Designing for Disabilities
It was during a part-time language course several years ago that I struck up a conversation with a young architect. He had a new challenge with the firm he was working for to conceptually re-design a hospital to be more disabled-friendly. He moaned, believing it to be a boring project. I thought the opposite. How much of what we use everyday – busses, trains, elevators, hospitals – are actually designed with a holistic, functional goal, even for able-bodied people – and not just fodder for an architect’s ego? Not much. To be in a wheelchair, or suffering with speech impairment from a stroke must be a nightmare.
Reading an article recently on the BBC about technology helping the disabled, it’s striking to think how in this era of apps and democratized communication it must be helping those with difficulties. Yes and no, apparently. Robin Christopherson from AbilityNet says that the avalanche of open source developments leave a gaping hole in the investments necessary to make things like software, a reality beyond the beta test, “It is one of these strange situations where a closed environment like the IOS (Apple’s operating system) actually lends itself far more to make sure that accessibility is catered for.
“It’s pretty much a free for all in the Android environment and because it’s a disparate community working on open source software, the first thing that goes out the window is accessibility.”
It also seems that in the rush to make everything easier for users of computers, telephones and communication devices that the thought is often left out of what to do for people without the same functionality. ‘Inclusive design’ is the next level of challenge for those working in technology, or any industry, on a design or formation level; things like the voice-activated Siri on a smartphone is an impressive start, and one idea that has a broad base of usability. There are also new strides in eye-tracking controlled computers, an amazing area of technology that should help scores of people use machines with just their eyes. The necessity is getting large brands like Apple, Google and Microfoft to really think outside of the box and be inclusive in their approach. And then put their money behind it.