Better Life by Design: Designing for People with Disabilities

A co-creation workshop with DesignSingapore and VeryDay

Shirley Lai
Jun 2, 2017 · 5 min read

In 2015, as I was making my transition from a graphic designer to a user experience researcher, I yearned of a deeper involvement in service design, or even in the medical industry, where bad design would result in disastrous patient care. I realised that I could do some good with my design skills, but the question back then was, how? What else can I do, apart from monthly donations to people and associations of need, and sporadic volunteering?

There are 110,000 Singaporeans who live with some form of disability. We have taken a step forward by pledging ourselves to cultivate a more inclusive society, with initiatives like National Council of Social Service (NCSS)’s Look Beyond My Disability, See the True Me campaign, but we can certainly do more as a society. That was the push for me to attend this co-creation workshop fronted by DesignSingapore and VeryDay, one of Sweden’s top product and research studios.

Research done by VeryDay, prepared in advanced of the co-creation workshop. They interviewed 25 persons with disability (PwD), or their carers, shadowed them on their daily lives, and boiled those insights down into opportunity areas. Here, we were reading about PwDs who so generously shared the ins-and-outs of their lives.

I didn’t know what to expect from this co-creation session. I had assumed that there would be a larger population of designers in this workshop; instead we had people from all walks of life: people from Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs), public servants, healthcare providers, parents and carers of Persons With Disability (PwD), as well as Persons With Disability. The designers were actually the odd ones out here.

We were sorted into groups, and before breaking into our discussion rooms, we got to hear from everyone on our reasons for spending three full days here, brainstorming solutions for PwDs. I realised quickly that my exposure to the problems faced by PwDs were too limited. My team consisted of, amongst others, Marcus, the director of a startup that curates, organises and delivers resources for PwDs, and is himself a PwD; Olivia, whose son is visually impaired; and Gillian, the manager of NCSS’ Disability Services Team. This diverse group meant the workshop opened my eyes to pains faced by PwDs and their caregivers, and the difficulties they encounter in their environments, all of which were things I have not given a conscious thought about before this workshop.

Throughout the three days, we were given a chance to get to know the 25 PwDs who generously opened their lives up for research. Via video recordings, we were able to feel their pains and pleasures, and were able to observe behaviours and routines in their daily lives.

Opportunity: Transportation

How might we create opportunities for PwDs to meet their friends outside VWO at least once a month?

Before this co-creation workshop, research was done by VeryDay. They interviewed 25 persons with disability (PwD), or their carers, shadowed them on their daily lives, and boiled those insights down into opportunity areas. PwDs often have the routine of home–VWO–home, which meant that the only time they would see their friends would be on the bus that takes them to VWOs. Some PwDs also find difficulty in navigating the environment around them, and as such, might choose to not go out instead.


Lead by Steffan of VeryDay, my team asked the Whys. Why are PwDs not making more friends? Why do they need to have activities outside of VWOs? And fundamentally, Why are friends important to them, or really, to us all?

We were sharing the room with another team, and they had to work on the topic of creating meaningful activities for PwDs. After this session of Whys, both groups got together to ideate solutions for both opportunity areas. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, solutions by designers would feature the use of technology, or redesigns of a physical shortcoming in the environment. The public servants, parents and carers, however, would think of higher level policies, the intangibles, and the ways they could change things for the better on a larger scale, through the help of the government and citizens at large.

Done with ideation, we prioritised our ideas, and drew up a couple of ideas to “sell” to our fellow co-creators, before voting on them.

A solution for visually impaired PwDs

The idea that came up tops for our team was the EzBoard, an interactive board that would be placed at all bus stops. It was observed from video recordings that PwDs who are visually impaired face three kinds of obstacles when travelling on public buses:

  • They will not know if their bus is arriving, and thus will always need the assistance of someone else at the bus stop
  • At a chaotic bus stop, a bus driver might not have the capacity to observe that a visually impaired PwD requires assistance, or additional waiting time
  • While boarding, a visually impaired PwD will get ignored by people surrounding him, and might block his access to the bus

With this board, a PwD who is visually impaired could scan his Disability Registry ID (DDR ID) card and choose a bus number. The board would announce bus arrival time via audio, and also prompt the bus driver that at an approaching bus stop, he would have to cater to a PwD in need.

In addition, this board will be complemented by a marked off priority space at the bus stop, preferably at the front of a bus stop. This would ensure that both driver and other riders would do their part to ease boarding. Once a PwD scans his DDR ID, the board resets itself.

This board and priority space can also be used by the elderly, the physically disabled, or commuters in wheelchairs.

The happy team that “won” a runner up position (check out the stack of Monopoly money!)

DesignSingapore has since published the results of this research and co-creation workshops.

It can be read here:

Thank you for reading!

EZ BOARD: storyboarded and published by DesignSingapore

Shirley Lai

Written by

Research, design & UX writing •

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