Five things to consider in co-design with people with a disability

Co-design is a process by which groups of people with different experiences and perspectives work collectively and collaboratively to produce ideas, concepts, and designs to address a challenge. For people with a disability, it helps to move them from being ignored, or at best consulted to review designs to being engaged in the design process from start to finish. By engaging people with a diversity of needs, we plan to develop more inclusive concepts and which work for the broadest number of people.

In the TRIPS project (https://trips-project.eu/), we seek to create innovative design concepts to support mobility and transport. We applied this process in a series of workshops and learned some useful things to guide other workshops in the future.

Materials must be accessible

Accessibility of materials goes beyond simply making sure that someone who uses assistive technology can access the content. Allowing time for people to prepare themselves and to feel confident going into the workshop is equally valid. A good starting point was to ensure that everyone received any slides before the sessions, to familiarise themselves with the content. Such materials needed to be in an accessible format suitable for use by those with print impairments, including low vision.

Often, researchers want to represent complex ideas with complicated diagrams. We found it helpful to step back from the details and look at the content carefully to reduce visual complexity. Some researchers could become concerned about the security of their materials. It was important to trust our participants and be prepared to make them available in various formats, including Word documents, if that was most comfortable to attendees.

People with a disability are diverse

People with disabilities do not all have the same need. This impacts upon their view of the challenges and, ultimately, the design concepts they contribute. It may sound obvious, but the barriers experienced by people who are blind are not the same as those experienced by someone who uses a wheelchair. But even within an area of human function, individual needs can vary. Someone who has little or no hearing, and uses sign language as a first language, faces different issues to someone who manages their hearing loss using a hearing aid. Both are valid but may have different requirements for a successful design.

Establish shared and common understanding

Preparation is essential to ensure that time spent in the workshop is productive. There is much value in making sure there is a common understanding of concepts that will be introduced. This might mean preparing briefing documents that introduce concepts and which invite everyone to consider before working together. We found that this was likely to stimulate creativity and innovation.

In our workshops, these include:

  • What are the emerging technologies, including use in other areas of life?
  • What do we mean by disability and the social model of disability?
  • What are the barriers experienced in transport and mobility by people with a disability?
  • Capture ideas in multiple ways

Offering alternative ways to capture ideas can help reduce barriers to creativity and imagination. For some people taking part, this could be notes or bullets in a document; others might prefer to be able to draw their idea as a picture or diagram, whilst others preferred us to capture their thoughts as a video or sound recording. Whatever means of capturing ideas is used, we must try to make sure that they contain the same information to understand the concept and make comparisons.

  • Use shared time purposefully.

For many people, the last 18 months have been spent living lives through a screen. As a result, it is increasingly vital that we take care to treat time as a scarce resource. We found that too much time spent introducing teams or icebreaking was unproductive because participants wanted to engage in the work as soon as possible. Managing time was also important to build the trust of everyone taking part. We found that it was helpful to display a timer that counted down the available time during exercises.

Making good use of time also needed groups to retain focus; we encouraged facilitators to repeat questions or tasks every few minutes or give additional prompts to help maintain focus. Equally, it was helpful not to get unduly focussed on the detail between exercises, instead to return to the bigger picture whilst setting each new exercise in the context of the workshop’s overarching objective.  

Summary

Co-Design is an ideal way of thoroughly engaging people with a disability in formulating solutions to complex challenges. But co-design is a process that requires thought and preparation to ensure that everyone has a purposeful and productive experience.

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