Assistive Technology: a golden opportunity to build a sustainable user-centred design community

Long, S. and Timmins, B. (2014) Assistive Technology: a golden opportunity to build a sustainable user-centred design community. In: 6th Living Knowledge Conference, 9-11 April 2014, Copenhagen, Denmark.


Dublin Institute of Technology and Enable Ireland, a national disability service provider established a partnership in 2007 which focused on building undergraduate Product Design student awareness of the needs of users with disabilities. The approaches used to promote user/student engagement included: focus groups, individual mentoring of students by experienced AT users and design workshops. This academic activity starts with 4th year students of DIT’s Product Design programme discussing AT devices with users and finishes with students presenting and discussing their concepts with AT users. Student assessment of all learning outcomes is achieved through continual assessment. Students are asked to create a concept AT device and report. The report brief asks the student to address typical AT device user concerns such as cost, support, aesthetics, texture, and an understanding of the personnel challenges of the target AT user. Students are encouraged to contact and/or visit the Enable Ireland AT service at any time to seek feedback. From these modest foundations, a multi-layered approach has been adopted to promoting user-centred design. This has entailed a number of interwoven elements including: Assistive Technology users presenting to undergraduate students as part of their third year Medical Design module; the development of a Community Design Challenge competition wherein users and diverse students collaborate on specific design ideas, generated by the user, based on his/her experience of previous technologies, as well as on barriers to participation experienced in daily life; a doctoral research project focusing on the development of a design framework for user-centred collaboration through the creation of an alternative computer input device, and the launch of a blog:, the aim of which is to bring users, designers, manufacturers and funders together to create innovative solutions to address issues of social exclusion. The discussion will include consideration of the ethical challenges of user engagement in a meaningful way, facilitating ongoing contact between users and design students, promoting shared ownership with manufacturers and industry and a report of some of the outcomes for AT users themselves. These will include consideration of enhanced personal goals as reported by AT users/participants in this initiative. Next steps in this evolving partnership will also be considered, as well as opportunities to expand partnership activities beyond the realm of Assistive Technology

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