Diversity and Inclusivity in Software Design

June 13, 2007

For those of you who are interested in inclusive software design and don’t know Jutta Treviranus, you should. As the director for the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC), she leads a creative and inspiring set of projects. Yesterday, at the Sakai conference, Jutta spoke on Inclusive Design and, along with Colin Clark and Daphne Ogle, on the Fluid Project. Jutta’s message about inclusive design is incredibly inspiring. Working from a core set of values that focus on and embrace diversity rather than simply what we generally consider accessibility for large physical disabilities broadens the discussion and increases recognition of the wider impact (Electronic Curb Cut Effect) these solutions can have. In fact, this can and should lead to more innovation rather the make-do solutions (solely complying with accessibility guidelines) which most often result in a less than rich experience. A key take away is to beware of the risk of creating user experiences that are accessible to everyone but optimal for no one.

The Fluid project — just starting out — affords some great opportunities to make a big difference in improving the user experience for all users of open source software. One of the things to remember about the project is that it is emphasizing the embedded resources philosophy: in order to create real and sustainable change the resources and participation should come from the core of the open source community on which they are working. The first activity, the lightbox component, has started by taking a fairly discrete new (hence in an early iteration) Sakai tool, the Image Gallery that is being worked on by UC Berkeley ETS. It started with the rich accessible version, and Colin Clark demoed that. I played with an early version of it over the weekend and was thrilled to find out that I was actually delighted by the experience.

Daphne Ogle talked about some of the plans for the User Experience efforts. Starting this summer they will be launching UX Inspections to “identify current user “pain points” by performing heuristic evaluation and cognitive walk-throughs of uPortal, Sakai and Moodle.” Some of the other ambitious and exciting UX deliverables will be:

  • Designer toolkit — shared design resources
  • A living library of flexible UI components that can be used across applications
  • Integration into core parts of Sakai
  • UI Design patterns (to be applied across OS projects)
  • Component library
  • Component design artifacts to talk about the components themselves — give ourselves way to talk about them within our own context — truly inclusive/personalized
  • Create a design patterns taxonomy / folksonomy

I am enjoying reflecting on the idea of folksonomy as an accessibility strategy. This concept immediately resonated with me, thinking about how many times I have struggled with the information architectures of various sites or wikis (likening them to having to understand someone else’s mind). I think this can also be applied through the creation of various “viewers” that could be combined with tagging and annotation environments which would allow for personal context organizations of someone else’s content.

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