Design meets Disability

As a follow up to my previous post, I have been reading “Design meets Disability” by Graham Pullin which is an exploration of how disabilities have changed the field of design and to some extent, created products/services designed for people with disabilities but also benefits everyone else. I feel that many folks do agree with this assessment but do not delve deeper or fully understand the implications behind this philosophy.

“People with disabilities are natural problem-solvers” — Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer for Microsoft. At the CSUN Assistive Technology conference, several sessions covered part/all of the concept of “Design meets Disability”. The eye-tracking software developed by Microsoft for Steve Gleason has potential applications for people with autism, improving reading abilities, and possibly diagnosing concussions. Another Microsoft session detailed how their artificial intelligence could visualize sounds. I found myself imagining using the AI app “paint” music on my phone enhancing my experience.

Jonathan Harrell and Christine Hemphill of Open Inclusion, an UK innovation consultancy have shown how their panel of 300+ people with disabilities have highlighted the benefits/downsides of products like Apple Watch and Amazon Echo which leads to feedback for the companies producing these devices — Extreme Innovation.

Peter Korn and his team at Amazon did a series of sessions emphasizing how their Smart home using their Echo products could benefit the blind — having voice activated lights, televisions, and other home products. To the surprise of folks there, my friend used his text to speech app to tell Alexa to turn on the television creating excitement for the deaf attendees there.

Designing products and services for people with disabilities ends up benefiting everyone else — an intuitive statement but not easily put in practice. Perhaps it’s time for companies to really dive into this concept.

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