The Inclusive Way – a participant perspective

Elspeth Slater is a Part 1 Graphic Communication student who took part in our Inclusive Way Hackathon. We asked her to share her reflections about the event.

Why did I sign up?

I wanted to take part in the Inclusive Wayfinding Hackathon because I want to design for people with learning difficulties and disabilities after I graduate. Participating in the Hackathon would give me an opportunity to collaborate with people that I wouldn’t usually work with, and gain experience in the field I hope to go into in the future.

What is a Hackathon?

A Hackathon is a ‘design sprint’-like process, where designers work together to plan and create an end product. The process involves a certain amount of time planning and gathering ideas and then collaborating and creating the final outcome.

Who took part?

Students from all over the university were invited to take part in the Hackathon. We had participants from Architecture, Graphic Design and Engineering to name a few. Together we were Alice, Jeremy, Lena, Lincoln, Pavan, Sree, Toby, Wayne, and me, Elspeth. The nine of us were joined by the Breaking down Barriers team – Carolina Vasilikou, Adrian Tagg, Faustina Hwang, Jeanne-Louise Moys, Rachel Warner, Richard Nunes and Ugo Marsili – who aim to promote inclusive design within the University. Throughout the two days the Hackathon took place, we were joined by people with different disabilities, Michael Fadeyi, Yota Dimitriadi, James Church, Ranjita Dhital and. They were able to share first-hand experiences of situations in which more inclusive design would have helped them.

On the second day we were joined by designers from Applied Wayfinding. The two representatives, Ellie Baker and George Sidaoui, were able to introduce us to how Applied Wayfinding are a design agency who are constantly thinking of new ways in which design can be altered to help people find their way around certain places. For example, they showed us that it was not necessarily just a case of designing for a particular disability such as a partially sighted person, but that a person could also have mental health issues or other particular circumstances, temporary or long-term, which may need to be considered.

Two images shown side by side of a ramp and road markings

Our teams explored ways in which we could introduce new ways of making everyday environments more inclusive

What did we have to do?

The Inclusive Wayfinding Hackathon was an opportunity for people from all areas of the University to truly understand the challenges that those with disabilities face on a daily basis. We were able to work together in teams to find solutions to these problems with help from visitors who experience them first-hand.

The Hackathon was held on the London Road Campus over two days, one day for information gathering and the other for finalising and presenting our ideas. After getting to know each other we got straight to work!

As an icebreaker challenge, all participants took a treasure hunt tour of the London Road campus. We had to find certain things that those with disabilities would also look for or need. For example, corduroy strips, railings or automated doors. If we had any comments, we had to write them down. The campus was good it seemed with textured surfaces, but some smaller details had been overlooked, for example railings not reaching to the final parts of a ramp, or dropped curbs not being adjacent at crossings. After we had fed back about the task, we had a briefing with Adrian about Health and Safety and inclusivity movements.

In the afternoon we were joined by several individuals with disabilities. In two groups we were able to interview them and ask them any questions we may have about their conditions and the challenges they face on a day to day basis. There were no inhibitions when asking the volunteers questions about their experiences and they were very kind and answered with the utmost detail, which was particularly helpful. This allowed us to create ideas as to what wayfinding features would be most useful for them. The last activity of the day was to collate our ideas together and to pitch them to the rest of the group for feedback.

On the second day we were again joined by the volunteers, and we began to think about how we were going to make prototypes of our ideas. We had to consider materials, texture and accessibility. At lunch time we were joined by Ellie and George who were able to give us guidance and answer any queries we had about designing for those with disabilities. They showed us a ‘Cube’ (created in collaboration with Avanti Avanti and the Universal Design Foundation) which was a way of generating ways in which people with disabilities may have different needs or wants. The ‘Cube’ could be adapted for different projects, so could be used in a wide range of scenarios. It was a good way to visualise and realise that some individuals don’t have just one impairment. Travel, special needs, colours and textures were all considered carefully when designing inclusively.

After we had created our prototypes, we had to present our ideas to the rest of the group and visitors. We then listened to their feedback and responded to any questions they had.

Overall, the Hackathon was a good way of opening the eyes of the younger generation to the needs of others we may skim across in every day designing. Having an open mind to inclusivity is an important skill to have in the modern world, and the Hackathon taught us these skills, so we may use them in the future.

A man and a women seated on adjacent chairs in a classroom/studio, holding a cube.

A man and a women seated on adjacent chairs in a classroom/studio, holding a cube

What did I learn?

This Hackathon has taught me that it is important in the design world to remember that there are others to consider who have a very different life experience to me. I had not truly understood how those with disabilities are able to adapt to their environments so differently to those without. Having a range of people to listen to throughout the Hackathon also made me aware of how every base must be covered in order for everyone to feel included within design. This experience has changed my outlook on design, and has certainly impacted on how I will design in the future, whether that is through texture, colour, size or availability of resources. Those who wish to gain a different perspective on the design world, and to meet with people who can give you invaluable advice on the world of inclusive design, should definitely take part in the Hackathon. It reawakens the environment in which you live, and helps you see things through the eyes of others.