For this project, 2 classmates and I assumed different types of disabilities, in order to gain a deeper insight into living with them. The underlying stories behind each disability come as follows (the design techniques used to experience such disabilities are described later):
Chad assumed an aural disability. He was a deaf person who was born like this, so he has never been able to hear or speak anything. He is currently a New Media student at IUPUI specializing in 3D animation. Sometimes he needs to ask for directions, for which he uses a notebook and a pen to try and communicate with others.
Diego assumed a physical disability. He was a paraplegic person strapped to a wheel-chair. He became unable to walk after a skiing accident in the Swiss Alps 3 years ago. Now he is a graduate student at the school of informatics and has to move around with his wheel chair in the IT building where his lessons are held.
Eric assumed a visual disability. He was a permanently blind 6th-semester university student who became blind after an accident with sulfuric acid in a chemistry lesson. He used to have his lessons in the IT building, so this area of campus is familiar to him. Sometimes he needs to go to the Law building to get some resources for his modules and he is not familiarized with this area, but once he returns to the IT building, he feels more confident than ever.
In order to gain a deeper insight on each of these disabilities, we used some of the IDEO experience design techniques. For all three situations, we used the Body Storming and Role Playing Techniques, in which set up a scenario and acted out roles with different props. By engaging in this type of role-play we were able to gain insights into the lives with those with disabilities.
We were also able to communicate to each other within the group just how difficult some situations could be when living with such impairments. Although we didn’t focus on designing a new device off of our experience, we were able to trigger a great level of empathy for potential users of any type of device that could help people with these disabilities.
In the case of being deaf, we researched many of the different ways that deaf people use to communicate with others. One of the most widely user manners of communication is Sign Language, but since none of us could speak of it, we looked for different ways currently used for communication. We found that many deaf people use a notebook and a pen, with which they communicate with other when they need to. We found this is always an alternative for them, since despite the practicality of Sign language, this is still not widely spoken by many people. In this case, pen and paper become a universally understood way of communication. The idea of looking into established behaviours from people with disabilities came to be thanks to the informancetechnique, which involves acting out previously researched or witnessed behaviours by the people the designers are designing for.
Finally, we used some Empathy Tools to help our experience feel more realistic. Chad, for example, used headphones whilst playing loud music so he couldn’t hear any of the conversations or sounds going on around him to help him achieve his tasks. I used a chair with small wheels as a “wheel chair”. I had to help myself with my legs to move around the building, but the principal goal was for me not to ever stand up from it, hence experiencing being paraplegic in a more realistic way. Eric used one of his own T-shirts as a blindfold and managed to use a wooden stick as a cane most blind people use for walking. All of these tools allowed all of us to better engage in the situations we were trying to experience.
We all gained insights from each one of these experiences as disabled students at this university. Chad claims that he could read other people’s expressions in their faces, but since he couldn’t hear anything, he wasn’t sure whether people were troubled or willing to help (when someone else in the group was talking to people around about him). I personally found the university's IT (information technology) building to be surprisingly friendly to those who have to mobilize in a wheel chair, although I encountered a few problems opening the toilette door and entering one of the bigger-size lifts. Overall, I found even the classrooms to be accessible. Eric found it difficult to navigate around unfamiliar areas, such as the Law building, but thought of walking around the IT building as somewhat easier to walk through. He would have liked for some of the doors to have more prominent audible cues when he was approaching the door, since even though most of these doors had the option to open automatically (by pressing a button) it was hard to tell where this button was, or whether the door opened inwards or outwards.
This experience is accompanied by a short video (above) showing the members of the group playing different disability-related roles and engaging in the different IDEO techniques previously mentioned.The video provides a clearer vision into the member’s own experiences as disabled university students.