Students and expert assistive technology users collaborate to ensure design works for all
04 January 2017
Expert AT users and product design students collaborating on new design concepts
How can design work for all people, regardless of ability or disability? How do you design for all people and all needs? An exhibition on universal design on display at the National Museum, at Collins Barracks, shows how design can be universally accessible. The designs were co-created by students and expert assistive technology (AT) users – people with disabilities who are highly skilled in the use of AT.
Officially opening on January 24, 2017 in the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks, this exhibition showcases a co-creation design process, originated as part of the Community Design Challenge – a project which grew out of a longstanding partnership between Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and Enable Ireland.
On display are a range of recent student design creations, developed through a process where adults with disabilities and product design students collaborate to co-create design concepts which address daily living challenges.
Enable Ireland and DIT have enjoyed a productive partnership since 2008, when the National Assistive Technology Training Service and the DIT Product Design course first collaborated with a view to responding to the express needs of adult AT users who reported extensive frustration with the design of many AT products and devices. At that time, many AT products were very expensive, manufactured in low volumes and were aesthetically unpleasing. All of these factors impacted on a high rate of abandonment, mirrored by international research which reports abandonment rates of up to 60 per cent of AT devices.
The motivation for engagement in this partnership by DIT was complementary but distinctly different to that of Enable Ireland. The relationship between companies and the community has been changing from one where a company tries to do no harm, to one that can benefit the community. To encourage this, institutions that accredit higher education courses and provide university ranking tables, have assessed universities on their levels of community engagement. This has led to DIT developing strong links with communities through various engagements where student gain first-hand experience of assessing and managing projects that can benefit their community.
This partnership between DIT’s Product Design course and Enable Ireland is an example of one such community engagement initiative. Product design students have a unique experience when it comes to community engagement. They meet members of the community who feel excluded by the design of everyday products. By employing universal design guidelines, product design students and community members design products that also work for those with disabilities. DIT has realised the unique knowledge that these members of the community possess, and the added value which they bring to the student learning experience.
Community Design Challenge
Each year, the participants (product design students and expert AT users) of the Community Design Challenge meet over two sessions where they workshop design concepts to address daily living challenges. Over the past two years, engineering students from Purdue University in Indiana have also participated.
Participants are divided into teams, usually six to nine teams per year, and all team members are expected to engage actively in communication with one another to develop their design concept between the dates of the first and second legs of the competition. On the second date, each team presents its design concept to the entire group. A judging panel, composed of at least one expert AT user, and a staff member from Enable Ireland and DIT, review all design concepts and identify a winner. Sponsorship from Leckey, a Northern Irish company specialising in the design and manufacture of postural mobility devices, means that all members of the winning team receive an award, at an annual awards ceremony in Microsoft.
The winning concept in the 2016 Community Design Challenge was a bowling app for individuals who are blind, to enable them to access bowling results on their phone via WiFi or Bluetooth.
“This collaboration was a great experience,” said Elizabeth, one of the expert AT users, involved in the challenge. “The students were very passionate about getting the product right for my needs. For me, it was really great to see students coming up with a really viable solution that would solve a lot of other people’s needs too,” she said.
Partnership with Collins Barracks
For the past three years, the challenge has taken place at the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks. This year, the museum invited the project partners to put the work on display in an exhibition entitled Universal Design, on display at the museum until June 2017.
Through the meetings at the museum with the expert users, students worked to create design plans that address these challenges in creative, innovate and novel ways. New ideas emerged for AT solutions ranging from letter opening devices to novel ways to improve wheelchair mobility.
The goal of this exhibition is to raise the profile of DIT students learning with the community through innovative co-creation and to promote this method of working to the designers and investors of the present and future, and ultimately refine this process to improve the potential of the best designs getting to market.
The exhibition highlights the importance of universal design as a means to removing social barriers for people with disabilities. Within an iconic venue, exhibiting these designs underscores the value of this work, and highlights creative ways in which challenges experienced by individuals with disabilities can be addressed through true collaboration.
Authors: Siobhán Long, manager, National Assistive Technology Training Service, Enable Ireland and Bernard Timmins, lecturer, product design, Dublin Institute of Technologyhttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/2017/01/04/students-expert-users-assistive-technology-design/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/AT-DIT-Enable.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/AT-DIT-Enable-300x300.jpgNewsassistive technology,design,DIT,Enable Ireland,technology