World Usability Day: design for inclusion

 “User experience” is increasingly important for who works in  development and design, at all levels.  It is confirmed by the 2017 edition of the World Usability Day, the event that will take place, for the fourth year in a row, in Rome on November 8th and 9th, gathering Italian and international experts in workshops and talks. The World Usability Day was established in 2005 by the Usability Professionals ‘Association (UXPA). Since then, every year, on the second Thursday of November, all around the world there are events aiming to boost awareness towards the importance of thinking and designing taking into account, first, the main character: the user who what you’re working on is addressed to.

World Usability Day 2017

The subject of this edition of the World Usability Day is user experience as an inclusion promoter. The goal of design professionals, as a matter of fact, must be contributing to shape a better future, taking into consideration the specific needs of all the people, seen in their own uniqueness. In a world that changes quickly, also under a political and demographic perspective, we can’t keep on designing keeping in mind just a part of population, forgetting about the remainders.

How to reach this ambitious goal? The speakers who will alternate on the World Usability Day stage will present different perspectives and food for thought: design thinking to create technologies and products for all, services accessibility and usability, empathy as  a starting point for a designing process focused on the individual.

This initiative underlines, once again, the increasing awareness towards the unavoidable need to think according to the “Design for All” logics, developing products and services suitable for the specific abilities, attitudes and needs of the users. As the insiders say, designers are often reluctant towards change. Then, it’s important to help them approaching their job using something we all, as human beings, have: empathy, that is the ability to “put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes”, feeling his needs, spirit and life as ours.

 

 

Hackability@Barilla: accessibility enters the kitchen

For many people, cooking is a joy and a passion, as it’s confirmed by the success of so many TV programmes about it, broadcasted all day long on all the TV channels. But for people with a disability, isn’t always possible to enjoy this passion since, very often, the design of utensils (and their packaging) doesn’t take into account accessibility, that is the possibility that they are used also by someone with any physical limitation. That’s the starting point of Hackability@Barilla, the hackathon promoted by the well-known food company to promote the meeting (and the chance to work together) among “makers” (designers, computer technicians, digital professionals) and, precisely, people with disability, to create together utensils (and their packaging) suitable for disabled people.

Hackability@Barilla

Designed by Freepik

HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN hackability@barilla

Do you have an idea that could make a cooking utensil or its packaging more accessible? Or is creating your passion and you want to put it to use in an initiative with a high value and social benefit? If you answered “yes” to one (or both) of these questions, from September 18th to December 15th 2017, you can “answer the call” (that is, enrol) directly on the Hackability@Barilla website, filling the registration form with all the requested info. The teams selected by the company will have the opportunity to work together   at its location, in Parma, in January 2018. Then, the selected ideas will be presented, together with their prototypes, at the end of February 2018, always at Barilla offices in Parma. For more details, you can check the guidelines.

Hackability@Barilla joins many other initiatives which, in the last years, have increasingly focused on the importance of accessibility and inclusion for all the people, including those with a disability. In this case, there’s something more: the involvement of the individuals concerned, the disabled people, who are called to work together with the makers to help them looking at the objects also from the perspective of the specific needs of each individual. A golden opportunity, which confirms the commitment that Barilla summarizes also in its mission: “Good for You, Good for the Planet, Good for the Community”.

 

School and disability, between excellence and chronic deficiency

September: in these days, school gates open again all over Italy and, among the students sitting at the desks, there are also more than 235 thousand with a disability (about 3% on the total), almost equally distributed among nursery school, primary school, grammar school and high school. But is the school ready to welcome and support them, so that they can fully exercise their right to education?

Italy is the leading country for school inclusion of disabled students, to the extent that, at the beginning of 2016, it received an official recognition by the UN. Indeed, while they are still present in countries such as Spain and Germany, here in Italy the so-called “special classes” (real ghettos inside the “normal” schools, where students with physical or cognitive disabilities and those who experienced another kind of disadvantage were enclosed) are, now (and luckily), just a past thing, since they were abolished in 1977, when new flexible educational models were introduced, aiming to promote the integration among all the students, beyond their peculiarities, using, where needed, also specialized teachers. The 104/92 law further emphasized the importance of integrating the disabled students of all levels into normal classes.

school and disability

A long way has been walked also as regards removing architectonical barriers, during the years, with more than 80% of schools having stairs and bathrooms suitable for physically disabled people. Things get slightly worse when we look at expedients for sensory disabled people and accessibility of internal and external spaces: only 30% of schools, as a matter of fact, are equipped with visual, acoustic and tactile signage, while a little bit more than 40% has easily accessible paths.

Another not exactly rosy chapter regards those who’d assist students with particularly severe disabilities and special needs teaching assistants, who are essential to ensure access to didactics and inclusion to students with cognitive disabilities. Every year, punctually, there’s a raging controversy because they’re not enough to ensure adequate assistance to all the students who would need it. Unfortunately, there are also issues about their training, often inadequate to the specific needs of the students they’d be supposed to assist. Not to mention the fact that, if being a teacher, more than just a job, is a matter of vocation (or a real “mission”, as some say), that’s even more so for those who, due to their specific role, have to deal with particularly tricky students, often unable to collaborate: without a proper training and if they live their role just as a way to “earn money”, it’s easy to get discouraged, leave students to their own devices, contributing to ghettoize them, instead of including them into the school system, which is the fundamental harbinger of their full and successful inclusion in the community.

“Diversamente Amore”: a successful operation?

Inclusion” and “accessibility”, as I intend them, don’t just apply to transfers,  removal of architectonical barriers, access to work.  All these fields are very important, better essential, for a good life. But it isn’t less important, as we’ve stated many times, the chance to fully live also an aspect that’s too often underestimated (or totally neglected) of all the people life, including those with any disability: affectivity in all its sides. This is what “Diversamente Amore” (“Diversely Love”) is about. The show was broadcasted some days ago by Rai2 (and can still be watched for a few days on Raiplay.it), presented- better: narrated- by the paralympic champion Bebe Vio.

Diversamente Amore

Diversamente Amore” narrates, through the direct protagonists, the love stories of five “diverse” couples, that is with at least one of them having any disability. From their daily life, substantially, emerges a message: beyond the specific conditions of people (and the specific needs they imply), a disabled person (whatever the disability is) can love and be loved exactly like anyone else. Limits imposed by her disability condition don’t imply, by themselves, the impossibility to love, nor, even less so, to be loved… even by totally “able-bodied” people.

The idea “Diversamente Amore” starts from is, for sure, good. In a social context where, despite the progresses made in these decades, it’s still normal, for people with a visible disability, feeling as they have “all eyes on themselves” (and not to admire them…), being  alternatively seen as “poor sods” to pity (or to avoid, or, in extreme cases, to persecute and use to pour out the worse instincts, as some sad chronicles recall) or “heroes” to be exalted for their “courage”, “strength”, whatever can remember that also who has a disability, beyond his own specific issues, faces exactly the same problems as everyone else (work, love stories, daily problems, etc.) is welcome.  Also, the tone of voice used during the narration avoids (almost always, at least) pietism, which too often is typical of these experiments.

Diversamente amore

But…  I don’t know what you think, but, while watching the show, I felt like something was missing. What? Well, for sure, picking just five stories to represent the multi-faced world of disability wasn’t an easy task.  But, except for some secondary changes, situations and daily problems narrated in at least two stories were very similar, not to say almost overlayable. Maybe that’s why I’m involved in this, but it would have been nice to watch also stories which differentiate themselves from the die-hard stereotype “motoric disability = wheelchair”.  Furthermore, it seemed to me that, also in this case, there was too much focus on the “heroic” side of the couples, their “courage” to get and stay together, both from the “diverse” and the “normal” part of them. That’s true: staying with someone with an “important” disability isn’t always easy.  But staying with someone else, even when there’s no disability involved, isn’t always a bed of roses, with St. Valentine’s hearts and cuteness, is it?

An ancient proverb says: “Anything is better than nothing”.  So, let’s take what’s good (and that’s a lot) in “Diversamente Amore” and hope that next experiments about this topic will increasingly show the normality of feelings, before the “diversity” among people who are linked by them.

MAKEtoCARE, ideas that improve life

There’s an increasing number of initiatives aiming to ease the daily life of people with disability. We already talked about some of them and several apps helping to improve the quality of life of who lives with any disability. Today, I’ll talk about MAKEtoCARE, an initiative promoted by Sanofi Genzyme companioning with Maker Faire Rome, the event that, every year, recalls to our Capital city the most creative minds in Italy and abroad.

logo MAKEtoCARE

MAKEtoCARE aims to discover and support healthcare and wellness projects to improve the life of people with a disability, changing the present and contributing to create a better future.

MAKEtoCARE Click4All

Click4All, one of the 2016 winners, is a kit to make computer or rehabilitation aids

how to participate in maketocare?

Should you have projects or inventions aligned to the event goal, by September 15th, you can candidate them (here, following the guidelines available on MAKEtoCARE website) to participate in the second edition (the first one took place in 2016) of the contest, which will end on November 29th in RomeParticipating in the contest is free and open both to individuals and businesses, associations, institutions, both Italian and foreign.

MAKEtoCARE dbGlove

dbGlove, the other 2016 winner, helps blind and deafblind people to use mobile devices

The projects must be innovative and original, able to answer still not satisfied needs, having a tangible impact on the quality of life of disabled people and being scalable and, potentially, applicable also to different areas.

Io Kitchen MAKEtoCARE

Another idea from 2016: Io Kitchen, the kitchen which varies the height of countertops

An evaluation panel, headed by the dean of Rome “Tor Vergata” University, will review the projects which will have been received by the middle of September and will choose the finalist ones. The two winning projects will be awarded on November 29th. However, all the finalist projects will have the opportunity to participate in the Maker Faire Rome (December 1st-3rd), next to Sanofi Genzyme, and, just for the winners, a super-award: a journey to Silicon Valley, where they will have the chance to visit fast prototyping and 3D printing companies, start-up businesses working in healthcare and wellness, web giants, fab labs, incubators and co-working spaces.

Do you have a ready prototype that, in your opinion, could really make a difference in the disabled people life? Don’t hesitate: apply now and good luck!

OSO: beyond barriers, the strength of sports

Some time ago, we already talked about the importance of sports for who lives with a disability, not just as a hobby, but also as a way to overthrow cultural barriers and facilitate the real and effective social inclusion. Also last year’s Rio Paralympic Games represented an important step towards that direction, demonstrating (if ever the need arose) that also who has a disability can be a champion in sports, under appropriate conditions. This principle is the basis of OSO – Ogni Sport Oltre (Every Sport Beyond), the project launched by Fondazione Vodafone Italia to promote and support projects and initiatives which, through sports, promote the inclusion of disabled people into the community.

OSO Ogni Sport Oltre

As the official video of this initiative states more than once, the OSO code word is “Change your story. Disable your own limits”, since, as demonstrated by the stories of many celebrities (Bebe Vio, Alex Zanardi, and others) involved in this initiative, the difference is made also by our attitude, the way we look at our own disability and the decision “not to let it win” and find, however, a way to live our passions (not just those related to sports) with some “tweak”, but with the same intensity as the others.

OSO Diversamente Abili Ugualmente Sportivi

What are you saying? It’s true and right, but passing from theory to practice is often difficult, if not impossible, firstly because it isn’t that easy finding info about what already exists, maybe just a few kilometres far from us? That’s the other reason why OSO website was built: there you’ll find not only the stories of those who “got it” or new projects to fund (also through crowdfunding), but also info and a map to search for the nearest sport structures.

So, no more excuses: are we ready to “disable our own limits”?

OSO - Volleyball

*Pictures taken from OSO – Ogni Sport Oltre official website 

Connected Ability: overtaking visual disabilities

Do you know what a hackathon is? It’s an event (which can last for one or more days), where several experts in information technology use their skills to develop ideas and projects, often with a social utility. This is the case of Connected Ability, the hackathon organized by Microsoft Italia which, on June 27th and 28th, will mobilize, at the Microsoft House in Milan, developers and programmers with the goal to develop apps that can be useful to people with visual disabilities.

Connected Ability

The hackathon logo – Picture ©Microsoft

who can participate in connected ability?

Realized companioning with the UgiDotNet, DotNetToscana and DevMarche communities and with the patronage by the Unione Italiana Ciechi (Italian Blind People Union), Connected Ability is open, first, to who has programming skills with a language supported by Visual Studio and/or Xamarin. But also who hasn’t those technical skills can register to participate in the hackathon, if has experience to available to the work teams.

how to partecipate in connected ability?

To participate in Connected Ability, you must register filling this form. You can also enrol a work team, if you have one already, and work to an existing project or, as an alternative, develop a new one using the cues that will be shared during the days of the event. Who wants or needs it, will also have the opportunity to stay overnight at the Microsoft House, in the dedicated spaces. You’ll have the chance to work side by side with Microsoft Italia’s evangelists, sharing ideas and experience. At the end of the second day, the most valuable projects will be awarded.

Sometimes, it doesn’t take much so that a device or a software are really suitable for all, including who has a visual disability: you only have to think about it, possibly together!

Connected Ability is an important initiative, which, once again, stresses the fundamental role of technology as a facilitator for daily life of people with a disability (in this case, visual, but not just it).

 

“Speechless”: can we laugh at disability?

In these days, I watched the first two episodes “Speechless”, a TV series broadcasted a few months ago in the USA and now arrived in Italy (Fox  broadcasts it on Sky platform every Friday evening). It’s a comedy, but with a particular not to undervalue: for the first time in this TV genre, the main character is a boy with disability (who, just like me, grew up in the ’80s-‘90s, will remember the precedent of “Life goes on”,  the story of a family which included Corky,  a boy with Down syndrome, but the genre was quite different).  In this case, the main character is JJ DiMeo, a teenage boy suffering from a cerebral palsy, which forces him to use a wheelchair and prevents him from speaking (from here comes the comedy title) without the support of a device equipped with a keyboard and a laser pointer to pick numbers and letters and, this way, communicate with others.

"Speechless"

There would be all the premises for a sad and tear-jerking story. But “Speechless” is quite the opposite: you often laugh, and even loudly. JJ’s “diversity” and his daily issues (the struggle of his scrappy mother, Maya, to ensure him the access to school from the main entrance and not using that reserved to garbage, in the first episode of the series, is unforgettable) aren’t hidden, nor underrated. But, first, from this series emerges the “normality” of JJ and his family. Yes, JJ is sick, has clear issues and, to do things that, for all of us, are granted, needs help from his family and his unlikely (but very funny) assistant- school janitor, Kenneth. But it doesn’t make him inferior to others, thanks to his caustic humour and bright mind.

But what I liked the most about “Speechless” is that, contrary to what they usually do on tv or in movies when talking about disability, here there’s no exaltation of the diverse “superiority”. Mind you: when he arrives in the new school, teachers and schoolmates try to welcome JJ in the spirit of the classic “politically correct”, dedicating to him a standing ovation without any reason (which leaves the boy quite perplexed, indeed).  But, precisely, the reaction of JJ and his family (quaint characters, but who you easily grow fond of) floors everyone, letting them understand that, maybe, they’d better change their attitude.

The "Speechless" cast

The “Speechless” cast

Watching “Speechless, you almost end up not seeing JJ’s wheelchair and device, focusing on fulminating gags among the characters and, all in all, on the “normality” that emerges from it. Ultimately, as Kenneth immediately understands, JJ is a teenager like the others, in every way. His disability is just a condition like any other, not a mark.

Welfarism? No, thanks: inclusion is better!

Pay attention to this: most of the times, when media and politics talk about disability, the focus is, essentially, on two aspects, often counterpoised. On one hand, welfarism associated to pietism (“Poor guys, we must help them! “); on the other hand, what I call the “hero rhetoric”, which leads to describe and represent people with a disability as necessarily strong and brave, a “model” for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with it, let’s make it clear: after all, there are conditions which necessarily require assistance and, as regards the second point, it’s often true that, to face a disability and avoid staying stuck in a corner feeling sorry for yourself, you need to find inside you a lot of behavioural resources. We’ve often talked about “models”, such as the Paralympic athletes, as well.

But let’s try, just for once, to look at things from a different perspective. Except the cases when disability doesn’t allow the individual to look after himself and his primary needs, work, have a social life,  why don’t we focus, rather than on welfarism, on creating conditions that promote the autonomy of disabled people?  To say it borrowing an expression that’s very in vogue now, besides to “after us” (an indisputable topic, of course), why don’t we first think about “during them”, that is focusing disability policies (and the messages transmitted by mass media) on life, needs and licit expectations of people with disability? After all, that’s exactly the sense of the UN Convention on disabled people rights: focusing on people, rather than on their disability. Since, we’d better remember this, one of the biggest obstacles when dealing with disability is exactly the fact that there isn’t just one disability, but many disabilities and also people with similar disabilities can have very different needs.

welfarism vs inclusion - disabled workers

Structures that assist non-autonomous or not self-sufficient people are welcome: it’s right they exist and they’re still not enough, above all if we think that the average age in Italy is increasing and we know well that, often, old age and disability are linked. But that’s not enough to say that “we’ve solved the disability issue”. Many of the more than 4 million of disabled people are individual who, based on their own conditions and age, are perfectly able to be autonomous, productive, active members of our community and not just “dead weights” or “issues” to solve somehow (maybe, hiding the in “dedicated” structures). Are we doing enough to answer the licit expectations of these people through effective policies aimed to inclusion (at school, at work, but also in the community tout court, as we never get bored to restate in this space), going beyond the mere welfarism? Sure, it’s important that there are invalidity allowances and similar stuff, but it’s even more important to enable who’d be able (despite his disability) to work, move, travel, removing architectural and cultural barriers.

welfarism vs inclusion - disability and leisure

That’s the only way, for us, to actually be and feel like people, rather than “poor sods” who someone from the top down gives charity to (not just in terms of money, assistance, but also of attention, time, love, friendship, affection, etc.).  And it would also turn into an economical advantage for the entire community.

“Giocando si impara”: the UILDM campaign for accessible playgrounds

We know it: playing is essential for the individual development, starting from the most tender age. Through play, we don’t just develop body coordination, logic and cognitive capabilities: playing together with others, the child socializes and puts himself into the context he lives in, learning to relate to others, acknowledging and accepting differences.  Outdoor playing, moreover, has many benefits, both at a physical and psychological level. And that’s also valid for children with any disability. But the right to play, that is ratified by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,  is too often denied to children with motoric or sensory disabilities, due to the lack of accessible playgrounds, which could ensure them a fully safe experience. This is the topic of this year’s UILDM National Day, whose emblematic title is “Giocando si impara” (“You learn by playing”).

"Giocando si impara" the poster

The campaign poster – Picture by © UILDM

Until April 19th, we’ll have the opportunity to support the Italian Union Fighting Against Muscular Dystrophy in its awareness campaign aiming to grant the right to play, even outdoor, to all the children, including those with a disability. The number of accessible playgrounds, in our country, has increased, throughout these years, marking a higher awareness towards accessibility: thanks to your signals, we often talked about it on Move@bility social profiles as well. But we cannot stop here and the “Giocando s’impara” campaign reminds us of it. Ensuring access to outdoor play to all the children, we don’t just protect their right: we also help the entire community to become aware of the need and possibility of a full and effective inclusion for everyone, including people with disability, in our community.  While playing, differences are cancelled and all the children are equal: then, starting right from children, through play, we can aim to create a social context where no one is excluded.

"Giocando si impara"

Picture © UILDM