Design for Social Accessibility: Incorporating Social Factors in the Design of Accessible Technologies
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Assistive technologies are intended to help people with disabilities accomplish everyday tasks. Yet, such technologies are traditionally designed mainly with functionality in mind, not with consideration for social situations of use. As a result, assistive technologies can be awkward-looking and socially awkward to use, leading to misperceptions about these technologies and their users. These misperceptions can impact users’ sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence, leading assistive technology users to feel self-conscious when using devices in public or social settings, ultimately limiting access. Furthermore, most technology design approaches either assume accessibility is “someone else’s job” or that functional accessibility is the only focus, promoting an inclination to overlook accessibility in design overall and preventing designers from fully considering social aspects of accessibility. In this dissertation, I present original empirical studies that investigate the social implications of assistive technology use. I conceptualize “socially accessible design,” and examine how to effectively incorporate social factors into user-centered design techniques. To address the negative and stigmatizing social perceptions associated with assistive technologies, I define Social Accessibility as a new property of accessible technologies extending our understanding of accessibility to include considerations of both functional usability and social situations of use. I present Design for Social Accessibility as a guiding perspective and a set of design tools and techniques emphasizing social factors in technology design. Through a series of design workshops, I demonstrate how designers can use Design for Social Accessibility by: focusing on functional usability and social situations of use; increasing awareness for how design can engender, rather than impede, access for people with visual impairments, particularly within social contexts; and working with users with and without visual impairments in assessing when design influences self-confidence and self-consciousness. In this dissertation, I: (1) define social accessibility as a new property of technology artifacts that extends accessibility to include functional and social factors; (2) demonstrate that Design for Social Accessibility can help improve the design of technologies usable by people with visual impairments when applied to design methods by bringing awareness to designers about how design engenders or impedes access in functional and social factors of use; and (3) develop and verify a tool that can help designers assess the social accessibility of technology design. The contributions of this dissertation are conceptual—motivating the need for, and defining social accessibility and how it relates to functional accessibility; and empirical and methodological—showing how social factors influence assistive technology use and access, and applying findings to increase awareness, change perspectives, and improve tools and techniques for the design of socially accessible technologies. The thesis of this dissertation is: Design for Social Accessibility produces technology designs judged by people with and without visual impairments to be functionally and socially accessible, addressing feelings of self-consciousness and self-confidence in technology use.
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