Sunday, February 3, 2019

Learning about designing for disability

Accessibility is growing topic in the topic of human-centered design, and one recently published study explores how to teach design students to incorporate disabled users, as just one segment of a diverse user population, into their design process. Moreover, students were also taught how to interact with and accommodate social needs of this particular population.

Shinohara and her research team published a paper titled, Tenets for Social Accessibility: Towards Humanizing Disabled People in Design, that investigates the attitudes of design students towards disabilities and observes how students incorporated accessible design throughout the course.

They found that developing accessible design was actually beneficial to a variety of populations, rather than solely the disabled. Furthermore, the authors found another positive externality: designing for both abled and disabled populations expanded the capacity of designers because of social needs, like social appropriateness or factors influencing the use and perception of the technology.

The authors summarize their findings by developing three tenets:

  1. Design for disability should include users both with and without disabilities.
  2. Design should address functional and social factors at the same time.
  3. Design should include tools that encourage consideration of social factors in accessible design. 

They hypothesized that by including disability as part of a diverse population of users, they could engage disability as a natural part of design. Broadening awareness and inclusion of accessibility in course curricula can lead to the development of more accessible mainstream technologies, rather than just functional disability-specific solutions. 

The authors offered two university courses (first, 42 students and 11 expert users; second, 36 students and 10 expert users) on design thinking taught a year apart to better understand how design students form a perspective on design and to test which elements in a course encourages students to incorporate accessibility into their workflow. 

They engaged students with “expert users” (those with disabilities), and the course also featured hallmarks of a design-thinking course: readings, ideation, learning and conduction of prototypes and usability heuristics, feedback sessions, and evaluations, all culminating in a term project (indoor wayfinding for blind or low-vision users). Other pieces of data included weekly journals, interview protocols and summaries, observations, brainstorms, sketches, design rationales, user testing results and heuristic evaluations, final design specifications, design process books, and expert user evaluations of student designs.

The researchers coded this qualitative data to find that working with expert users was a positive influence on student attitudes about accessibility, that it was not as hard as they thought, and that they have a role and responsibility to include accessibility into their design work. 

I like how this study also addressed social needs of the functionally impaired. For example, they found that students initially had a learning curve in designing for beyond functional issues, ignoring the principles of designing for user experience, such as designing for a visually impaired expert user who was a busy woman with a light budget or a user who didn’t want to call unnecessary attention to her hearing loss. A result of the course was also that students learned to design with considering social needs.

Tenets for Social Accessibility: Towards Humanizing Disabled People in Design

Source: Shinohara, K., Bennett, C. L., Pratt, W., & Wobbrock J.O. (2018). Tenets for Social Accessibility: Towards Humanizing Disabled People in Design. ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS) - Special Issue of Papers from ASSETS 2016, 11(1), 6:1-6:31.

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