BdB were delighted to share the project’s activities with a delegation of visiting academics from Sri Lanka, hosted by Professor Lynn McAlpine from the University of Oxford. The purpose of the visit was to learn more about teaching and learning in the UK, to inform the development of new programmes in Bachelor of ICT and Bachelor of Engineering Technology in Sri Lanka.
Yesterday BdB were proud to welcome Penny Mordaunt, Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health to the University. As part of her visit, the Minister experimented with a number of projects contributing to a more inclusive world and simulation tools exploring the everyday challenges people face in relation to a range of disabilities and conditions.
“Inclusivity and accessibility should be at the forefront of good design, and I’m delighted to see the University of Reading leading the way with their Breaking down Barriers scheme,” said Mordaunt.
Our BdB team is thrilled today to hear that the University has chosen Breaking down Barriers as its nominated contender for the Higher Education Academy’s (HEA) new Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE). Feedback from the shortlisting process noted that, among the other criteria, BdB has particular strengths in relation to demonstrating direct involvement of students in the project and evidencing creative solutions to a challenge, situation or problem.
Congratulations to all our staff and students who have contributed to this exciting achievement.
This morning, our BdB team led our first staff development workshop for staff across the University. The workshop, ‘Educating for 21st-century lives: a practical and inclusive approach’, explored the importance of embedding inclusive design in our curricula, the value of this for employability, and the role of simulation tools in developing awareness and understanding.
In the first part of the workshop, participants considered ways in which they can embed inclusive design in their curricula and activities. Thereafter, they had fun exploring the impact of different kinds of impairments on everyday activities, using the simulation equipment we have invested in. These include: bariatric and geriatric suits, simulation gloves, and glasses simulating a range of visual impairments. Participants considered different applications of inclusive design from the built environment to design for digital and printed communications and packaging. At the end of the workshop, we discussed ways in which we can collaborate on new initiatives to promote best practice in inclusive design across the University.
Last week, BdB looked deeper into issues around colour and accessibility with visiting speaker Dr David Flatla.
David is a Lecturer and founding director of the Digitally-Augmented Perception Research Lab (DAPRlab) at the University of Dundee. DAPRlab seeks to digitally enhance the perceptual abilities of people with both atypical and typical sensory abilities. David’s particular research interests lie in developing personalised models and new assistive technology to help people with impaired colour vision. His previous work has received Best Paper awards from CHI and ASSETS, and he received a Canadian Governor General’s Gold Medal for his PhD research.
David described his involvement with recent bottom-up (assistive tech) and top-down (designers) approaches to addressing challenges for users with different kinds of impaired colour vision (ICV – more commonly known as colourblindness). Colour vision is a vital component of everyday living and its loss can severely limit a person’s livelihood, threaten health and safety, make food preparation difficult, and even challenge someone’s social acceptability. In spite of these complications, visual designs that employ inaccessible colour choices abound, and people who experience impaired colour vision have little assistive technology to help overcome these challenges.
David’s talk was well-received by the undergraduate and postgraduate students from different programmes who attended the talk. Leo Poppa, a final year MEng Cybernetics student said “David’s presentation provided me with invaluable perspective of how people with ICV perceive and interact with objects in the world. What surprised me the most was that both people with impaired sensory capabilities as well as those with ‘typical’ abilities could be assisted by his research, something I had not taken into account. Whilst colour accessibility is easy for engineers to overlook when designing and implementing a product, I feel that this seminar provides a concise set of techniques that can be used to improve accessibility of future engineering projects. Hence, this talk is a must-see for any engineer wishing to improve their design practices.”
Typography undergraduate Ryzard Akita is designing a prototype for a food app for users with visual-impairments as part of his final year self-directed project. Ryzard said: “David’s talk on colour accessibility was very insightful. He highlighted the importance of understanding inclusive design and discussed how individuals live with ICV on a daily basis. Unfortunately, colour accessibility is something that is often overlooked in the design industry. So to counter this David encourages designers not be one minded and has suggested tools available to aid the inclusive design process.
“This was an eye opener for me as there was so much to take into consideration. I was even fortunate enough to speak to David himself after his talk. He gave me further advice on my University project and even explained in detail how these tools can be applied to my design process. I truly believe that I benefited from this talk and I recommend it to any designer who is unaware about the importance of considering colour accessibility.”
David’s visit was hosted by BdB team member Faustina Hwang and the School of Systems Engineering. Our BdB team look forward to hosting more seminars with cross-disciplinary relevance.
This month, our Built Environment students learnt about the importance of prioritising inclusive design through simulation. Using specialised equipment such as bariatric suits, simulation gloves and wheelchairs to simulate different conditions, students gained insight into the kinds of everyday difficulties that people with various disabilities are likely to experience when using a building. The students undertook a number of everyday tasks such as walking up and down stairs, and using a lift and toilet facilities.
Wearing bariatric suits, students first experienced the challenges of using small spaces such as lifts and toilet facilities. Some of the lifts in the building used in the exercise were fairly small, leaving little room for personal space once two people had entered the lift. Similarly, there was little room to manoeuvre inside the gent’s toilet cubicle, making entering and leaving difficult, and sitting down extremely cramped. Students experienced how the width of the cubicle was inadequate for a person with a large build, with almost no room to move their arms when sitting.
Using wheelchairs with large wheels that can be propelled by the user, students experienced difficulties with using lifts and other means of access. In particular, they discovered that one of the ramps up to the URS Building is very steep, which meant that it was a quick ride down, but required some expenditure of energy to get back up the slope again. They noted that the wheelchair seemed unstable going up the ramp, unless the user bent forward in the chair. Leaning back in the chair and pushing the wheels resulted in the front lifting up. The students also attempted to move across a gravel bed, which proved quite difficult. The final task for the wheelchair user was to experience using one of the disabled WCs in the URS building. This proved to be quite a challenge, as there did not appear to be any simple way of moving from the wheelchair onto the loo itself. Although there are rails that can be used to hold onto whilst moving out of the wheelchair, the rail on the left (nearest to the wheelchair user here) seemed to be more of a barrier, rather than an aid. One student almost managed the task, but only by literally lifting him up and over the rail. This was an enlightening experience into the difficulties faced by wheelchair users, and also by the designers of accessible WCs.
The final task for students was to wear simulation gloves while performing everyday tasks, such as using a mobile phone, a laptop, or just using the handle on a door. The plastic strips on the gloves reduces the amount of strength and control that you can apply when undertaking a simple task like this, making gripping the object more difficult.
Geoff Cook and Christina Duckett led the workshop, with assistance from our new team member Nic Hollinworth (who also wrote this blog).
This week we held two more BdB workshops for second year typography students. The workshops – led by Jeanne-Louise Moys – focused on:
- highlighting general considerations for best practice in inclusive graphic designers
- using various kinds of graphic differentiation to improve visual clarity and contrast for colourblind users and
- creating awareness of the needs and preferences of users with limited dexterity.
In the dexterity sessions, students wore simulation gloves to experience how conditions like arthritis affect how users can interact with digital devices (e.g. laptops and mobile phones) and paper artefacts. Working in pairs, they recorded and shared each other’s observations and interactions on a group discussion board in Blackboard.
Laptop interactions: Students noted how the gloves made them aware of how difficult, slow and uncomfortable it was to type on their laptop given that they could not bend their fingers as much as they usually do. They also highlighted that it was extremely difficult to scroll and use the trackpad on their laptops for navigation and doing Mac-based interactions like zooming in and out. Most of them said that clicking was ‘okay’ but noted that it could be difficult to select the right thing on screen and know for sure if they had activated it.
Mobile interactions: With their mobile phones, the students experimented with things they do every day from typing to games. They were particularly surprised at how difficult it was to pick up and grip the phone. Instead of using their thumbs for many actions, they had to use their index fingers. They also found it hard to swipe and had to rely on tap gestures to interact with apps. Some buttons became inaccessible. For example, they noted that they had to use a different button in order to be able to take a selfie and that it was difficult to access the phone’s on/off button.
Paper interactions: Students explored how using different paper sizes, stocks, print finishes and binding methods can make it easier or more difficult for users with limited dexterity to read booklets, leaflets, magazines and newspapers. Based on their experiential learning, students identified that:
- Smaller artefacts are easier for users to grip
- Heavier paper stocks make it easier for users to turn pages
- Resting an object on a table makes it easier for users to turn pages (although this factor needs to be considered in combination with reading distances)
- Grainy and matt paper stocks are easier to turn and handle than glossy stocks or print finishes.
These two workshops embedded inclusive design into yet another BA Graphic Communication module – Integrated Design Methods 2B (TY2INTB). Building on the workshops we held in Design Thinking (TY2DT) last term, our second year typography students have been introduced to a range of inclusive design considerations. They are now working on applying their knowledge to their design of mobile apps for tablet and mobile phone devices in their practical module Integrated Design Methods 2A (TY2INTA). One student, Alice Watkins, has decided to design her recipe app especially for users with visual impairments.
From a T&L perspective, using simulation gloves to interact with everyday objects provided students with a fun opportunity for task-based learning. Jeanne-Louise reported that it was particularly rewarding to observe how much the students learnt through their own discovery and how this enabled them to reflect on their design practice.