Inclusive design helps older people maintain independence for longer

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Inclusive design and smart technologies have the potential to boost the independence of older people and those with sight loss and other disabilities, new research suggests.

Two new reports, Inclusive Design – expert views and Smart Appliances and the Internet of Things, released today by consumer research charity Rica and sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust, call attention to the need for inclusive products – those that are useable by the widest range of people.

With an eye on future trends, the studies also highlight the potential benefits of emerging smart technology for older and disabled people, including those with sight loss.

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Many barriers still exist in making inclusivity a reality. Interviews with 20 experts from manufacturing, design and retail reveal that, although inclusive design principles are understood within the white goods and heating controls industries, manufacturers still have some catching-up to do.

An interviewee from Electrolux admits that “no explicit tests for old or disabled people” are carried out on their products, commenting that the ages of screening lie between 25 and 65.

For the majority of manufacturers, the inclusion of disabled people into the user-centred design process has been minimal at best, and at worst is seen as tokenism. The design, build and retail of inclusive technology also present other problems. Because products are promoted as aspirational, marketing presents a key challenge, as few aspire to old age or disability:

However, the reports offer reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Former students of design schools are entering the workforce with a knowledge of inclusive design.

An ageing population highlights the need for inclusive design policies, putting them on the political agenda. Change will also happen organically as increased consumer awareness of products creates more choice.

The arrival of smart appliances expands the horizon. With a projected value of over £25 billion by the year 2020, smart appliances will soon become the largest global market sector. As modern life will increasingly rely on the ability of such products to communicate with each other – the ‘Internet of Things’ – all of the issues of digital inclusion and exclusion will be felt in the home.

Products designed for use by as much of the population as possible are beneficial to both consumers and producers, and they move the industry away from a perception of niche markets. As designers, manufacturers and retailers step forward into the brave new interconnected world of the Internet of Things, Rica and Thomas Pocklington Trust now urgently call for manufacturers to engage disabled and older people throughout the entire product creation process, shaping the development of this game-changing technology.

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