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Design meets disability

‘Design meets disability.’ According to the book, the priority for the assistive technology is to enable as little attention as possible. The underlying assumption might be the assistive technology is just a tool for helping the disabled and something to hide or to be ashamed of. So it negatively affects people who are using the assistive technology. They cannot be proud of something they have to wear and live with everyday. Moreover, it causes some bad experiences that might make them hate using the assistive technology.

The problem is raised from the fact that the development of assistive technology is biased in one direction, more functionality. “Ask a different question and you get a different answer.” As Hunter says, we need to solve this problem with different perspective, design. Since the design perspective is closely related to the self-expression and emotion of people, it is possible to solve the existing problems in assistive technology.

However, there are difficulties to embrace the design perspective in assistive technology field. These are brought up by the huge cultural gap between them such as testing vs. feeling, solving vs. exploring, information vs. expression and etc. So the author tries to discuss about how to narrow down the gap and how to adopt the design perspective in the assistive technology field.

I couldn’t agree more with his opinion that design perspective is necessary for the better assistive technology. However, I think we need to consider more about what design and engineering values the most. In turn, the two distinct cultures could find ways to respect each other. I believe this will lead to an ultimate harmony among engineering and design for a better assistive technology.

Also, this interdisciplinary work can be adopted in various areas like ITP. I believe that when we respect each other’s culture and try to engage with each other as an interdisciplinary team, we could have better results and get our own insights about the world like the author has.

17 comments to Design meets disability

  • Nancy

    ” I believe that when we respect each other’s culture and try to engage with each other as an interdisciplinary team, we could have better results and get our own insights about the world like the author has.”
    This is such an important point. We do have a very diverse group of people at ITP, but we don’t often hear about the other cultures. In other words, all of you from other countries and cultures are having a true multi-cultural experience, because you are adapting to ( American) (New York) (Techie) (Artsy)(Hipster) (Youth) Culture.
    How could we make the diversity of ITP a learning experience for everyone?

  • Youjin

    Actually, it was the question that came up to me after the first orientation at ITP. I was so shocked after students introduced themselves. There were so many students with diverse background and I couldn’t remember anything! However, now I’m thinking that the application presentation is a great opportunity to embrace each other and various cultures. Through the presentation, I could see how people with different background make amazing results with their own specialty. I just wish to have more opportunities like this. If we see other people’s work and get interested in each other, it would turn into the great learning experience.

  • Design thinking does need to be applied to the development of assistive devices. When you mentioned assistive technology as sometimes being ‘something to hide or to be ashamed of,’ it reminded me of a situation I encountered working at a theme park. The attraction that I worked at was a 22 minute tram tour ride and your experience was very dependent on the ability to hear and understand the tour guide spiel. We kept a binder with a flashlight and text version of the spiel at the load point, where guests with auditory disabilities could request to use the script to follow along with the show.

    In line with your reading & evaluation, this design doesn’t make sense. A guest had to specifically point out that they wanted the binder or a cast member would have to offer the assistance to a guest individually. Often times guests would refuse the binder, and I can assume it may be because they did not want to be singled out or be distracted by the bulky paper.

    Eventually a new system was developed, which is much more in line with design meeting disability. Guests can pick up a small, iPod touch sized device with an LCD screen at the beginning of their visit. As they go around the park from attraction to attraction, the device can detect their location and will synchronize with rides & shows.

    Assistance for people who are deaf: live synced text subtitles/explanation of sounds & attractions
    Assistance for people who are blind: narration & descriptions of attractions, areas and live shows & amplified audio (through headphones).

    I don’t think this design is perfect; you still have to go pick up the handheld captioning device.
    Still there are many positives:
    – you can bring the device with you from attraction to attraction
    – you can choose when to use it
    – it doesn’t call attention to itself

    This device & idea seems to be a great start. However, the experience could be improved further, especially with the advancements in both the engineering & design communities.

  • Jess

    I enjoy Youjin’s evaluation and “tca241″‘s experience in a theme park. It is my understanding that we should redefining what ‘functionality’ is meaning in a specific context- like a life with disability. At first, I believe that design thinking should be in the functional perspective rather than be only in the esthetic one. So design for disables and non-disables begin on the totally different point from each other. Thinking about Youjin’s point that assistive tech is a kind of ‘something to hide or to be ashamed of,’ for disables. If this is the underlying insight of user, functionality should go forward the direction to satisfy this as well as to satisfy the original purpose(ex. a narration for a blind). This insight is also important for design thinking. Making things beautiful and attractive, in terms of general design policy, doesn’t work any more for this kind of users. My point is that design and function is not at the extreme end against each other, and thinking about user insight can be a mutual respect between them.

  • Youjin

    Thank you for giving this example. I think it covers up what the author was trying to explain in the book. I totally agree with your idea. The assistive technology should be more about experiences of people who are using it. We need to think about how to design experiences with assistive technology.

    I also believe that minimizing the appearance should not be the goal of the assistive technology. In the example, the new approach didn’t call attention to itself and it worked better than before. As you said, it might be the good start for designing experience. Actually, I have no idea about better design for now. I hope to figure out how to design good experiences by understanding design thinking concepts here at ITP.

  • Youjin

    Thanks for your comments. I absolutely agree with your idea that design and functionality of the assistive technology should not be against each other. However, according to the author, there are the existing cultural gaps between engineering and design fields. So it brings huge communication difficulties between them. Even though they have so many things to share and learn from each other, it is just hard to do that. Therefore, it is crucial to understand cultures from each other by working together as an interdisciplinary team. I don’t know why but this idea captured me since I read one book several years ago. I definitely believe that the convergence design experiences such as ITP would bring out solutions for designing better experiences with assistive technology.

  • The interesting point about what you wrote is that the assistive technology is to enable as little attention as possible, but, in successfully achieving this goal, it negatively affects people who are using it!
    It is of most importance to be able to express yourself, it doesn’t matter what kind of disability you got. I believe that everybody has its own kind of disability to work with, being it a physical chalenge or a mental chalenge, and expressing ourselves through our weakness is to point out what makes us human and unique. A good design is good for whatever the field it serves. The same can be asserted in regards to bad design.
    Perception is a cultural creative construction, and we all have much to learn from others perceptions! 🙂

  • Youjin

    I like the term, ‘expressing ourselves through our weakness.’ It reminds me of one TED talk. It’s called as ‘The Power of Vulnerability.’ If you haven’t seen it yet, I think it is worth to watch. Anyway, in the book the author also mentioned about glasses which showed similar perspective you have. Glasses actually were considered for the disabilities a while ago. However, now glasses are definitely for self-expression. I like that transition. Also, as you said, it might be possible through expressing ourselves through our weaknesses, embracing our vulnerability.

  • Natalie "Tschechaniuk"

    This conversation about design and disability is really interesting and is leading me to think more broadly about the issue of accommodation and design as a tool to better accommodate users (that is, to make things that more specifically address the needs of an individual). For example, I often think about the experience of non-English speakers in New York. As we all know, anywhere you go in this city there are people who are speaking languages other than English (tourists and residents alike). This is not rare and yet, outside of specific communities, there seems to be very little accommodation made for those individuals. Why should this be? If New York loves the diversity of people who live here and visit, why shouldn’t the City also celebrate and accommodate diversity of language?

    I’m particularly struck by this whenever I visit a museum. What is the experience of the tourists next to me who are speaking another language and may or may not be able to read the exhibition texts? What would it take to provide them with a richer experience, one that’s not dependent on English literacy?

    A lack of English literacy isn’t in itself a disability, but it does become a handicap to comprehension when the assumption of a city is that almost everyone can read and understand that language. Is this a problem specific to American cities? Which places serve as examples of accommodation for a multilingual population? How can we use our varied cultural perspectives to improve the situation for New Yorkers?

  • Youjin

    I really enjoyed reading. In fact, I don’t have any ideas how other cities embrace people with different languages. However, I do think that more careful design consideration is necessary for New York. For example, when I first got here, I was so shocked on the subway since the subway didn’t stop at the station that I planed to get off. This never happened in Korea. So I worried a lot about the situation. And then, someone started to explain about the situation through a speaker system. However, since he spoke so fast and the subway was so loud, I couldn’t understand his saying at all. It was quite unpleasant experience. I’m sure many tourists would experience similar situations here. It brings up several questions. How can we improve communications between users and designers for better design? What would be good ways to embrace varied perspectives?

  • jyp323

    I just read your reading and comments, and yes, I found it very interesting! I also agree with others saying how New York is one of the well-known “melting pot.” It obviously conveys some diversity in people and culture. In such a city, “design” takes a super-important role. Language and literacy can be communication barriers in such a city, so that people might have to communicate through other mediums such as design, art, music, and etc. As designers, whether we are computational, UI, or, UX, we have to think about “better design” that we could possibly provide. Good designs should always consider about communication with users ahead of time. We should not build something carries overload information, but complete and condense concepts and main points.

  • ytf208

    I was shooting documentary with the disability children. Most of their parents are worry about their future about how other people watch them, how they react other people’s discrimination. I think this is really important that how to education the society about the disability. This is kind of culture stuff. I think the fashion way is a really smart, for example the glasses. I remember when I was a child, I really want a glass. In that time, glasses means smart and talent. No one feels discrimination. I think this is really important for all of think about the culture and fashion change the world.

  • jz1149

    I just want to share a design for disability.Its name is EnableTalk, it efforts involved packing a bunch of sensors into a glove. A team of Ukrainian of students has done just that in order to translate sign language into vocalized speech via a smartphone.
    In their glove, a total of 15 flex sensors in the fingers measure the degree of bending while a compass, accelerometer, and gyroscope determine the motion of the glove through space. The sensor data are processed by a microcontroller on the glove then sent via Bluetooth to a mobile device, which translates the positions of the hand and fingers into text when the pattern is recognized. Using Microsoft APIs for Speech and Bing, the text is spoken by the phone running Windows Phone 7. The glove can also plug into a PC for data syncing and charging of its battery.
    Working with other developers, the glove will ultimately be supported on Android and Apple iOS.
    That could mean a new way for about 70 million people with hearing and speech impairment to verbally communicate and connect to people around them.
    While EnableTalk is initially targeting the deaf community, the smart glove technology that they are developing has a much broader market, one that is embracing the very real prospect of wearable computing. The same hardware in Enable Talk could easily be adapted to make keyboard commands faster or even be used as an alternative to a mouse. In other words, smart gloves are poised to be a big part of the future of computing.
    The video is here :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCAwPBbDkhk

  • jyp323

    I totally agree on how disability takes suc a important role in design. Last year, I was working of developing a website that allows users to write diary using colors. For instance, the website asks to color the user’s daily mood using color picker. At the end of a moth, the user can track his or her fluctuation of mood swings with a stack of colors. When I got to talk with a friend about this website, I was asked to consider about color-blind people. It was pretty shocking how I did not care about their cases, because they also are users. Since they, I always keep myself to think about all situation when designing User Interface, so that I could invite every possible user out there.

  • jz1149

    Actually, Design meets Disability doesn’t precisely embody its title, at least according to a layperson’s definition. While Pullin does a thorough job of exploring the cultural, stylistic and fashion trends that influence the acceptance of objects that overcome “disability,” the action of design on “impairment” is largely neglected.

  • Youjin

    I agree with your opinion that the functions of design on ‘impairment’ are neglected a lot in Mullin’s case. However, I think the fact that adding stylistic trends could increase the acceptance of object itself, should be highly considered as one of important aspects of design on “impairment”. This thought was originally influenced by one of Mullin’s TED talks. During her TED talk in 1998, she explained about her experiences and opinions related to design on ‘impairment’ considering fashion aspect. This is her saying during the talk.
    “These I got in a place called Bournemouth, England, about two hours south of London, and I’m the only person in the United States with these, which is a crime because they are so beautiful. And I don’t even mean, like, because of the toes and everything. For me, while I’m such a serious athlete on the track, I want to be feminine off the track, and I think it’s so important not to be limited in any capacity, whether it’s, you know, your mobility or even fashion. I mean, I love the fact that I can go in anywhere and pick out what I want — the shoes I want, the skirts I want — and I’m hoping to try to bring these over here and make them accessible to a lot of people.”
    In fact, I was totally impressed by her talk. Also, I began to understand what messages the author of ‘Design meets disability’ wanted to deliver to people. The design on ‘impairment’ is all about experience of people who are using it. Since they have to wear and use the design everyday, it became their life. So the experiences that the design generates cannot be neglected at all. I think that design considering fashion aspect could create positive experience to people by offering them more choices.