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Skateboards, curb cuts and digital design

Posted April 7th 2021 by Leon, Communications Worker

Skateboarding and curb cuts - a blog post about digital design and accessibility. With a photo of a skateboard.

Skateboards, curb cuts and digital access

Scottish Design Hop: building a virtual skateboard

Last month I took part in a Design Hop – working through digital ideas with a brilliant group of creative people from community organisations across Scotland, and wonderful facilitators. One idea I’ve not stopped thinking about is the session leaders’ skateboard metaphor.

They explained that when charities try to use digital tech to solve community challenges, they sometimes jump right to complex, flashy solutions. Imagine you need to find a way to get to a local greenspace. The flashy solution would be to build a sports car. If you haven’t built a sport car or similar high-tech solution before, it’s likely there’ll be hiccups. It’s expensive and time-consuming. It might not be accessible. Once you’ve built the car, it’s hard to make changes. I may be stretching the metaphor too far!

The alternative approach is more iterative, and involves more listening. Building on what we know already works for everyone, we can try out the simplest ideas which might solve the problem. In other words – creating a skateboard and seeing if that works! It might solve the problem on its own, spark ideas for something better than a car, or make you realise you actually need a community bus link. For something less metaphorical, Catalyst has great example recipes for digital solutions which can come out of this process.

Curb cuts

And like curb cuts in pavements, accessible easy-to-use digital design can make things work better for everyone. We’re still curious about different platforms for community connection, but have a new appreciation for the tech we already use.

Appreciating simple tools – like community Facebook groups – meant letting go of some biases around my favourite tech. Like many people, I find some platforms don’t gel with my brain, or I just … don’t really like them. But if it can help get from A to B (where B is an inclusive community dynamic), and it’s what people use comfortably, it’s likely worth a try! Even if it’s not the coolest, most high-tech option around. If a piece of technology helps people access the information, support and connection they need, we can learn how to use it as inclusively as possible.

On a side note, this all tied in perfectly with my new hobby – skateboarding! Because I’m disabled and don’t have great balance, and maybe because skateboarding is associated with childhood, I had internalised the idea it wasn’t for me. But actually, as long as I don’t go too fast, it’s much easier than walking. Reflecting on my unfounded assumptions made it possible to try out a simple access solution. I’m now a firm believer skateboarding (and cycling) should be options for everyone. And of course, more ramps and curb cuts in the built environment would make it more accessible!

Learning from digital access solutions

I loved how this tied to digital access. When people experience barriers, like accessibility issues online, they often find creative ways around the barriers. This means using existing tech in new ways, altering it, taking a shortcut – and learning from other people. It’s easy to assume high-tech solutions are best, when in practice accessibility often involves simple, shared knowledge about what works.

Co-creating the solutions was a big theme of the Design Hop. The user research activities made us unpick our assumptions, building space to reflect, chat and listen into the design process.

Following up: Using user research to build community connections

The Moments of Freedom group are now using these user research tricks to develop cultural understanding sessions they’ve been working on. The sessions will share their knowledge as New Scots, women, Muslims and locals in Clydebank, to help increase community inclusion and open up new conversations. The other day they worked with Amanda from the Clydesider, exploring which user research questions they’ll ask, so the sessions fit what people find most useful and accessible.

Moments of Freedom are also interested in finding new digital solutions for peer connection with New Scots families across Scotland. If you’re a New Scot, have experience resettling in Scotland, or are working alongside New Scots communities, we would love to hear any digital ideas or solutions! Get in touch with Jill.k@otbds.org or chat with us over on Twitter.

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