The book Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind, written by Kel Smith and released in April 2013, addresses key trends in technology and their relevance to forgotten populations.
For those of you in the Toronto area, I’ll be doing a “Digital Outcasts” session on Wednesday May 29 at 7:00 PM. The fine folks of Toronto Accessibility and Inclusive Design will be holding the meetup, with the fine folks at Devlin providing the venue. I’ll be raffling off free copies of the book as well, so I hope to see my Toronto friends there!
It is always an honor to share touching, amusing and insightful stories of people with disabilities: a teenage music prodigy with a traumatic brain injury, a successful stand-up comedian with cerebral palsy, an employment agency that specializes in finding jobs for workers with autism.
These anecdotes connect to the premise that inclusive design can serve as a vehicle for innovation. Plus, there’s a great picture of Lisa Domican and her daughter Grace!
The wonderful folks at AccessAbility SIG will be raffling off copies of my book at the upcoming STC Summit in Atlanta! I won’t be there, but you’ll get a chance to meet the wonderful Karen Mardahl, who besides being a terrific person was also instrumental in helping me shape the narrative of the book into something coherent.
To enter your name into the drawing, simply leave a business card at the Communities Reception table at the Summit. Those of you who are going, enjoy Atlanta!
I spent a wonderful two hours the other day lost in conversation with Karo Caran, founder of The Joy Cast podcast series and herself a published author. We discussed many things related to the life experience, discovering that we share similar attitudes regarding our place on this here planet. You can listen to the interview via Apple iTunes, where I discuss themes from the book and give a reading of Chapter 1.
If you were to Google Karo’s name, you’ll find this inspiring video interview with her and Victor Tsaran. Victor is a Senior Accessibility Program Manager at PayPal, singer, writer and guitar player (whom I’ve personally seen perform and yes, he has the chops). He perfectly complements Karo’s mission to serve as holistic life coach, writer, researcher and generally cool person. Great stuff.
It took me nearly five years of research, two years of pitching to publishers, three months with an editorial consultant to craft the proposal, three different acquisition editors, six months of writing, seven content reviewers, one editor and three months of revisions … but Digital Outcasts is finally available in both print and e-book formats.
You can order the book from the Elsevier store, Amazon, Google Books, and Safari Books Online. Watch this space for some upcoming podcast interviews, plus a few public events where I’ll be raffling off copies of the book.
The speaking tour continues with a stop in Baltimore for this year’s IA Summit. It’s a homecoming of sorts for me, as I attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and lived in the city for seven years.
I also mentioned the MICA Fibers program in my book, in a chapter about wearable computers and how art schools are spearheading innovation in this field. For this, you’d think they’d be interested in having me drop by and talk to students or something. But whatever. I’ll also be discussing the problem of food deserts, with specific mention of Baltimore-related endeavors.
In any case, I’ll be in Baltimore April 5 and I’ll be talking about this:
With one in seven people worldwide currently living with a disability, digital outcasts rely on technology for everyday services that many people take for granted. However, poorly designed products risk alienating this important (and growing) population.
Recognizing this, digital outcasts have taken it upon themselves to develop technology tools to sustain and improve their success in life. This has resulted in some of today’s most exciting innovations, evincing a “grass roots” approach to product development that can be adopted by both small project teams and large corporations.
We as a design community have much to learn from digital outcasts. In this presentation, we’ll discover how a “grass roots” approach to innovation allows disenfranchised users to transform their lives and communities. We’ll also develop strategic approaches to ensure a more inclusive future, in which ambient benefit can be achieved for people of all abilities and backgrounds.
If you’re one of approximately 25,000 interactive professionals who annually descend upon Austin for SXSW, this year I’ll be joining you. The session takes place on Tuesday, March 12 at 3:30 PM and is located at the Austin Convention Center.
My presentation will explore “bootstrapping” topics related to the book, as well as a few surprises. These will include (in no particular order): aging rock musicians, primitive housing in Asia, why it’s easier to jump out of a spaceship than make an accessible website, health literacy for outcasts, the difficulties of buying vegetables in the city, and why a robot nurse may one day wipe your backside.
With the book now in production and scheduled for an April release, I’m beginning a little promotional tour of speaking engagements.
First appearance is next week at the 28th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego. Commonly known as CSUN, this is the largest North American conference dedicated to the advancement of people with disabilities through technology. My session is 8:00 AM on Thursday, February 28 in Manchester H Ballroom on the second floor.
There’s a reason why I devoted an entire chapter of the book to defining innovation. Developing new products and services with inclusion in mind results in better products for everyone. It’s actually a pretty simple concept that doesn’t get enough play in today’s corporate objectives.
That appears to be changing. The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) noted that AT&T’s appointment of a Chief Accessibility Officer reinforces the link between innovation and accessibility. A December 2012 press release announced AT&T’s Corporate Accessibility Technology Office with the following statement:
“Accessibility at AT&T is about more than just meeting the needs of our customers with disabilities, it is also about continuing to innovate and staying competitive,” says Christopher Rice, AT&T Chief Accessibility Officer. “Our work on accessibility has led to innovative products and services that improve the lives of all of our customers and I am honored to be leading the charge to continue these efforts.”
“AT&T demonstrates its commitment to accessibility by working closely with the disability community to identify areas for improvement,” says Claude Stout, Executive Director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. Stout further adds, “With its open-door policy, this new office will help ensure that AT&T’s efforts continue to be a model for the industry, and we encourage other Fortune 500 companies to follow AT&T’s example.”
The intention of the piece was to deliver a powerful example communicating the importance of long-distance care for older people. Unfortunately, most critics took note of the camp, unconvincing performance overshadowing the message. As a result, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” became a satiric pop-culture landmark for the late 1980s. Thankfully, the joke has lost currency in today’s comedic vernacular.
I thought about this while standing in the waiting room at Holland Bloorview Rehabilitation Hospital, located in a leafy section of Toronto. The hospital’s fourth floor waiting area consists of brightly colored squares of carpet laid in front of a large screen. Rather than provide a noisy television to help visitors pass the time, the Bloorview research team installed sensors in the carpet that emit signals to the screen when pressed. Lightly stepping on the carpet produces a slight visual effect; applying firmer pressure results in a kaleidoscope of interesting patterns. The haptic carpet rewards effort by creating an entertaining medley for the eyes.
Smart carpets aren’t simply for fun, however; they also detect and measure imperfections in gait and transmit data when a fall takes place. This is just one example of research being done in the area of haptics, as teams explore interface technologies that operate as touch mechanisms for personal emergency response systems (PERS). You might think of PERS as a “panic button,” not unlike the LifeAlert scenario described above.
A recent article in Mobile Health News has issued a call-to-action for nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and senior residences to explore alternatives to the “panic button.” From a user experience perspective, the flaw of today’s PERS is that the user still needs to push a button to activate the device. From someone who is unconscious and unable to summon help, this is a problem.
The future of PERS is not likely to take the form of a pendant or push-button activation system. We can expect tomorrow’s systems to be more fully integrated into our environments, in the form of sensors embedded into furniture and carpets — just like what I saw demonstrated at Bloorview. Someone laying motionless on the floor would be relieved of the onus, since the decision point to summon help could be programmed directly onto the surface upon which she’s fallen.
What we need is for haptic technologies to respond more passively to the needs of the homebound disabled and elderly. We’ll also need more sophisticated algorithms than a simple phone service. Systems will be required to distinguish between authentic emergencies and false alarms, and they will additionally need to triage the appropriate first responder. This can’t be accomplished with just an iPhone app; it involves the design of living spaces that combine comfort with accommodation.