From time to time, we’re featuring thoughtful posts from FWD50 alumni and fascinating thinkers in the fields of identity, ethics, open data, and related topics central to the adoption of digital government.


With the help of my team at the Inclusive Design Research Centre and our amazing global community I have tried to develop a guiding framework for inclusive design, suitable for a digitally transformed and increasingly connected context. It doesn’t lay out testable criteria, or an ordered checklist, because inclusive design is about diversity, variability and complexity.

An illustration of a donkey following a carrot on a stick and followed by a man with a stick.
An illustration of a donkey following a carrot on a stick and followed by a man with a stick.
Motivation by carrot or stick.

One of the effects of aging, that doesn’t get much play, is the loss of patience and caution when it comes to stating your mind. This symptom has been creeping up on me (accompanied by offers of senior’s discounts, grey hair, bad hips, and retirement advice).

I had an acute incidence of this symptom when I agreed to give another interview on web accessibility at a time when my patience regarding the subject was very strained. My mailbox was filled with threats and sales pitches from vendors, warning of the impending doom of accessibility legislation and offers to ensure that…

Covid-19 world map.
Covid-19 world map.
Image by Raphaël Dunant CC-BY-SA-4.0

This COVID-19 crisis has politicians, financial forecasters and celebrities invoking Darwin. Whether it is Boris Johnson to promote herd immunity, Donald Trump to save the great American economy, this is purportedly done in the interests of the survival of the human race. Others are likely invoking Darwin as a salve to block out guilt regarding the thousands dying while the invoker is comfortably ensconced in luxurious social isolation. Some may invoke Darwin to make sense of the impossible choices we have forced on our healthcare workers when they run out of ventilators. The general message is that it is natural…

Digital image of machine clones
Digital image of machine clones

I am an educator, a professor, with a vested stake in education. Having participated in many ‘Future of Work’ think tanks, summits and worry sessions, I’m persuaded that our formal systems of education are preparing students to be out of work when they graduate. Asking the simple question, “what can people do that machines won’t be able to do in the foreseeable future?” shows that common educational practices seem primed to turn our kids into replaceable machines. …

Picture of catacombs that close in.
Picture of catacombs that close in.
Catacombs by Andrew Currie

Thomas Friedman uses a graph that shows that machines are increasing in adaptability at an exponential rate, while humans are increasing in adaptability at a linear rate (see below).

By Anonymous — Camille Flammarion, L’Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888), pp. 163, Public Domain,

Education provides a powerful lever to address not only the symptoms but the causes of current global crises. However, formal education has modeled a hierarchical, competitive and exclusionary culture. Our pedagogical practices squander and suppress the most valuable quality in students; namely their uniqueness and diversity. Our educational value structure gives privileged place to the formulaic, replicable competencies that can be replaced by machines. Students are implicitly prepared to punch down rather than lift up those that are more vulnerable. If formal education systems continue on the same path, we are preparing our students to be replaced by machines. We…

An exploding star.

As the director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre, I have frequently been asked how inclusive design relates to data and evidence. The answer is complex and involves theorists from the 1800’s, how their theories have been applied to people, and phenomena that permeate many natural spheres. Let me explain…

If you take any group of people and you plot their individual needs and characteristics on a 3D multi-variate scatter-plot you get a starburst (also known as a “normal distribution”). Reduced and flattened to two dimensions it looks like a bell curve (you might recognize this from school grading days…

Toronto waterfront viewed from Tommy Thompson Park on my bicycle ride

When you need it the most

My friend Alissa is an enthusiastic early adopter of new technologies. She can’t wait for all the promises regarding smart devices to come true. She has welcomed a huge range of smart gadgets into her home and worked hard to orient them to her needs and wishes. Like trained seals, she has configured a menagerie of Echos, Alexas, Siris and Google Homes to do her bidding. Last Tuesday she had a stroke, the main result was a speech impediment that makes her speech slurred and harder to understand for everyone but the people that become used to it, like her…

Scales of Justice, photo by James Cridland

One of my friends, let’s call her Samara, is literally fighting for her life. She currently has no way to get the services she needs to stay alive. Another friend, let’s call her Cathy, feels inconvenienced by the slow response to fixing the potholes on her street. Our current systems of democracy will mean that my friend Samara’s critical needs will be ignored in favor of resolving the inconvenience felt by Cathy. This is because our democratic vote reduces each friend to a single number. …

a graphic image representing the digital ecosystem
a graphic image representing the digital ecosystem

My friend Ilse spends ten times more than most people to get online and access a computer or smart phone. For the extra cost she only has access to a fraction of the functions I have access to and she can’t reliably use many of the apps or Web sites she should be able to use. The documentation and marketing of her equipment assumes that a specialized professional is needed to choose and understand her equipment. If her equipment needs maintenance she has to go to a special repair service rather than a local computer repair shop. Every time software…

Jutta Treviranus

Director, Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD University

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