Inclusive Design

Addressing technology challenges for people with disabilities in the workforce

As technology is increasingly integrated into the workplace, more jobs in Canada require that staff use information and communications technology (ICT) in their daily work—from performing Internet research in offices to using touch-screen point-of-sale systems in retail stores. Technology that people with disabilities can use on the job isn’t as available, however.

A Toronto researcher is encouraging developers and coders to think about accessibility when they design the next software update or web application. Jutta Treviranus, director of OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre and Toronto’s Inclusive Design Institute (IDI), says ICT should be designed not just for the “average user.”

“We need to design these systems, and our policies, so that they are accessible to everyone,” says Treviranus.

The results of her research have led her to recommend an approach known as “inclusive design,” where human diversity is considered when developing new technology. Design options include alternative pointers for individuals who have difficulty manipulating a mouse, and computer screen readers and flexible website styling for people who are blind or have difficulty seeing. This approach, she says, leads to increased participation in the labour force, and helps address projected labour gaps.

At IDI, Treviranus connects developers and software producers to a pool of resources, including open-source component libraries they can use to create accessible technology. Treviranus says Canada is uniquely positioned to be an industry-driver in inclusive design.

Treviranus’s research findings are being implemented by the Ontario Public Service Diversity Office, have been cited by the United Nations in its development of a disability policy framework, and are the focus of a feasibility study by the United States Department of Education on accessibility. Treviranus is currently working with partners in Brazil on digital inclusion, after having presented a research report at the 2012 Brazil-Canada 3.0 conference.

Research funded by SSHRC: Leveraging Inclusion and Diversity as Canada’s Digital Advantage