Industrial designer Marc Harrison suffered a brain injury while sledding when he was 11-years old. The injury and years of rehabilitation would provide Harrison with insight and inspiration for his future work in industrial design.
Harrison would go on to develop the philosophy of Universal Design – the idea that products should be developed for people of all abilities, not just for people of average size, shape, and ability.
Harrison’s study of people with disabilities led to the iconic design of the Cuisinart food processor, a design still relevant today after more than 40 years. The simple, clean design would also come to be a major influence for Steve Jobs in the development of the Macintosh computer.
If you put the original Mac in 1984 side-by-side with an early ’80s Cuisinart, the influence on the physical design of the Mac is immediately obvious. Not only is the Mac designed with software for accessibility and more universal design, but its physical design had this perhaps unknown influence as well. – Dean Karavite
Designing for the “extreme user” vs. the average user results in more innovative designs.
I learned about Harrison from an exceptional interview with Dean Karavite, a Human Interaction Specialist in Clinical Informatics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dean was interviewed by Whitney Quesenbery, co-author of the book, “A Web for Everyone”.
- What are Personal Health Records or PHRs?
- Why are PHRs important for people with disabilities?
- What has been learned about the accessibility of Electronic Health Records?
- What can be learned about any product by testing it with people with disabilities?
It is important to point out that people with disabilities are not all people in poor health.
People with disabilities use the health care system a lot and in many different ways. –Whitney Quesenbery
Among study participants with various levels of disability, Dean found that people with the highest level of needs – those also with many chronic conditions – were the source of “the most detailed, sophisticated, and innovative ideas on what an accessible PHR should do.”
Understanding what users want and the problem the application will solve should be the first step in any development process. How does user-centered design firm IDEO find people to interview for needfinding? While it is great to speak with average users, the most interesting interviews come from “extreme users.” This idea of extreme users is also explored in “Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility throughout Design” by Shawn Henry.
As part of our project exploring accessible Personal Health Records, one of the methods we have applied was performing a survey with 150 people with different disabilities. In that survey, we had our participants rate over 20 health topics in two ways.
First, in terms of how important the particular topic was to their health and healthcare, and second, their current level of satisfaction with a particular issue or topic.
The number one, most highly rated issue in terms of importance was the ability to share medical information between different providers’ offices, and hospitals.
The real underlying issue here isn’t just the transfer of data, but care coordination, which is the collaboration, not just communication, but collaboration between multiple healthcare providers. – Dean Karavite interview with Whitney Quesenbery
Assessment of Three PHR Systems
Another part of the “Accessibility Designs” project looked to assess the current state of PHR systems for accessibility, functionality and usability.
Unfortunately, vendors were reluctant to participate.
These results came from systems project team members used to manage their own health including a hospital PHR, an ambulatory PHR, and a consumer PHR.
According to the project, “The hospital PHR was the least functional and least usable, yet was the most accessible. Meanwhile the ambulatory PHR was the most functional and most usable, yet failed to meet basic accessibility standards. The consumer PHR was quite usable despite failing to meet accessibility criteria, and failed one crucial accessibility requirement: the entry of dates by people with visual and/or physical disabilities, a critical action required by almost every task managed by the system.”
Now We All Have It, and We Absolutely Love It
Many of the technologies used today are the result of work used to meet the needs of people with disabilities:
“For example, touch screens, on-screen keyboards with word prediction, zoomable displays, speech recognition, text-to-speech. Think about it. It took about 10 to 15 years, and now we all have it on our computers, our phones and other devices, and we absolutely love it.” – Dean Karavite
Get out of your little box and look for inspiration all over the place.
Good ideas can come from anywhere!
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