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Design for All and Assistive Technology for computer science and design students
In this article I outline my background in teaching and conducting research on "design for all" and assistive technology. I then discuss definitions of these two terms, which are not straightforward, and present some of the arguments for including them in computing and design curricula. Finally I present a number of exercises that I have successfully used in teaching these topics with undergraduate and graduate computer science students and web design students.
I am currently professor of human-computer interaction (HCI) in the Department of Computer Science at the University of York in the United Kingdom . In the department we teach a number of undergraduate degrees in computer science. Students studying either a degree in Computer Science or Computer Science with Mathematics take an introductory course on the design of interactive systems in the second year of their course. This course includes a component on "design for all" (DfA) and assistive technologies (AT). We also have a taught Masters degree for students with only a limited computing background (MSc in Information Technology); this degree has a similar introductory course on the design of interactive systems with a DfA/AT component. Both undergraduate and MSc students undertake a research project as part of their degree, and projects on the design of interactive systems, many of which concern DfA/AT topics, are always popular. In the 2008/2009 academic year we will launch a Masters degree specifically on the design of interactive systems which will have a substantial DfA/AT component.
My original training was in psychology, culminating in a PhD in cognitive and experimental psychology. I subsequently became interested in how people interact with computers and why they have such difficulties in doing so. In order to understand more about the computer side of human-computer interaction, I took a year out of my academic career to return to being a student and took a Masters degree in computer science (very similar to the MSc in IT on which I now teach at York). Then, quite by chance, I was introduced to the use of computers and other new technologies for disabled people, initially for people with visual disabilities. That research and teaching topic has continued to be my passion for the last 12 years.
My first research efforts on computers for visually disabled people were on access to the then new Microsoft Windows graphical user interface , . I also worked on one of the first personal navigational systems for visually disabled and elderly people, the MoBIC system , . I have always been influenced by my background in psychological methodologies, and have tried to bring rigorous design of user requirements and evaluation studies and appropriate statistical analysis of data to the design and evaluation of technologies for disabled and elderly people , .
More recently I have conducted considerable amounts of research on the accessibility of the World Wide Web for people with disabilities , , , , , , . My research team conducted the two largest and most detailed studies of web accessibility to date , . These studies went beyond the standard methodology of testing websites for conformance to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) , to investigate whether websites are usable by people with disabilities and the relationship between conformance, accessibility and usability. This work has lead to several projects that have involved teaching professional web developers about web accessibility. In a project for the U.K. government's Culture Online
accessibility. In a project for the U.K. government's Culture Online Initiative, funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport , we conducted twelve workshops on web accessibility for web teams who were receiving funding to produce innovative web-based applications. In the EU-funded Tenuta Project  we have been providing a similar workshop to web teams funded by the eTen Initiative  designed to help the deployment of telecommunication networks based services (e-services) with a trans-European dimension.
The importance of teaching Design for All and Assistive Technologies
It is perhaps important to outline the reasons why courses for computer scientists, designers, and students in related disciplines should include a component on DfA and AT. The arguments may be necessary to persuade colleagues of the importance of these topics, and may be an important part of the curriculum on these topics, as students may in the future need to persuade managers and colleagues of the importance of considering these topics in designing and evaluating technologies. However, before addressing these topics, I will address the issue of the definitions of DfA and AT, even though I have been blithely using these terms in this article up until this point.
Definitions of Design for All and Assistive Technology
"Design for all", "accessible design", "inclusive design", "universal design" and "universal usability" are all terms that have been used in recent years to convey a focus on:
"the design of products and environments to be usable by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design" 
However, as Vanderheiden and colleagues have noted , , there are probably as many definitions of these concepts, as there are people discussing them, and considerable misunderstanding. A particularly misunderstanding is that Design for All (DfA, the term I will use to cover all these terms) requires systems that will be usable by every user, regardless of capability (it is not a surprisingly misunderstanding, given the literal meanings of many of the terms), and that to attempt to achieve this might seriously compromise their designs. Yet the reality is much more complex and interesting and it is important that students, as future HCI professionals, realize this.
Definitions of assistive technology (AT) are often very general and in some situations seem unhelpfully broad. For example:
"Assistive Technology is any product or service designed to enable independence for disabled and older people." (King's Fund Consultation, 14th March 2001) 
The problem is that one person's mainstream technology might be another person's AT. So if I use a miniature voice recorder to make my shopping list because I cannot see well enough to write one (or read it later), does that make a voice recorder an assistive technology? Undoubted the answer is yes. So any definition needs to be contextually grounded.
One potentially useful way of conceptualizing DfA and AT is in terms of the proportion of a potential user population who are able to use a product or system. We should try to design mainstream products and systems so we make them accessible to and usable by the largest possible proportion of users, given constraints such as cost, complexity and good design decisions. Thus, computer operating systems and web browsers include options to allow visually impaired users to increase font size very easily up to a certain size. This will be sufficient for many users with mild to moderate visual impairments. For users with more severe visual impairments, ATs such as screen magnification and screen reading programs provide access and usability . DfA is concerned with increasing the user proportion as much as possible and not impeding the use of ATs by those users who
much as possible and not impeding the use of ATs by those users who cannot be included in the mainstream user proportion for a particular system. This latter point is important educationally - at the very least, developers of the future should be aware that their designs should allow ATs to function appropriately.
ATs can also be thought of as bridging two distinct "gulfs of accessibility" . Firstly, providing access to and use of the ever-burgeoning range of new technologies that citizens in the information and knowledge society need or want to use. Secondly, ATs can bridge the gulf of accessibility created by a person's disability and the organization of society in general. Thus for visually impaired people, the inability to read signs in the built environment is a major problem, but only because modern societies chose to create highly complex built environments full of printed signs (we might have developed technologies to have spoken and musical signs instead, in which case hearing impairment people would be handicapped rather than visually impaired people). But personal navigation systems with map and point of interest information are now being developed , ,  to help visually impaired people negotiate the built environment more easily.
I will now consider the various arguments for undertaking and also for teaching DfA and AT.
In developed countries, between 12 and 20% of the population have a disability sufficiently severe that it may affect their interaction with technology . Many people optimistically believe that with increasing medical advantages the proportion of the population who are disabled is decreasing. Unfortunately, modern problems such as car accidents, and medical advances that enable lives to be saved after serious trauma and illness, mean that this is not the case . The increasing longevity of the population is another important factor. The proportion of the population who are elderly is currently increasing globally, and age is the principle cause of disability. For example, by the year 2030 one third of the population of the European Union will be over the age of 60 . Of particular important for the development of AT is that as the proportion of older people increases in society, so the proportion of younger people decreases. So, over the next 50 years there will be fewer and fewer younger people to care for older people, so older people will need to remain more independent and care for themselves and each other more than previously.
Numerous countries now have legislation that protects the rights of people with disabilities. For example the USA has the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) , Australia and the UK each have a Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) , . Legislation may cover rights of access to technology directly or indirectly, particularly via access to goods and services. For example, there have been a number of legal cases concerning accessibility to information or services via the Web. In Australia, the Sydney Olympics Organizing Committee was successfully sued by a blind person because their failure to make their website accessible. In addition, the European Union has emphasized the importance of DfA and AT, funding research programmes in this area and including these topics in plans such as the eEurope 2002 and 2005 Plans , .
In many ways the economic argument flows from the demographic and legal arguments. With increasing participation of disabled and elderly people in society, partly due to legal and technological developments, the market represented by these groups is growing rapidly. The Disability Rights Commission in Great Britain estimates that the spending power of disabled people in their country is 50 billion Pounds (approximately 74 billion Euros) per annum . From the demographics, it is clear that product and system developers might increase their market by at least 10% by adopting a DfA approach (assuming that such an approach might make their product or system usable by half the disabled population, the other half might need AT to access the product or system, a very conservative estimate).
It may seem unnecessary to evoke a moral argument, but it is puzzling in an age when it is unacceptable to discriminate against people based on their race, gender or sexuality, that it seems acceptable for developers of products and systems to says disabled people will not want to use our system or will not be able to use it. Yet I have heard this argument many times in boardrooms and classrooms. There may be situations in which it is indeed impossible to make a particular technological solution accessible and that an AT or non-technological solution is required. However, computer scientists and designers should regard it as part of their professional challenge to provide solutions for disabled and elderly people, rather than simply discounting them.
It is well-known that solutions designed with disabled people in mind often turn out to be very popular and usable by non-disabled groups. Recent examples include the British Telecom (BT) Big Button telephone  (the most popular telephone BT ever produced, and still for sale) and Good Grips kitchen utensils  were developed with elderly and disabled people in mind, but became extremely popular with mainstream markets.
In the area of web accessibility, in our research for the Disability Rights Commission , we found that websites which were highly accessible were also 35% faster for non-disabled users to interact with, an astonishing efficiency saving.
Useful Exercises in Design for All and Assistive Technology
In this section I will outline some of the exercises that I have used in teaching DfA and AT in a range of contexts (see above), commenting on their effectiveness and the practicalities of organizing them. Often I find that educators in computer science and design are nervous about including these topics in their courses because they fear that they are not sufficiently expert in the topics to teach them. This is very unfortunate, as there are many resources, both electronic and human, that can be used to support teaching in these areas. I have always found that both students and other staff involved in these exercises find them interesting and enjoyable as well as informative.
One of the problems we must overcome is that most computer science and design students and indeed most developers of new technologies are young and able-bodied and have no experience of the problems encountered by disabled and elderly people, either in life in general and in using technology in particular. However, there are many interesting and revealing exercises that can be undertaken to gain some insight into these problems and live as a disabled or elderly person. While it must be emphasized that taking part in such exercises is interesting and revealing, it is not the same as having that disability or characteristic of aging. For example, turning off one's computer screen and trying to use it with a screen reader is an interesting and informative experience, but the average blind person brings a lifetime of experience of interacting with the world non-visually, so their experience with a screen reader are very different from those of a sighted person.
Many organizations of and for people with disabilities run provide awareness training courses and might be prepared to run a special version of such a course for a group of students. If not, a teacher might be able to take a course with their local organization to gather ideas for exercises with students. Many of these organizations also produce brochures and factsheets about the disability and how to interact with people with this disability that can be useful sources of information. For example the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the UK produces brochures on how visually impaired people use technology , how to guide visually impaired people  and how visually impaired people do everyday things .
Some of the many experiences of being disabled or elderly that students (and teachers) will find interesting and informative include:
borrowing a wheelchair and get students to spend time in the chair trying to access library bookshelves, computer terminals, automated banking machines etc.
creating simulations of different forms of visual impairment by cannibalizing
borrowing or buying a long cane and have students wear very dark/ cannibalized sunglasses to simulate visual impairment (see b) and guide each other in public places - get students to observe how much clutter there is in the environment, what it is like to negotiate that environment and how other people react to them.
Creating a "third age suit"  with thick gloves, a neck pad, padding for elbows, ankles etc. Ask students to do everyday and computer-based tasks wearing the suit.
downloading demonstration versions of screenreaders such as JAWS , screen magnification programs, software for dyslexic readers, scanning software (and their associated manuals). Ask students to learn how to do simple tasks with these programs.
Discussions and demonstrations with disabled and older people
To understand the needs of disabled and older people in relation to technologies, one of the best initial exercises is to host discussions with disabled and elderly individuals who are interested in technology. One might make contact with such individuals through the local organizations of and for disabled and elderly people and through the computer groups they may well run. People are usually very pleased to be consulted about their views on technology, if approached in an appropriate manner. If people are users of ATs, it is very useful to ask them to give quite a detailed demonstration of how they use the AT. No only does this break the ice in the discussion, but allows students to see AT in real use, often by an experienced and expert users. Nor is there any need to be nervous about asking questions about people's experience of disability - if approached politely, people are usually very interested to talk about their lives and share these experiences with others who are genuinely interested. Such discussions should also be a two-way interaction, with students and teachers being honest about the difficulties of understanding the needs of different user groups and the ATs they use. Students and educators should also make the discussions an interesting experience for the disabled and older individuals, introducing them to the material the students are learning and how DfA/AT fits into the curriculum.
If it is not possible to arrange live discussions with disabled or elderly people, it may be possible to find videos of disabled and elderly people talking about their experiences with technologies , . There are also a variety of case study materials available on the Web about people's use of technology in general  and the WWW in particular . For educators who wish to gain a more detailed knowledge and students who want to undertake in-depth work, such as research projects, reading autobiographies and memoirs of people with the relevant disabilities can be very informative. For example, there are numerous autobiographies of blind and visually impaired people that can assist in understanding their experiences , , , .
Design exercises with disabled and elderly people
Having understood something of the experiences of disabled and/or elderly people, it can be very informative to then undertake design exercises for, but preferably also involving, some of these user groups. In a 10 week introductory course on HCI, I have successfully used small group projects in which students go through the different phases of the user-centred design lifecycle (user requirements - design - prototype - evaluation) adapting a familiar product so that is more suitable for a particular user group. If the instructor does not have access to a group of people with disabilities to take part in this type of exercise, it can be undertaken very easily and successfully by
type of exercise, it can be undertaken very easily and successfully by focusing on elderly people as the target user group. Inevitably, some students will have elderly relatives who will be able to participate in the exercise. It is far easier with introductory students to undertake a re-design exercise of a familiar product rather than undertake a new design exercise. However with more advanced students, a more ambitious project such as the initial design of a new assistive technology for a particular disabled or elderly user group can be undertaken.
It is interesting that undertaking a design exercise for a disabled or elderly user group not only introduces students to the complexity of DfA and AT, but also highlights many of the issues of user-centred and participatory design. If a design exercise is undertaken with more familiar users as the target user group, students can often skip performing user requirements seriously, because they think they understand the needs of users. Using a target user group whose needs are so unfamiliar can focus their minds on the importance of eliciting user requirements and conducting evaluations properly.
I have involved disabled and elderly people in these group projects and had a final conference style session in which the students present their projects to a panel of disabled and elderly people and members of staff. This exercise serves a number of useful purposes. It shows that the group projects are a serious part of the course (I have offered small prizes for the best project). It develops presentation skills in the students, makes them consider how to present to a non-technical audience, and sometimes to n audience with members who cannot see. It also shows to the disabled and elderly people that we treat this work seriously, and lets them see how the discussions and interviews they might have undertaken with students were used.
DfA and AT are important topics to include in courses for computer science and design students. Educators may seem daunted by the prospect of teaching a topic in which they feel they are not expert, but there are many interesting exercises that can be undertaken that allow both teachers and students to deepen their knowledge and skills in these areas.
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