Designers enter dialogue with disabled users

Tomorrow a panel of top technology designers will come face-to-face with their disabled consumers, in a pioneering consultation at the University of Dundee.

Representatives from major companies such as BT, Hagger, 1st Class Media and Remap will take part in a day of seminars aimed at finding out how everyday technology can be more effectively used by disabled people, and how they might become more involved in the design process.

The User Day is the culmination of a £250 000, two-year long investigation by the university into the relationship between design and disability. The morning session will be spent looking at mobile phones, while the afternoon will focus on computer technology.

Leading the project is Professor Jennifer Harris, of the university’s School of Social Work and Community Education, who believes that there is huge scope for collaboration, as boundaries between design, technology and social policy become ever-more fluid.

‘Increasingly, we are beginning to see people making links between all these disciplines,’ says Harris.

‘It’s very important that the design industry considers the role it has in relation to disability, and the potential it could have in shaping social policy and influencing Government decisions.’

Harris points out many areas where design has developed to ‘exclude’ rather than ‘include’ people with disabilities – such as with the ever-decreasing size of mobile technology.

‘There is a long chain between someone having an idea for a product and the person actually receiving it, so in many cases what the consumer gets is something that doesn’t assist them,’ she says. ‘We want to work out these communication issues and have a frank discussion about ways in which we might solve them.’

Research has found that around a third of the technology allocated to disabled people is abandoned very early on because of usability issues.

The User Day will mainly focus on issues of size, accessibility, reliability and affordability.

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