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Marking Global Accessibility Awareness Day at Design Club

Students at West London Free School have been coming up with ideas to help users with a disability or barrier make new friends

Selection of images showing different disabilities and barriers — printed from Google image search

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Thanks to prompting from Lee, we’ve been discussing ways to introduce access and inclusion as part of the design thinking process at after school Design Clubs.

Disabilities and barriers

One way to introduce accessibility is to add a new worksheet at the Define or Empathise stages. This would compliment our existing Choose a person to design for and Choose a challenge worksheets. And create an optional extra to use alongside our People and Challenge cards.

To make sure we included a broad range of accessibility issues, we looked at the Diverse Abilities and Barriers categories from W3C — and narrowed the list down to eight:

  1. Has arthritis (in hands)
  2. Is in a wheelchair
  3. Is deaf
  4. Has a visual impairment
  5. Can’t speak English
  6. Has ADHD
  7. Has dyslexia
  8. Has dementia
Year 7 students at West London Free School working on the inclusive design challenge

People, challenges and “what ifs”?

We haven’t made the worksheet yet. So to test how best to incorporate these issues, I experimented with a selection of images printed from Google image search (not copyright compliant, but ok for classroom testing).

We’ve been impressed with our (founding supporter) Idean’s Cards for Humanity. I considered introducing a disability or barrier at random (eg: put the images face down and pick one), but the students do this when choosing a person.

It’s the first time this cohort of students have done Design Club, so we’re all working on the same challenge: help your person to make new friends. And we’re using the Design a helpful mobile app A3 mini project to get familiar with the design process.

To try something different — and keep up engagement levels — I spread the images face up on the table and asked children to pick one that resonated with them or was interesting. And then talk a little with the others about what they thought was happening in the image.

The Design a helpful mobile app A3 mini project worksheets with the first 3 sections completed

How it worked

First children chose a user from Design Club’s People cards. Then they spent 15 minutes filling out the first two sections of the worksheet: Frame your design challenge and Create a profile of your user.

The characters on our People cards are fictional, so children use their imagination to think about where their person lives and what their situation is. This always brings out something interesting. This time one pair decided their person was going to be living in the future — in 2080. I can’t wait to see what sort of world is reflected in their app!

Then each pair presented their person and challenge to the group, explaining why their particular person needed to make new friends.

At this point normally, we’d move straight on to section 3 on the worksheet, Brainstorm ideas. Instead I introduced a new “What if..?” slide. I added this to the Create a profile of your user section in our Design a helpful mobile app mini project slide deck.

The new “What if…” slide added to the Design a helpful mobile app mini project slides

How the discussion went

This worked really well. Children enjoyed looking at the images and trying to work out what was happening. Some of the images were obvious and others took them a while to work out. But they enjoyed debating and arguing with each other. They were keen to find out what the disability or barrier was. And good at guessing. They showed nice awareness of people around them, and agreed all the issues quickly.

I asked the children if they knew what day was coming up, and told them about Global Accessibility Awareness Day. I told them we were going to sketch out some design ideas to help people with accessibility issues and share them on our social media today. They were quite excited by this.

I asked them to consider which disability or barrier they thought their person might be likely to have. Here’s what they chose:

  • Richard, 12, is deaf
  • Mia, 21, is dyslexic
  • Jeremy, 42, can’t speak English
  • Henry, 82, is in a wheelchair

I was amazed at how easily this worked, especially with the last two. The children had had a lot of fun “playing God” and deciding lots of fine details about their people. Now they were quite invested in them.

Real life examples

While the children were discussing the different issues, I asked them questions like:

  • What does accessibility mean?
  • Can you think of an example in the real world of how something’s been designed to help someone with a disability?

I showed my group the book Disguised and told them the story of industrial designer Pat Moore who lived as an old woman for 3 YEARS! I asked them if they could guess what everyday object she designed as one result of her experiment.

After a bit of directed prompting the children guessed the answer: a potato peeler! I showed them the easy grip peeler we have from home. They were really interested and passed it round and all wanted a feel of it.

Filling out section 4: Sketch the start screen and three key screens

Bringing accessibility to life

The “What if…” question threw a curveball into the Brainstorm ideas activity. Just as it might for real people when they experience an accessibility issue. What was really cool is how the discussion opened up.

For example, when we talked about Richard being deaf, I asked if any of the children spoke British sign language. One of the boys said he used to (although he’d forgotten it) because when he was born he’d been hard of hearing and couldn’t speak. Another boy said he’d had glue ear and had had a grommet fitted, and had been slow to speak too.

These were stories we never would have heard if we hadn’t started discussing accessibility issues. The discussion created empathy within the group and seemed to help the children to bond. It was great to see the ideas they came up with:

  • FriendCord: helps Richard, 12, make new friends by adding closed captions to all voice chats.
  • The Reading Club: helps Mia, 21, find new friends to help her read.
  • WAFF (Walk And Find Friends): helps Jeremy, 42, make friends using a text translation feature. New profiles are unlocked as he walks.
  • Vintage Reach: helps Henry, 82, find new friends nearby who are also in a wheelchair. And go outside to meet them.

I can’t wait to see the full designs in Marvel next week!

Are you interested in running an after school Design Club? Join our Meetup group to get an invite to our next online event.




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Jemima Gibbons

Jemima Gibbons

Engagement, social media and content design / co-founder @DesignClub / #techmums #oneteamgov / #MonkeysWithTypewriters book + blog / #ABeachWithWiFi blog

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