Inclusive design of ICT: The challenge of diversity

Publication details

Background: Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are currently an integrated part of society. Being able to take part in the information society is a prerequisite for fully being able to take part in society. The goal of “Universal design”, “design for all” and similar approaches, collectively referred to as inclusive design approaches (IDAs) in this thesis, is the development of products and services that are accessible and easy to use for as many people as possible, including people with disabilities and the elderly.
Aim: The aim of this work has been to study the challenges related to the inclusive design of ICTs, and in particular, the challenges related to design for diversity. Secondly, it has been to explore two seemingly opposing objectives in inclusive design; namely, the need for flexibility on the one hand, and the need for simplicity on the other hand. A third aim has been to study the practise of inclusive design in light of the knowledge from previous work within user-centred and participatory design.
Method: This work is based upon qualitative research from seven research projects on the universal design of ICT. The methods used in these projects have been focus groups, observation and interviews, personas and technical-accessibility testing. More than 150 participants with a wide range of capabilities have been involved in these research projects.
Contributions: This work has resulted in the following contributions:
1) Based upon examination of the current empirical material and previous and related research, the important elements of inclusive design were identified and discussed.
2) The need for flexibility of inclusively designed ICT solutions is investigated. Several types of flexibility in the empirical research material at hand were examined. Although some types of flexibility may be necessary in inclusive design, it is found that this flexibility might easily lead to complexity. Complexity will in turn be in conflict with the creation of ICT solutions that are simple and easy to use, which is another requirement of inclusive design. Five strategies to reduce the overall complexity of ICT solutions are therefore proposed.
3) A deepened understanding of inclusive design is sought by analysing, comparing and contrasting the various experiences from inclusive design in this research with knowledge from user-centred and participatory design. While it is found that a focus on user involvement is at least as important in inclusive design as in previous approaches, it is underscored that it is necessary to rethink and to be clear about the reasons and purpose behind the user involvement. The focus should be on involving users in inclusive design because it fosters innovation and mutual learning, it increases the motivation of the development team and because participants can offer important aid in prioritising activities during the design process. Based on this research, some advice with regard to selecting users and the application of methods in an inclusive design context is given.
Conclusions and future work: This research has summarised important elements of inclusive design and deepened our understanding of the challenge of diversity when designing for everybody. It has contributed with some measures to meet these challenges, and pointed out a number of open questions and areas for further work.