Advice for Teaching Disability in Design

A few weeks ago, I published a few reflections on teaching disability design through design projects, as a teacher in both UX and product design degrees.

Folks from the disability design community took the time to discuss, comment and add to this discussion, for which I am very grateful. Cynthia Bennett (@clb5590) made further recommendations on Twitter. I thus invited her to write them up on this blog, so as to ease archiving and to dive a bit deeper in the issue.

Pay disabled consultants and partners

In my previous blog post, I outlined a main difficulty of participatory design: no matter how honest you are about the level of fidelity and resilience of a prototype made during an education or research program, participants expect more than we can usually sustain and maintain. My concern was that it is not enough to invite a disability partner only once or twice during the project, which means significant funding is needed.

Cynthia have recommendations to come up with funding to have enable collaboration with paid disability consultants and partners. For group or individual projects, seek industry project sponsors and include compensating participants in the sponsorship. Many large tech companies have supported initiatives in this domain. Local companies might also be able to free a few hours of time of one of their employees.

Disability studies and disability resources online

Cynthia recommends to engage students in reading and listening to online resources on disability studies and disability design. The Disability Visibility Project, the Contra* podcast and Critical Axis for instance are wonderful resources. In addition to the design project, students could have to make a presentation or write about a disability studies concept or a disability design project, to encourage their engagement with these resources.

CULTIVATe TRUST AND make REASONABLE CLAIMS

One of the issue I underlined in the first article is that students’ projects are only that: students projects. Which is already a lot. But when working with outside partners in a participatory design fashion, it can mean that the other party feels deceit because the product developed will not be maintained and repaired, and will probably still have issues by the end of the project. Cynthia underlines that making reasonable claims about what the project can achieve is even more necessary to cultivate trust. This is, unfortunately, not how many design projects (or research outcomes) are presented in the media, and students, understandably, can over-claim.

help amplify or improve existing solutions, ones disabled people have come up with

Disabled people hack and tinker to develop their own products. If students commit to improve on this product, it greatly limits the risk of over claim and the risk that their disabled design partner will feel let down. In User Experience courses, this could be improving the website of a local organisation, with a clear explanation of what can or cannot be done.

Bring outside expertise at the right time

Cynthia suggested doing a one-time curated Q&A with a panel of disabled folks in the class before the project begins, as it is easier to get funding to pay for just one panel, including through your university. Doing a guest industry lecture by a disabled experts is another possibility. If I found that one intervention by an expert is not enough to avoid the design of disability dongle, bringing experts at the right time, for a specific feedback round or ideation activities students have anticipated, can be really useful. It probably is better early in the project, to help redirect students when needed. In my experience, outside critique and re-direction tend to be a lot more convincing to students than mine. Which is fine: we constantly encourage student to select the kind of feedback they think they need and part with the rest. It is not always the straightest path for either party!

Going further

The next article about this will be a series of resources I use in my UX classes to teach disability design and accessibility (this is not quite the same). Meanwhile, there is much to learn from the designers, design educators and researchers on Twitter! See for instance, in addition to those cited previously, Bess Williamson, Chancey Fleet and Liz Jackson.


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