Collaborating with our graduates

Inclusive design is a now well-established part of the second year BA Graphic Communication curriculum. We’re proud of how we’ve continued to evolve how we embed inclusive design in the degree since our early Breaking down Barriers team initiatives in 2015 and the impact this has had on both students’ design practice and their research. This academic year, Jeanne-Louise Moys and Rachel Warner invited two recent alumni to share their experience of learning about inclusive design and its relevance to their careers with our current Part 2 cohort.  

Laura Marshall (class of 2019) and Eden Sinclair (class of 2020) both chose dissertation topics related to inclusive design during their BA Graphic Communication studies. Coincidentally, they both now work as Visual Designers for IBM.  

Head and shoulders photograph of a woman in a grey jumper. She has straight hair that hangs over her shoulders.

Laura Marshall

Laura’s dissertation explored the role of braille and digital assistive technologies for people with visual impairments. She collaborated with the Reading Braillists and conducted surveys and interviews to understand the varied reading needs and experiences of the blind community. Her research has subsequently been published in Visible Language.  

Laura says: “Choosing to do a dissertation focusing on inclusive design allowed me to start thinking about designing from a different perspective. Of course, as designers, we understand the fundamentals of accessible design: legibility, text size, colour contrast etc. but it wasn’t until I met and talked to individuals with visual impairments could I truly understand the impact and importance accessible design in their everyday lives. As big and scary as a dissertation seemed, it is probably the piece of work I’m most proud of from my time at Reading, as well as the piece that has impacted me most in my career, so would greatly encourage exploring an area of accessibility you know next to nothing about to change the way you think when you design something new.”

A black and white head and shoulders photograph of a young woman with long, curly hair. She is wearing a dark top. Her head is slightly inclined.

Eden Sinclair

Eden’s dissertation evaluated considerations for user interface design for people with neurodivergence. She looked at visual overload and how motion, brightness and visual metaphor might affect a user’s anxiety and overall experience. She conducted a series of participant studies to explore the impact of different conditions on user experience for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and neurotypical users. Her findings helped her identify relevant recommendations for inclusive user interface design. 

Eden says: “I’m so glad that I has the opportunity to explore inclusivity through my research at Reading, as inclusive design is a part of everything that I do and informs every design that I create.” 

Laura and Eden prepared short, engaging video presentations which we shared with our current Part 2s as online resources. They explained their interests in inclusive design, how they carried out their research and how it has informed their own practice.  

These graduate talks were provided as part of Part 2 Guided Independent Study (GIS), to prepare for a workshop about applying inclusive design guidelines and advice into design practice. A reading list was provided that included literature introducing students to guidelines such as those from the RNIB and checklists for formatting text for visually impaired and dyslexic readers. The talks complemented this literature by demonstrating how some aspects of inclusive design, discussed in the literature, can be implemented in practice. Additionally, the talks demonstrate that designers need to consider the effectiveness of guidelines within specific contexts, needing to make informed decisions about when aspects of guidelines might hinder effective document use.  

In the workshop, led by Rachel Warner, students evaluated a document in regards to inclusive design guidelines and checklists, producing recommendations for a document redesign. Students reported that they enjoyed this activity and the experience of putting theory into practice.

Outputs of the workshop demonstrated that students can grasp the application of basic inclusive design guidelines, such as type size, but need further support to critically evaluate when to apply guidelines and when to choose alternative design choices. An adaptation to the workshop would be to use the graduate talks to frame the workshop at the beginning of the session, rather than relying on students engaging with this content as GIS. 

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.

The Inclusive Way 

Our BdB team are delighted to share our student and staff perspectives on our inspiring February “Inclusive Way” hackathon. 

Four students sitting around a table working with sketches and post-it notes

Hackathon participants discussing ideas

What and when?  

A two-day event open to students from all disciplines and years of study to work with people with particular lived experience of disabilities to respond to a wayfinding brief in ways that champion inclusive design solutions. The event was organised for the February “reading week so that students from different disciplines could work together. 

The ‘hackathon’ concept – traditionally utilised within design and computer science disciplines – provides a pedagogical methodology for community/student engagement, teaching and learning around diversity- and inclusion-sensitive design thinking.  


Fifteen students, five design partners, three industry partners and six members of our multidisciplinary BdB partnership teamed up for the “Inclusive Way” hackathon 

  • Student participants included undergraduates and postgraduates from Architecture and Construction Management, Information Design, Graphic Communication, Modern Languages, Biomedical Engineering, and Real Estate and Planning 
  • They worked with 5 design partners – each living with distinct physical and cognitive impairments. Our design partners included a Reading alumnus and members of the Staff Disability Network. 
  • Zoe Partington from DisOrdinary Architecture joined us via Skype on Day 1. Wayfinding experts, George Sidaoui and Ellie Baker from Applied Wayfinding, and graphic designer, Rachel Warner from Rachel Warner Design joined the teams on Day 2.  
  • Our BdB core team members for the day were: Adrian Tagg (Construction Management and Engineering), Carolina Vasilikou (Architecture), Faustina Hwang (Biomedical Engineering), Jeanne-Louise Moys (Typography & Graphic Communication), Richard Nunes (Real Estate and Planning) and Ugo Marsili (Modern Languages).  


The hackathon took place at our beautiful London Road campus (and we were fortunate to have some good weather for most of the outdoor activities). As a point of departure for our hackathon, we treated the university campus and its immediate urban environments as a microcosm of everyday urban experiences. As such, we are reminded that in a context of growing inequality in our societies, the quality of access to services – from parks to shopping and simply getting around – is often lacking despite the regulatory conditions in place for urban design and development. It also should go without saying that “disability” is a socially-constructed term, legally-mandated consideration in placemaking that in itself can throw up barriers by closing down open discussion/debate surrounding the lived experience of disabled “access”. 


We aimed to encourage a cross-disciplinary, open dialogue that would enable participants to build a shared knowledge base about inclusive design and how design can contribute to the lived experiences of people with disabilities.  

The hackathon offers a unique pedagogic approach to the complex, multi-faceted problems that are so often under-valued when satisfaction with minimum legal standards leave the quality of life of many users compromised and under-appreciated. The ‘Inclusive Way’ set out to enable a range of literacies – of practical skills in inclusive design, empathy and a co-production of knowledge of diverse experiences of physical and cognitive impairment. It sought to enable a hands-on, solutions-based development model that would echo other successful teaching and learning methods such as problem- and inquiry-based learning approaches. 


The first day started with an accessibility treasure hunt to help students look at the campus and its connection to the surrounding public realm and the town centre from an accessibility auditing point of view. We then engaged in group discussions, joined by our design partners and remotely by Zoe Partington (DisOrdinary Architecture) to explore inclusive design principles, practices, opportunities and challenges from different perspectives. 

Two students and a tutor examining an accessible parking bay in an outdoor parking area

Exploring the spatial requirements for accessible parking

We then introduced a wayfinding brief that asked our multidisciplinary teams to consider how inclusive design can increase the physical, cognitive and cultural accessibility for students, staff and visitors finding their way through specific University outdoor public areas with different physical attributes. Responding to the brief, Hackathon participants worked with design partners to identify a range of user needs and discuss potential wayfinding challenges for people with disabilities or particular needs 

Across the two days, each team was invited to collaboratively identify challenges relative to the needs of their design partners, and to propose solutions. Walk-throughs, models, boards and presentations were produced in the process, and discussed together with input from guest industry professionals and BdB tutors. One highlight was the introduction of “the cube” by Ellie and George from Applied Wayfinding – the cube was designed in collaboration with Avanti Avanti and the Universal Design Foundation as a design tool, to probe the extent to which proposed designs work for a range of user needs and scenarios. 

A female student wearing glasses constructing a tactile prototype out of card with raised textures. A tutor and another student are in the background looking at a laptop screen.

Hackathon participants preparing prototypes for their presentation

The culmination of the event was the presentations of the design solutions from the two teams, who shared their proposals and prototypes. After the presentations we had a group discussion to share our insights and reflections from the event, and participants also completed an evaluation survey. 

So what?  

The event highlighted how inclusive design is about supporting independence, social justice and that it’s not about “designing for disabilities” but about designing to support everyone’s needs and lived experiences. As one participant wrote: Inclusive design is not an add-on [of] inclusivity. It is part of our everyday fabric [and] we should respond to it”. 

Hand-drawn map with the word independence written on it in red

Inclusive design is about designing for independence

When asked to rate our event on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the most positive experience, all participants replied with 4 or 5 stars. Their comments suggest that they particularly valued: 

  • Interacting with people with different disabilities and learning from their lived experiences   
  • Cross-disciplinary collaboration and the opportunity to learn from and share diverse perspectives with peers, professionals and tutors. 

Thank you to all participants who made our first hackathon such a success and the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Fund for supporting this event. We are already looking forward to planning our next hackathon. 




Empowering people to become inclusive in their thinking, behaviour and actions

A photograph of a team of students and professionals in a design studio. There are 6 people in the photograph, one of them is seated and the others are standing. On the table are some cardboard prototypes and a laptop.

Hackathon team members Wei, Pavan and Sree (centre) sharing with Michael (seated) and Ellie and George (left) some tactile design prototypes they developed for the inclusive wayfinding brief.

This week our Breaking down Barriers team hosted our first ‘Inclusive Way’ hackathon. Our design teams included participants with personal experience of different conditions and disabilities working with students from a range of disciplines (including Architecture, Biomedical Engineering, Construction Management, Graphic Communication and Modern Languages, Real Estate and Planning). Our teams also had input from industry professionals and our BdB team. We’re delighted to share this guest post from Ellie Baker and George Sidaoui (Applied Wayfinding) with our blog readers.

By Ellie Baker and George Sidaoui, Applied Wayfinding

As creative practitioners working on inclusivity and accessibility projects in the field of wayfinding – we were delighted to have been part of the February 2020 Inclusive Way Hackathon. The hackathon not only tackled the theme of ”inclusivity” as part of its brief. It was in itself inclusive in how it brought together tutors, students, project partners and practitioners from a range of backgrounds and disciplines around one theme, which undeniably unites us all. 

“Inclusivity” is often treated as an add-on. We educate, design, build and introduce policies – and then toward the end of every journey, pause to evaluate that we have been inclusive in our outcome. Sometimes we do not even question having been inclusive or not. Is such approach in itself inclusive? We would say, no. “Inclusivity” needs to be engrained in processes related to education, creative practice and policy-making from the outset. Efforts such as the Inclusive Way Hackathon allow for “inclusivity” to become part of the discussion, the discourse and the norm.

Having collaborated on inclusivity projects with a number of academic and non-academic institutions over the years, we have observed that not enough is being done to empower people to become inclusive in their thinking, behaviour and actions. The Inclusive Way Hackathon proved to be a much-needed empowerment tool that we endorse and hope to see grow in the future. Reading University can continue to help make our world a better place by facilitating a discussion around “inclusivity” such that every individual, in their own way, could be inclusive in their approach to daily life.

Welcoming Ugo to our BdB team

We’re delighted to welcome Ugo Marsili to the BdB team. Ugo brings his experience of working with Blind and Deaf communities, as well as his expertise in languages, to our team.

Portrait of a smiling, dark-haired man in a dark blue shirt

Ugo Marsili

My name is Ugo Marsili, I am a Teaching Fellow (Italian and Spanish) and a module convener for Spanish stage 1 and BSL stage 1 and 2. I have been teaching foreign language courses (Italian and Spanish) on the undergraduate programme of the Institution-Wide Language Programme (IWLP) and in the DMLES as sessional lecturer. I will be Fellow of the HEA this September (pending formaI ratification) and I am a member of the LGBT + Scheme.

I hold a MA in Linguistic and Literary Studies (Polish, South American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese) and a PgDip in audio visual Translation for the Cinema and Performing Arts (subtitling for the Deaf and HoH and Audio Description for the Blind) from the University of Poznań. I hold an MSc in Teaching Italian Language to Adults and a Teacher Training Diploma from DILIT International House. I have been teaching MFL in Poland, Italy, Argentina and UK.

I am a School Champion for Diversity and Inclusion and a member of the steering group. I am very committed to Diversity and Inclusion and work with both the Blind and Deaf communities. I run Deaf Awareness and Blind Awareness session for staff with the CQSD Programme and I collaborate within my School and with other departments to reflect and develop materials for inclusive teaching. The project I am working at the moment is related to the use of Audio Description applied to language teaching.

As a teacher, my main area of interest is in developing students’ speaking skills in a foreign language and the role of the affective filter and its influence in students’ fluency in language learning. In particular my interest is in analysing the strong connection between emotions, memory and language retention of vocabulary and grammar structures in students with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. I try to encourage them to work on their speaking skills inside and outside the classroom. In the past two years, I have been working on a Tandem project between IWLP and Native speaker students (Italian and Spanish) to boost speaking skills and cultural awareness and to enhance the language learning experience.

As an AVT trainer I cooperate with public and private foundations in Poland and UK. Our aim is to enhance employability skills for people living in countries such as Poland, Belarus, Iceland and Georgia and ensure a barrier-free access to culture.  In the next years I am committed to develop and expand the BSL Programme which I am proud is taught here at the University of Reading.

I believe in a non-denominational education based on solidarity and acceptance of the “other”. I encourage students to develop their interpersonal skills in the language they learn as well as feel part of a cultural and linguistic community.

At the University of Reading, our students come from all around the world and this makes their learning experience even more interesting. I like to build a relationship with them and watching them grow as independent learners and motivate them to keep learning other languages.

On a personal note, I studied Oboe at the Conservatory in Rome, Italy. I am into music as I am into learning new languages. I have a background in linguistic and philology in Romance and Slavonic languages and I am always up to learn a new one. I enjoy travelling, sports and cooking.

Welcoming Carolina to our BdB team

We’re delighted to welcome Carolina Vasilikou to our multidisciplinary BdB team!

Portrait-style photograph of a smiling woman with brown eyes, light brown hair wearing a scarf and a blue top

Carolina Vasilikou

Carolina is an architect, researcher and educator, currently working as a lecturer in Architecture at the University of Reading. She holds a MSc in Façade Engineering from the University of Bath and a PhD in Architecture from the University of Kent, were she taught prior to joining Reading. Carolina is also a core member of ‘Urban Transcripts’, a non-profit organisation bringing together research, community participation and urban design, currently developing their Urban Play platform.

Carolina has led projects on sensory research and well-being in urban spaces, including a Digital Humanities project on sensory mapping and an AHRC-funded community engagement project on sensory navigation in heritage cities. She is active in people-centred design and evidence-based research, has given lectures at the Architectural Association, ENSA Paris-Malaquais, Glasgow School of Arts and is member of the ‘International Association of Urban Climate’ (Thermal Comfort working Group) and the CIBSE ‘Intelligent Buildings’ Working Group. As a core member of the Urban Living Group in Reading, she explores embodied multisensory perception in relation to space and movement in complex urban environments, with a performative turn through hybrid practices, community mapping & designing-by-making practices.

Carolina is interested in projects about well-being and public participation through innovative practices, exploring sensory heritage and socio-cultural values of architecture and facets of urban activism and community-led practices. She coordinates and facilitates international workshops on public space (Athens: Transforming the [re]public, 2017), somatics design for able spaces (We are All Able Bodies active workshop, Madrid 2018) and student projects on designing-by-making (per[FORM], 2018; Urban Room Built Structure,  Reading 2019). Member of the International Ambiances Network, Carolina researches movement in its architectural expression to re-define inclusive spaces. She performs as an improviser (CPT, 2018–2019).

Exploring inclusive design in digital publishing

This spring term, our Graphic Communication finalists collaborated with Oxford University Press (OUP) on a digital brief for their Oxford Reading Buddies platform. Students taking our new Advanced Typography optional module were asked to redesign OUP’s Invasive Species title for young readers. OUP’s brief emphasised accessibility requirements and our students were able to really engage with a range of inclusive design considerations.

The contents section of Laura's ebook. Illustrated leaves are encroaching on the title 'Invasive Species' to give a sense of the theme of the book. At the bottom of the screen is a menu with thumbnails of the different sections of the book to help readers choose what they would like to read.

An extract from Laura Marshall’s response to the brief Oxford University Press gave our students to redesign their Invasive Species print title as an interactive ebook. 

Students were expected to develop visual solutions that would meet web accessibility guidelines (especially in terms of legibility and colour combinations) and come up with a typographic system that would correspond with OUP’s font progression guidelines. In addition to working towards compliance with accessibility requirements, students also considered ways in which their designs could really engaging with supporting different learning styles and other user needs.

Part 3 student, Laura Marshall says:

“This project allowed me to explore the challenges of the evolving publishing industry, and apply this in the ideation and design of an interactive eBook, in a way that actively supported my approach. As someone who feels more comfortable designing printed documents, entering the world of digital has allowed me to explore new ways to engage with readers and support design for reading. These included supporting a range of different learning styles to make the learning experience more accessible, as well as gamification experiences such as quizzes which test the reader’s retention. Working closely with Oxford University Press has cemented my passion for the world of publishing, in particular, children’s book design, and I feel that this project has provided me with a relevant and unique portfolio piece.”

OUP’s Head of Design, Primary Product and Schools Marketing, Michelle Campbell and Head of UX/UI Design, Seb Burgess joined us for the project briefing and the very impressive student presentations at the end of the project. Students on this module also enjoyed a mid-project field trip to OUP, which gave them an opportunity for one-to-one feedback from the OUP team and insight into what a career in a publishing life might entail.

Michelle said: “It was a pleasure to work with such talented young people… It was great to see that everyone now has something they can be proud of in their portfolios.”

Seb added: “We were completely bowled over by the standard of the presentations. Really sense that the class have embraced the multi-faceted design thinking that goes into digital service design.”

Working on a digital brief for young readers gave our students an opportunity to apply what they learnt in their inclusive design workshops last year. It was incredibly valuable for them to realise that accessibility is a key consideration for publishers like OUP. The brief enabled students to bring together their typographic, visualisation and interactive skills in a way that really embraced the user-centred design for reading thinking that underpins our programmes.

The Department of Typography & Graphic Communication has run an undergraduate project with OUP every year for the past six years and we were delighted to be able to extend this to a second, digital project this year. This collaboration is beneficial for both the Department and OUP and it’s fantastic to see it evolving in new directions.

Typography student and Reading Braillists collaborate on user-centred inclusive design research

On Saturday the 8thof December, Laura Marshall, one of our Part 3 BA Graphic Communication students, presented her dissertation research at the Reading Braillists meeting. Laura is exploring the role of Braille in today’s society and here she shares her experience of engaging with the Braillist community.

Hi, I’m Laura, a part 3 student studying BA Graphic Communication. With final year of University comes the writing of a dissertation, and for mine I have chosen the topic“An analysis of Braille’s role in today’s multimodal society, and how technological alternatives are potentially influencing its use.” A large part of my research includes talking to people who use Braille and assistive technology for reading. In the hunt to find participants to take part in an online survey and in face-to-face interviews, I began to engage with the Braillist’s forum. I was invited to their December meeting to present my research and meet some of the Braillists that I had been talking to informally over email.

The meeting commenced with my presentation. I talked about my background in Graphic Design, explaining that I was interested in reading strategies and designing documents in a way to ensure they are inclusive as possible. As a designer, the majority of the work I produce is focused on eliciting a visual response in the user / reader, so it was interesting to talk to people with a range of visual impairments, with most of the people there having no sight at all.

I then presented an overview of the research I had done so far for my dissertation. I’ve learnt about different grades of Braille, and how the alphabet has been constructed, as well as history of Braille and how it evolved from Charles Barbier’s Sonography. I have also looked at how Braille has been standardised since its initial invention, and how some of these changes, such as the adaptation of Unified English Braille (UEB) a few years ago have been controversial amongst the Braillists community. However, at the meeting, I learnt that UEB has allowed users to write smiley faces, so I guess it’s not all bad news! 🙂

I also talked about how I am gathering information from people who use Braille and other assistive technologies to explore the preferences and reading behaviours of people who use these reading technologies on an everyday basis. A large part of my research is focused on reading strategies and technology use in different contexts of reading. I’ve researched new assistive technologies which have helped aid Braille’s use such as refreshable Braille displays, as well as others that have made learning Braille optional, such as audio books and screen readers. From the meeting, I have been able to find enough participants to interview face-to-face, which is really good news in terms of writing the next chapter in my dissertation and being able to represent the views and experiences of real people in my research.

After my talk, there was the chance to look at two new Braille technologies. One of which was the Orbit 20 reader, demonstrated by Jen Bottom, the organiser of the event, which released in October of this year. It is a refreshable Braille display, and works by connecting to a phone or other device over Bluetooth. The display then presents the text by updating the Braille cells.

Photograph of the Orbit 20 reader in use on a table in the Reading Braillist's meetingThe Orbit 20 reader in use.

Before the release of the Orbit 20 reader, refreshable Braille displays were expensive, retailing from £1,500 up to £10,000. This meant that this technology was not accessible for the majority of people who would want to use one. The Orbit 20 reader, retailing at £450, allows for many more people in the Braille community to have access to this technology, allowing for resources to be accessed and shared more widely.

As well as this, a prototype of the Canute 360 was demonstratedby Stephanie Sergeant from Vision Through Sound. This will be the world’s first multi-line digital e-reader. It was interesting to see the differences between these two pieces of technology with the same purpose, as the Canute was around 6 times the size of the Orbit 20 reader.

A zoomed in photograph of the Braille cells on the Canute 360 reader

The Canute 360 reader

One of the Braillists at the meeting, Matthew Horspool, had been kind enough to bring some Braille material for me to look at. This included railway maps, a user guide on how to use Windows 7, alongside other examples of Braille which had been produced in different ways. He explained that the method used to create the Windows 7 book was vacuum forming. The layout had to be created from a heat resistant raised surface such as wood, before being placed in a vacuum former. A vacuum then forces heated plastic around the form. This is one of the older methods of producing raised surfaces, but worked well when showing the whole desktop, allowing for the user to visualise what was on screen.

A photograph of a page from a guide to using Windows 7, showing the navigation screen of a computer A photograph of a page from a guide to using Windows 7, showing the navigation screen of a computer

A photograph of a Braille map of the UK, being touched by a hand A close up photograph of a Braille UK railway map

He also showed me the iPhone’s use of a Braille keyboard, and how apps could help a person with visual impairments navigate around the device.

Photograph of the Braille keyboard in use on the iPhoneThe iPhone’s Braille keyboard

The meeting was incredibly inspiring, as well as helping me understand why Braille is so important to many people. Despite my initial nerves, the presentation went well and turned into a discussion. This discussion, as well as the live technology demonstrations gave me some really interesting background knowledge which will aid in writing the rest of my dissertation. I look forward to meeting some of these people again in the New Year when I carry out my face-to-face interviews.

Note: Laura’s research is supervised by Dr Jeanne-Louise Moys.

Introducing our new team members: Welcome Emma Street


Our BdB core team has been joined by a number of new colleagues in the last few months and this is the first of a series of posts introducing some of our new team members.

This is a portrait photograph of Emma. SHe has brown hair, funky glasses and is wearing an vibrant orange top and scarf.

Emma Street has joined our BdB core team.

Dr Emma Street joined the BdB group in 2017. She is Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Governance in the Department of Real Estate and Planning. An urban geographer by background, Emma’s research cuts across the urban planning, urban design and architecture disciplines.

She is interested in the values, assumptions, decisions and processes that shape the way that urban environments look, function and are governed. Emma has a particular interest in exploring this via what might be seen as the mundane, instrumental or procedural; be that building codes and regulations, urban policies or elements of the planning system. For example, her work as part of the EPSRC-funded cycleBOOM project explored how regulation and policies have shaped the landscape of cycling in the UK, and what measures might engage more older adults in cycling.

Concerns about equality and social justice inform Emma’s research and approach to Teaching and Learning. She sits on Henley Business School’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and is working on research linked work-life balance in academia, partly prompted by her experiences as a new parent.

Welcome Emma!

BdB initiatives incorporated into two more programmes at Reading

Yesterday, students from four of our distinct MA programmes (Typeface Design, Book Design, Creative Enterprise and Information Design) participated in our inclusive design workshops.This is the first time that MA Typeface Design and MA Book Design students have participated in some of our Breaking down Barriers initiatives. Inclusive design activities, with a particular focus on inclusive wayfinding, was introduced into the MA Information Design and MA Creative Enterprise programmes in 2016–7.

Guest speaker, Fiona Corby talked to students about inclusive design for people who have visual impairments. Fiona highlighted how design decisions for new platforms (particularly touchscreens), professional software, websites and mobile phones can make user experiences very frustrating. She drew on her personal experience of braille, ClearVision books and using screenreading technologies like Jaws to engage students with concrete considerations for  inclusive design and reading. She also shared key points to consider for making data visualisation, tables and images more accessible to people with visual impairments.

After asking Fiona lots of questions, the students explored other aspects of inclusive design by evaluating different printed and screen design while using a range of glasses simulating different kinds of visual impairments and simulation gloves. Students noted how these activities helped them realise how many “everyday” actions and experiences are affected by conditions affecting our visual acuity or dexterity.