Design as a social science promotes inclusivity and the value of universal accessibility, yet disappointingly practitioners often exclude diverse populations in design research and development. Our creations so often reject these users, who are attempting to participate independently in society and access important services such as education, grocery shopping, government support or day-to-day products. This effect is known as design exclusion, where solutions and artefacts fail to adapt to the broader needs of diverse audiences, creating “misfits by design” (Holmes, 2018 pg. 4) who are left out of the proverbial playground. A mismatch in an artefact’s ability to adapt to the needs of a diverse audience occurs as a result of a combination of factors, predominantly:
• a general misunderstanding of the needs of neurodiverse audiences (Bowen and Snow, 2017; Baren-Cohen, 1999)
• no clear nor standardised understanding of what adjustments must be made to design research to be more inclusive (Benton, 2014; Kang and Satterfield; Fabri and Satterfield, 2019; Fabri and Andrews 2016; De Cauwer, Clement, Buelens and Heylighen, 2009)
• an inability to import successful practices employed by other disciplines that facilitate this discussion. (Cassim, 2010).
In some instances, the compromise inherent to inclusion design can be seen to reduce maximum marketability (De Cauwer, Clement, Buelens and Heylighen, 2009). It has been posited that working with more diverse user groups can be invaluable to the design critique process (Ostrof, 2003). To counter these problematic trends, this research paper explores:
• factors that contribute to design exclusion which must be addressed in order to make inclusivity desirable
• how designers can work with and adapt the insights of practitioners in fields that facilitate inclusion, such as speech pathologists, psychologists and educators
• methods designers can employ to work with and translate these insights into a tool for designers to embed inclusive adjustments into their user research practices.
The above goals were addressed through four research phases which employed a combination of critical practice analysis, in-depth interviews with multi-disciplinary practitioners and an iterative and reflective prototyping and play testing of a facilitative design tool that promotes inclusion of diverse participants.
The resultant design research toolkit - entitled the Neurodiverse Connections Toolkit - summarises tactics that designers can use to adapt their research practice to support the needs of neurodiverse users.