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Hugo Mathers

Hugo Mathers

Inclusive design

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After much testing and field research, it became obvious that the Cubetto Playset could potentially matter to many parents and teachers who live, work and care for children with a variety of learning disabilities.

The privileges of learning to program shouldn’t be exclusive, they should be inclusive, not just for race, gender and socio economic backgrounds, but also for cognitive abilities. An invitation to hold a workshop at Cyril Jackson Schools in Tower Hamlets, helped us realise just how important inclusiveness in deign really is.

We’ve always been fascinated by the power of sound and music in toys, even as adults, and knew sound to be an important feature Cubetto should have, but it wasn’t until our time in Tower Hamlets that we found an actual application for the buzzer beyond amplifying the fun.

Unlike most of our workshops up to this point (with year 1 and year 2 students) we had a tough set of customers to charm, a group of inclusion pupils between the ages of 7 and 10.

We kicked off the session as we normally do, only to find our group quickly losing interest in Cubetto, a hurtful first in our workshop history. The Playset was too quiet, and thus of little interest to the group comprising of children on different points of the Autism spectrum. Next door, another group of children were running a play session with a Bee-Bot, a much noisier alternative. Too loud in fact, according to the teachers.

We’re normally averse to unnecessarily noisy things unless the specific application calls for it, and until that point always saw the quiet nature of Cubetto as a positive thing, but the Cyril Jackson staff quickly helped us realise that sound is an extremely powerful catalyst for winning and retaining attention in these circumstances.

Thanks to our Arduino at heart approach, we were able to make changes to Cubetto on the spot, quickly adding a “beep” every time Cubetto performed a command block, and a funky melody every time a sequence was completed. This small change turned the session on its head. The kids began to pay attention and enjoy the activity.

What we learned from this experience is that insights on products can be found beyond your target audience, and that if you design for inclusion and account for users with disabilities, chances are you will design a better product for everyone else.

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