While every year brings new forms of exciting and innovative technology, that hot new device, app, or online service isn’t always accessible to all potential users. Marginalized communities, such as the elderly, children, and people living with disabilities or in poverty, are often overlooked when it comes to inventing new tech. By contrast, inclusive technology design uses the tools of human-computer interaction which draws on psychology, design, ethics, and computer science to create accessible tools that diminish rather than deepen existing inequities.
Those principles were at the core of the new UChicago CS course Inclusive Technology: Design for Underserved and Marginalized Communities, offered for the first time in winter quarter 2019. Created and taught by Assistant Professor Marshini Chetty, the course asked teams of students to learn about and apply a user-centered design process to projects of their own, creating an interactive system for one of the populations they discussed. Each team then created a website and a brief video explaining and demonstrating their work.
The projects showed an impressive mix of ingenuity and thoughtfulness for the target populations. The students combined programming and engineering skills with user studies and survey research to realize their ideas and best serve these groups. Final prototypes ranged from a jacket that warns deaf or hard-of-hearing wearers of nearby hazards, solutions for helping students receive mental health resources, and apps for helping visually impared shoppers navigate grocery stores and people with dietary restrictions find compatible dining options.
While the course was largely complete before the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect daily life on campus and beyond, Chetty said that the skills acquired by students only became more relevant as the quarter ended.
“This course was a mixture of introducing the students to user-centered design in Human-Computer Interaction and broadening their worldview to understand how to accommodate users from all walks of life, with all kinds of needs,” Chetty said. “This is crucial for helping students to challenge assumptions of the ‘ideal’ user who has a reliable Internet connection, speaks English, has sufficient funds, and conforms to racial, gender, and cultural stereotypes. In a global pandemic, where we are increasingly dependent on technology for maintaining social connections, work, and learning, this course provides a foundation to help students become well-rounded computer scientists equipped to deal with all the challenges for design this new reality brings.”
Below is a sampling of the student team videos from the course. You can watch a playlist of the project videos here.