscale and colour contrasts and you can decide which work best for you. It’s best to narrow the screen for the coloured examples to limit the number visible at one time. 

 

Four of the colours against a white background showing levels of colour contrast..
Screenshot from article

 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have guided the whole ICT industry in access compliance. Billions of dollars in digital design are based on these guidelines. It’s formed the basis of ICT procurement around the world. Waller says to check out the examples in his article and give feedback via his LinkedIn article. The screenshots shown are just a sample from his article. 

Four of the colours against a black background.
Screenshot from article

A previous post also shows how colour combinations make a big difference in contrast and legibility. There also information on colour vision deficiency which Waller also mentions at the end of his article. 

 

Human centred design is for humans

A man in a blue shirt is wearing virtual reality goggles and is holding a controller in his hand. This is part of exploring Human centred design Almost all designing is done for human use. Even designs for animals and plants link back to human use or human benefit in one way or another. So based on that premise, all design is human centred design. Well, that is one way to define it. 

In the world of technology the key question for human centred design approach is, what are people doing? Not, what can the technology do? Dr Peter Schumacher reminds us in a video below that humans were creating things for themselves in the Stone Age. However, digital technology isn’t crafted by hand like a stone axe where the maker is often the user. With artificial intelligence, technology can do amazing things. But are they the things that humans want?

Based on the Stone Age definition, Schumacher says human centred design is something we’ve been doing forever. From the moment we could, we’ve been making things we could use. We were creating technology for a purpose, for something we wanted to do. But technology, and the way we interact with it, is getting more complicated.

We are at a point where technology and the environment we live in is creating problems. Schumacher says that finding out what’s going on with humans and their relationship to technology is the key focus. It’s putting human back into the centre of the technology rather than saying what the technology can do.

So, you start with the question, “what are people doing?” This is followed by “what does the technology need to do in that context?” Then there is the question of what’s the right technology?

Human Centred Design Group

The Human Centred Design Lab at University of South Australia is focused on developing methods for the design of objects, environments, and systems for human use. They take a collaborative and trans-disciplinary approach to create products for human use. The Human Centred Design Group is a research centre for interactive and virtual environments. The video below explains a bit more and they invite other collaborators.

Also see their Design Clinic brings together researchers, industry and end users for co-design in healthcare. The Design Clinic can capture ideas and designs for new products, systems and services vital to the health and wellbeing sectors. 

 

AI for captioning

A speaker stands at a lectern and captioning sceen is behind his right shoulder
Dedicated captioning screen close to the speaker.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can take captioning to another level claims Microsoft. AI for automatic speech recognition removes the need for a human captioner for lectures in universities and elsewhere. The Microsoft AI blog article and video below focuses on deaf students, but more people are taking to captioning on their phones for convenience.

Captioning helps all students by adding another layer of communication and this point is made in the article. The captioning is turned into transcripts and students have a reference to read after the lecture. They can also have the lecture automatically translated into several languages.

This is a detailed article and covers automatic speech recognition, translations, and a growing demand for accessibility. This technology is not expected to take over from Auslan or ASL as they are languages in their own right. However, this is another example of how technology is helping humans by taking over from humans and bringing the advantages to more people.  

Note on the image at the top: The image shows Dr Ger Craddock at the inaugural Australian Universal Design Conference in 2014. A captioner sat in the room to caption real time. Speaker names and place names were given to the captioner beforehand to prevent errors.

 

How web design decisions are made

Graphic indicating web design.When choosing a web developer to update your site, don’t assume they know all about accessibility. The guidelines for web accessibility are often treated like tacked on ramps to a building. That is, something you think of after you’ve done the design. To ensure accessibility of your site, it pays to know how web design decisions are made. And you don’t need to be a tech person.

A paper from the United States spells out the development process to show how accessibility gets missed. The authors report that one study found that more than 70% of websites contain multiple  barriers to accessibility. Another study found that almost all homepages didn’t meet the basic web standards for accessibility. 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a general guide for developers. But they are not the total answer because they are more about code compliance than accessibility. Hence, design briefs need to include usability testing early in the concept stage. 

The process often begins with brand, customers, and the message to be communicated. This stage rarely involves accessibility concerns. Designers make assumptions about users – usually people like themselves – for the next steps. Designs are reviewed by art directors and brand creators. Colours and font choices are considered at this stage but without reference to accessibility. 

If the design team lacks diversity this is where design justice becomes design privilege. Before any coding takes place, images, animations and graphics are created to show what the site will look like. Users are not involved in the testing at this stage. The key issue with web accessibility tools is that they look at code, not these mock-ups. 

Priority is brand message

The prototype stage would be a good point in the design process to begin user testing. It is as this stage colour, font, layout and other critical access features can be addressed. However, communicating brand message takes priority. Responding to the needs of less privileged and less able users is left for coding checks rather than usability checks.

The authors conclude that considering accessibility early in the process can bring greater usability for all. However, industry development processes often result in accessibility being an afterthought. Standards are not enough to meet the needs of all users. Consequently, industry’s internal processes need to change. 

The title of the paper is, Addressing Accessibilty as Advocacy. The authors use the term “special needs”. The article is easy to read and not tech-based. It is more about advocating for social justice in the digital world.

Choosing an IT designer

computer screenThe Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a comprehensive IT Procurement Toolkit. It takes potential purchasers of IT systems through the process of procurement, including assessing potential suppliers, and overseeing the successful implementation of accessibility features. It also shows how to manage the accessibility of the system once the set-up phase is complete. This means ensuring that documents staff produce for the website also meet the accessibility criteria. Each section of the Toolkit is provided separately. It includes: 

    • Writing Request for Tender
    • Assessing Candidates and Tenders
    • Development and Implementation
    • Evaluating Deliverables
    • Maintaining Accessibility.

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. The thing is, 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”.

A related postKristy Viers is sitting in a T shirt and shorts with an iPhone in her hands. Designing technology for all. is Kristy Viers, a blind user, showing how she uses her iPhone.

See a screen reader in action in a previous post. 

 

UD, UDL, Accessibility and Ableism

A graphic showing a laptop with a green screen and several smart phones around it also with green screens. It is indicating that they are all connected.Access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic became even more problematic for some users as everything went online. So what can UD, UDL and Accessibility do to help to combat ableism?

An article by John L. O’Neill discusses Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning and Inclusive Design. In this context, the concept of Inclusive Design has a focus on the digital world. He covers the history of each, much of which will be known to UD followers. O’Neill argues that all three can be combined in innovative ways to ensure access to information. This is logical because each has the same goal – inclusion. He uses a case study where he merges the UD principle of perceptible information, the tenet of multiple means of representation from UDL, and adaptive systems from Inclusive Design. This perspective is given the title of “Abilities Design”.

O’Neill claims ableism underpins barriers and that undoing ableism is not a form of charity. Legislation that requires access and accessibility does little to change ableist attitudes.

The title of the article is, Accessibility for All Abilities: How Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design Combat Inaccessibility and Ableism

Editor’s Note: I am not sure that inventing another design category based on inclusion takes us any further forward. However, it is an example of how designers new to inclusive concepts can use existing frameworks to help their design process.

From the Abstract

Discussions about accessibility surged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as people became more dependent on accessing information from the web. This article will explore different disability models to understand the oppression of people with disabilities. It will examine how the different principles and methods of Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design can be combined in innovative ways to ensure that all citizens have access to information without barriers.

Older people and internet use

A pair of hands belonging to an older man hold a mobile phone.2020 has been a year of digital connectedness. Many of us relied on the internet to keep working and stay connected to family and friends. Access to virtual health services turned out to be important too. But access to the internet and digital connection wasn’t available to everyone. It’s assumed that older people are unable or unwilling to use digital communications. The assumptions by others about the capabilities of older people doesn’t help. It reinforces a negative mindset in both older people and their younger family members. 

Understanding older people’s relationship with the internet was the subject of a survey in rural Queensland. 1500 households were surveyed and asked about the general adoption of internet use. Within this survey, respondents were asked to indicate their understanding of older people’s relationship with the internet. Researchers found three general assumptions: older people aren’t interested in the internet, and they generally can’t use it. However, family members did believe the internet would be useful for older people.

If family members act on these assumptions they are unlikely to assist older members of the family to use the internet to communicate with others. If society continues to assume older people incapable or disinterested in internet communications it will lead to reinforcing the digital divide.

The researchers conclude that distinctions should be drawn between older people in rural areas and the tendency to apply urban norms to this population. 

The title of the article is, Perceptions of older age and digital participation in rural Queensland. It is academically dense in parts but the issue is clear. Older people will be unable to join with younger cohorts in independently using internet technology if we continue to apply these assumptions.

Abstract

Participation is thought to build and sustain individual and community resilience. What constitutes participation today significantly involves networked digital communications. With Australia’s ageing population set to increase exponentially, and with a growing concentration of older people living outside of larger cities and towns, a need exists to address how participation in later life is understood and facilitated. Coupled with the need for regional communities to find relevant change processes that build resilience, this multidisciplinary paper highlights variations in perception about older people’s digital abilities in regional Queensland. Following the general increase in appeal of digital devices to older people, defined here as those aged over 65, the paper suggests that how older people’s digital connectedness progresses is foundationally influenced by the speculative, antithetical and potentially ambivalent perceptions of others. In doing so, we seek to understand rural connectedness in later life through a suite of literacies informing digital participation.

There’s a related article from 2015, Internet use: Perceptions and experiences of visually impaired older adults. Published in the Journal of Social Inclusion, it provides some excellent qualitative research – the comments from older people with vision loss are especially revealing.

Universally designed emergency management

With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the need to have inclusive emergency systems is paramount. While there is some awareness of people with disability within emergency management, there are few tools that embrace universal design principles. Research in this area has focused on the general public, but not on stakeholders such as first responders, control room personnel and decision makers. The Australian experience last summer meant that many of us turned to our mobile phones and downloaded apps to keep us up to date on our situation. But how inclusive are they?

A research paper from Norway takes the topic of emergency management beyond the physical environment, such as escape routes, to communications technology. Appropriate technology can improve disaster management for everyone.

The paper is a literature review of universal design methods in emergency management. Among the findings was awareness of people with disability was increasing and systems were being adapted accordingly. However, gaps remain. Some of these are:

    • Most of the work on ICT tools and platforms for Emergency Management does not take into account Universal Design nor accessibility.
    • There is a lack of communication support between emergency medical responders and people that are deaf.
    • In use of social networks in emergency situations, the age gap was identified as significantly more severe than the disability gap.
    • Good efforts towards accessible tools and platforms exist, but most of them are on the conceptual or at best on the prototype level.
    • Research on the use of assistive technology by older adults during disasters is a neglected issue.
    • Accessibility is often limited to access to Internet, rather than concerning the diversity of stakeholders and their access to digital solutions in Emergency Management.

They also found that participatory design methods gave best results but were rarely used. Maps for visualising disasters were unlikely to be accessible, but had high value for users. The article is comprehensive and covers every aspect of emergency and disaster management, particularly from the perspective of emergency personnel. 

The title of the article is, Universal Design of ICT for Emergency Management from Stakeholders’ Perspective. It is open source.

Abstract:

While Universal Design principles have been adopted in many areas to ensure that products and services are usable for the broadest possible diversity of users, there is still an open area when it comes to the emergency management domain. This article aims at providing a systematic overview of the current state of the emerging research field of Universal Design of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Emergency Management, and to highlight high-impact research opportunities to ensure that the increasing introduction of ICT in Emergency Management can contribute to removing barriers instead of adding more barriers, in particular for the elderly and people with disabilities.

A systematic review on relevant literature on Universal Design, ICT and Emergency Management between 2008 and 2020 was employed using predefined frameworks, to answer the following questions:

(1) Who are the target audiences (stakeholders) in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management in the different categories of Emergency Management ICT tools, and to what degree is Human-Centred Design and Universal Design taken into account?

(2) What are the most important challenges and gaps in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management?

We identify a set of gaps in the literature, indicating that there are some challenges where Universal Design is still limitedly addressed in technology development. We also derive promising future research topics based on areas that are missing in the literature.

Blinded by science: Universal design and data access

The figure of a woman is overlaid with purple and pink computer coding in tiny writing forming a backdrop.It’s all very well saying that information is available to everyone, or that government processes are designed to be transparent. But how many people can access the scientific and long-winded sentences in these documents? Even the abstract below on this very topic needs interpretation into everyday words. It’s easy to talk about universal design. However, academics often make research on accessibility and inclusion inaccessible and exclusive. How about more walking the walk, and talking the talk? We need universal design for data access.

The article on Open Government Data Through the Lens of Universal Design is about accessing data sets. This might include population census data, or data that underpin policy decisions. By casting the lens of the seven principles of universal design over the data sets the authors found ways to improve accessibility. Nine issues were found, three related to the web and the rest to data presentation.

This is an important aspect of inclusion. It helps people with disability and others to see how data are used, and to give them a voice. Information is power. The article includes recommendations for discussion on how to improve the situation.

The article can be downloaded from ResearchGate where you can request the full text from the authors. Otherwise it is available on SpringerLink where you will need institutional access for a free read.  Note the dated use of the term “special needs”.

Abstract

Open Data are increasingly being used for innovation, developing government strategies, and enhancing the transparency of the public sector. This data is aimed to be available to all people regardless of their abilities, professions and knowledge.

Research is showing, however, that open data, besides being physically inaccessible to people with special needs, those are also semantically inaccessible to people who lack data science expertise.

In order to identify specific accessibility challenges associated with open government data portals and datasets, we conducted an analysis using seven principles of Universal Design.

In total, nine challenges are identified based on issues discovered. Three challenges are identified on the web portal interface level, namely: dataset filtering and categorization, access using a keyboard, and breadcrumb and back navigation.

The other six challenges are identified on dataset level: dataset previewing, dataset size, dataset formats, dataset purpose, dataset labelling, and dataset literacy. For each challenge, we propose recommendations as a means to incite a discussion about the features that open data should possess in order to be widely accessible, including people with disabilities and those lacking data science expertise and knowledge.

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