Everybody Technology – innovation through inclusive design

Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

And this year’s theme is “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all”.

So it was good timing that last Friday afternoon I was invited to speak alongside IBM, Panasonic, Ribot, the BBC and AbilityNet at an event staged by the Royal London Society for Blind People, advocating ‘Everybody Technology‘ – mainstream technology that can meet the needs of 100% of the population.

Stephen HawkingHere’s a video of my presentation on how taking into account the needs of disabled people when you are creating a product can prompt innovation – or “why the great Zombies, Run! owes a debt to audiogames pioneered by the blind community”:

Or read the ‘Beyond Inclusion can go Mainstream’ transcript.
I also spoke to Kevin Satizabal after the event on how the proposed Everybody Technology Group could potentially provide a great resource for organisations interested in the innovation possibilities of stepping up to the challenge of creating products that everybody can use:

Or read the ‘How the Everybody Technology Group could help’ transcript.

More from the event

Many tweeters were in the audience, so you can get flavour of the full event on its hashtag: #EveryBodyTech.

Particular highlights for me were:

So, what do you think?

Is designing mainstream technology for everyone uncommercial, or just too much of a challenge?

Or, have you like me experienced occasions where including the needs of disabled people in your creative ideation process has taken you into innovative places beyond the same old functionality that your competitor products have?

Let us know by commenting below.

Need any help?

We at Hassell Inclusion are very experienced in enabling organisations to take their first steps into creating ‘Everybody Technologies’, having worked on the creation of a large number of these technologies including the award-winning BBC iPlayer, created the UK Standard for digital inclusive design BS 8878, and presented on these ideas for years at conferences worldwide.

If you need any help in getting started with ‘Everybody Technologies’ please get in touch and we’ll be delighted to help.

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Transcript: Beyond Inclusion Can Go Mainstream

Julian Dailly (Director of External Affairs, RLSB): I’d like to ask the panel a question – I know Jonathan you’re going to answer this in greater depth than the other two – but how does imposing more challenging constraints at the beginning of a design process lead to better products?

Jonathan: So there are two things I wanted to note on that particular subject… I have a couple of categories of product that I always like to pick on: one is inclusive products; the other one, as you can see on the screen, is what I term ‘beyond inclusive’ products.

Inclusive products are those you design for everybody. The idea is that you’re designing them for the greatest majority of people. That obviously makes it harder. It makes it a real challenge. There are a lot of edge cases out there. How would you do that?

So, the first thing I’d want to say on this is that my understanding of innovation is that challenges are good.

I’ll give you an example of this: about a thing called fixation. If you’re the manager of a product and you’re trying to build a new version of that product, what you do is get your best people into a room and go through an ‘ideation’ process. And, in general, what people who do this find is that everyone, all over the world, including all of their competitors, comes up with the same seven product ideas. You just can’t get out of your fixation with what already exists. So you make one step in each direction but don’t really get anywhere. This is a real problem that people encounter.

I did some work with Siemens-Bosch – they make lots of white goods, fridges, that sort of thing – and we were looking at ovens. And I said, “How about this for getting past fixation? Let’s take a real interesting challenge. I want you to come up with an oven that would support the needs of someone who’s older, who can’t physically hold up the thing they are trying to put into the oven – the casserole dish or whatever…”

And suddenly they are in a completely different space in terms of their imagination. And what we came up with, pretty quickly after about ten minutes, was the idea of an oven that was actually in your work surface. That you pressed a button, and the oven came up out of your work surface until the shelf that you wanted to put things into was at the right level. So you could then push the dish from the work surface onto the shelf. You’d then press a button and the oven would go down until everything was cooked, at which time it would rise up again and you’d be able to slide the dish out again.

That’s one example of what they regarded as one of the most innovative ideas they’d ever had for what to do next for an oven. That how to take challenges from a wider community and make better products from them.

The second example I wanted to give was from ‘beyond inclusion’. Beyond inclusion is my term for the sorts of products that Damon was talking about earlier – assistive technologies, that sort of thing. Products that are created specifically for someone with a particular need. So they are not inclusively designed. The great thing is, though, that because you are doesn’t something very specific and precise to someone’s needs, they tend to be innovative, they tend to be incredibly different from the sorts of products available in the market. That’s great, but you can’t sell them to that many people.

But the good news is that some of the products that you use, that we all use, actually came down that route. So, here’s two examples:

At the top of this slide you have someone writing, some time in the 18th century. And that was the problem: for a blind person, how are they going to write? And that was the genesis of the idea for the first working typewriter. The first working typewriter we know was created in Italy by one guy for a Countess who was blind. He created it for her, to make sure she could communicate. And, obviously, that product initially created for someone who is blind, is now part of everything that we use. I mean, here’s my iPad and that’s the keyboard on there.

Bringing it more up to date, what we’ve got at the bottom of the slide is a challenge I was set around 2005. I was trying to create games for blind kids, to help them learn maths skills. What I was trying to do was create games you played purely through your ears. So, very different, very unusual. Completely worked. We created a game called ‘Sos and the Big Maths Adventure’ that really did allow people who were blind to learn maths purely through what they did on a keyboard and their ears. On the right we have something called ‘Zombies! Run”. Has anyone played ‘Zombies! Run’?

[someone in the audience shouts out yes]

Jonathan: Yeah. Okay. So, er, it’s cool. So you might be sitting there thinking, ‘why would anyone in the mainstream want a product that is all about what you can hear’. Well, you know what, everybody’s blind when they’re jogging. Because if you’re looking at a screen, and you’re jogging, you’re not jogging for that much longer. You’re bumping into something and falling over. So, you don’t want to be looking at a screen. So how do you make jogging interesting? Well these guys came up with the idea that you’re being chased by zombies. How’s that for motivation for you? So they wanted to make sure that that experience – the narrative experience of being chased by zombies – was available to you when you were jogging. So they couldn’t put it zombies on the screen. So they thought about what anyone does when they’re jogging, which is have your earbuds in your ears. And thought, ‘okay, let’s do this via sound’. Effectively the games output is sound going into your ears: if you’re not jogging fast enough, they’re getting close, and you might get eaten. And your input is what you are doing with your body, where you are in terms of your GPS.

That’s one example of somebody taking something that came out of the blind audio-games community and saying, ‘you know what? That is the solution to a mainstream need’. And, fundamentally, it was so innovative and fresh that lots of people love it.

So, those are just a couple of examples of the sorts of innovation that can happen when you actually think creatively about the different needs we all have…

Transcript: Interview with Kevin Satizabal on how the Everybody Technology Group could help

Kevin: So here we are with Jonathan Hassell – one of the speakers at today’s event. So it was very interesting what you were saying about the challenge of going ‘Beyond Inclusion’ and also about the challenge of mainstream Inclusion. Could you summarise that, and explain how joining this network is going to help that?

Jonathan: There’s so many innovation opportunities for people who consider the needs of the broadest group of disabled people. Not just blind people – which there are a lot of here today – not just people with vision impairments, but all the way through to people with Aspergers, dyslexia… all of these sorts of conditions.

My experience is that a lot of companies are scared when it comes to people not like themselves – that they find it quite intimidating thinking about that. And yet, when I’ve been able to get people past being scared, the sorts of different needs that are out there tend to make them change the way they think about technology. And that makes them more innovative.  Because, if you’re stuck in a way of thinking about your product, which is exactly the same as all of your competitors, if someone comes in with a really challenging question to say “it would be really cool to think about how that works for someone who can’t see or who can’t read…” [interrupted as someone asks if I want red or white wine]

All of the big companies are trying to make the most innovative products that their competitors don’t have. And I’ve had a lot of success of going into companies and saying: “You know what? If you think about the needs of people who aren’t like you guys, suddenly you’re in an advantage over the other companies, because you can’t just get away with the sort of stuff you normally do.”

Now that, I believe, is the sort of thing that this Everybody Technology group could help with. Because one of the ideas that came out of today was people saying: “We don’t know what people need. I don’t know what a blind person needs from the sort of product I’m creating. If you told me, I might be able to do something about it. So can you put some of those needs online somewhere? Like in a little bank of really challenging ideas for how you would make a product work for lots of different people…”

Kevin: So, basically, raising awareness to the companies, and challenging them by giving them something to innovate from, is the key.

Jonathan: Yes. Everyone’s looking for a Unique Selling Point for their product.

We had Panasonic here today. Panasonic make tellys (televisions). Lots of people make tellys. If you were thinking about how you would make your telly different from everyone else’s, there are certain things that everyone’s doing. My telly is bigger than your telly. My telly is brighter than your telly. My telly has 3-D. My telly lets you plug the Internet into the back of it. You know what? Because everybody’s doing that stuff, even those who got there first probably only have two months before everyone goes “Putting the Internet into the back of a TV? That’s not innovative. That’s just convergence – sensibly looking at what’s happening in TVs and computers, and bringing the technologies together.” Everyone’s aware of that – it’s the equivalent of putting Twitter share buttons on every website in the universe. Everyone’s doing it.

So if you want a Unique Selling Point, well, what do you do? How do you find that?

What we’re saying is, maybe the fact that their tellys talk is their Unique Selling Point. Now, certainly it’s going to work for lots of blind people, who Panasonic had in their minds.

And I’m looking at it thinking that, whilst there are two hundred thousand blind people in the UK, there are 2 million dyslexic people in the UK who have a very similar need when it comes to the fact that there’s text on the screen that they can’t easily access. A blind person can’t see it. A dyslexic person maybe can’t read it. What they both want is something to read it for them. So, in doing something for two hundred thousand, Panasonic potentially – if they market it right – may get six million people (including those with vision impairments, low-literacy, or English as a second language) saying their telly is better than the rest because, while they’ve never been able to easily read the Electronic Programme guide, they don’t need to with this telly.

That’s cool. That makes sense. That hopefully will make Panasonic loads of money. And any company working in these areas, the more money they make from doing this sort of thinking, the easier it is for everyone else to say: “This is a no brainer any more. Why wouldn’t we do this? It makes no business sense to not do it.”

Kevin: Thank you so much. Thank you. Excellent.

Jonathan: You’re welcome.


Jake says

I like this! It got me thinking about something. The previous land-line phone I had in my apartment was a Panasonic, and it had talking caller ID which worked very well. In addition, the built-in answering machine had a couple functions that spoke. I had to get rid of that phone though, because calls started cutting out constantly. I went shopping before the Christmas break with a life-skills tutor. We shopped around at Target for a phone that would work for me. We even enlisted the help of a kind salesman, but they didn’t have a phone that met my exact needs. They had talking caller ID, but all the phones consisted of two or more handsets. So my tutor and I went over to Best Buy, and we found a phone for me. It is an AT&T phone complete with talking caller ID, talking answering machine, and there is also a feature which speaks the numbers as they are pressed. This feature only works when the handset is turned off, but it’s a great feature to have. Kudos to both Panasonic and AT&T for embracing this “everybody technology” mindset.

Jonathan Hassell says

Sounds like a great ‘everybody technology’ phone, Jake. Thanks for sharing your story.

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