Assistive Technology and UX Accessibility – Open and Inclusive SIG

logoThank you to all who joined the Open and Inclusive Special Interest Group this December. We closed off the year with two wonderful speakers: Julie Eshleman and Beatriz Gonzalez. The talk focused on Assistive Technology and Designing for the Extremes on Wednesday December 1st.

First, we heard from Julie Eshleman, a PhD student at the University Sterling who discussed her amazing work with the Leonard Cheshire charity. We saw videos that showed first-hand how assistive technology is applied and the importance of it to the disabled community. Quoting Arthur C Clarke, Julie highlighted how ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ and that assistive technology can be magical in the hands of those who need it most. If there was one thing the Covid-19 pandemic taught us, it is the importance of technology to our everyday lives. As companies and educators scrambled to provide tech to their workforces and students, we as a society came to realise how technology is the very basis of current civilisation. Yet for certain communities it can provide more than just a platform for connection, it can provide choice and freedom. Julie shared with the group how, in her PhD, she will look at how assistive technology interventions benefit users, and equally the consequences these changes in their lives can have.

Beatriz Gonzalez joined us from to discuss the importance of designing for further than the ‘average’. The first part of her talk highlighted how, throughout history, designs focused on an ‘average’ have failed in designing for the population. In fact, Beatriz says that ‘designing for the average person is designing for no-one’. With this in mind, should we be focusing not on designing for an average that doesn’t exist, but instead for the ‘extremes’ so we include everyone? By following the ‘POUR’ principles of accessibility, to make systems ‘Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust’ for all types of people. Tools which were shared to support our design thinking was the ‘’ resource from the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.

The key message from this month’s Open and Inclusive Special Interest Group was that more needs to be done to ensure technology is designed for all. We, as designers and researchers, should ‘diversify our extremes’ and move away from ‘the binary’. This was best put in the final quote from the Leonard Cheshire Charity’s video shared by Julie Eshleman: ‘…but it is only the beginning’.

The Recording is available for OU Staff here: OU staff recording link

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