The way forward
Design should not just be about how a product looks. Standards should not just be about how a product works. All those involved in the production process should recognise the need for mainstream consumer products to be easy to use by all potential users.
The use of domestic appliances is essential to independent living, yet older people and people with disabilities have difficulty with everyday tasks - a kettle too heavy to lift to make a hot drink, a washing machine dial too stiff to turn to wash clothes.
These problems are affecting a growing number of people, as the numbers of elderly and disabled people increase. What has to be done to encourage the market to deliver products that are easily usable regardless of people's age and ability?
- Empower consumers - with information, and with encouragement to be more critical, not to blame their own loss of strength, flexibility, hearing.
Older and disabled people are the most critical consumers in terms of their needs from a product, yet they have the least choice of products because of poor design. Unfortunately this is not to say that they are the most assertive and demanding. Consumer organisations can play a role here - in researching and reporting on the usability shortcomings of products.
- Involve older and disabled people at the start of the production process, at the early planning stages, not at almost the end to approve the prototype. If industry wants to sell its products, it has to involve disabled people and address their needs - through discussion groups, attitude questionnaires, user trials.
- Influence the education process - educate the educators. Many design schools do not cover usability and accessibility issues. Students should be encouraged to work with users of different ages and abilities. Design award judging should require products to have been shown to be usable by intended users.
- Usability training should not be limited to specialist courses, but should be a part of all courses for those who will go on to produce consumer products. Raise awareness of design for all so that people go into industry always considering the wide range of people and their abilities.
- Influence the attitudes of management - educate business schools, so that commercial decision making also takes into account the diversity of the population. Product design is part of a commercial process. Design for all from the start and it need cost no more. It is retrospective provision or adaptation that requires additional cost.
- In any educating and awareness raising, it is important to acknowledge that design for all does not mean that every product has to be accessible to every person. But aiming for usability by the widest possible population will improve accessibility.
- Designers with interest and expertise in design for all need to organise themselves into active groups within their industries, and within the design community to raise and spread awareness.
- The development of further guidelines is essential - beyond general, awareness-raising guidelines like this, to specific, objective guidelines on measurements, layouts, colours. These should be drawn up by multi-disciplinary groups, with input from disabled people, researchers, academics, ergonomists and designers.
- Raise awareness of the needs of older and disabled people in standards making bodies. Product standards do not cover only performance and test methods, but much else including the operation of equipment, safety factors, compatibility and quality assurance. All these aspects determine the parameters for product designers.
- Over time amend consumer product standards to take into account the needs of older and disabled people. ISO - the International Standards Organisation - is developing guidance to raise awareness of and provide information on design for all. At the European level, ANEC strives to achieve consumer representation in standardisation, so that consumers themselves can promote and protect the interests of non-professional users of products and services. It recognises the importance of consumer participation representing all consumers, so that the special needs of this growing proportion of people are addressed in the standards process.
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