[community] Is COVID Alert an Inclusive Design Fail?

Ushnish Sengupta ushnish.sengupta at gmail.com
Tue Aug 4 23:08:22 UTC 2020

Hi John
The primary data I know of answering some of the questions you raised is
Statistics Canada Internet Use surveys.

I have been thinking about inclusion/exclusion and Contact Tracing Apps, so
a medium length response the original question "Is COVID Alert an Inclusive
Design Fail?" follows.

IMHO the project is an inclusive design failure on a number of levels:
1) The first release failed to account for the spectrum of the digital
divide in terms of not everyone having the most recent phone and OS.
-Would be more transparent if they announced the plan or the roadmap to
address this issue, but no such plans/roadmap isv publicly available to my
2) The project failed to account for WHO would be excluded for the current
app as released, particularly senior citizens and low income individuals,
not coincidentally the groups with disproportionally higher rates of
Covid19 cases and deathsU
3) Given that many accessibility technologies take time to "catch up" to
the latest phone hardware and software releases, and additionally given
that many senior citizens have disabilities, I would infer that this first
release of the contact tracing app discriminates against people with
disabilities, as a disproportionately LOW number of people with
disabilities will be able to effectively access, download and use the app,
exposing people with disabilities to greater Covid19 risks.

1) Design Thinking
Part of the solution is applying Design Thinking ensuring we identify the
appropriate stakeholders and user groups, create empathy maps, ensure each
different identified groups needs are met and follow through with the other
Design Thinking steps. I know there are many Design Thinking fans on this
list and within the groups that created the app, including Ontario Digital
Services, Shopify etc., and I am a fan of Design Thinking as well, but for
me Design Thinking is a *necessary but insufficient *process in developing
a contact tracing app for a broad country wide population.

2) Cognitive diversity on Project Team
I teach my Project Management and Information Systems students, what is
often missing in technology projects is the right mix of people on the
project team, to avoid what happened here.
If a government department or a private company or a combination of both
are designing an app for the ENTIRE Canadian population they need to have
people on the project team that have the COGNITIVE DIVERSITY to understand
the following issues are relevant to the project:
1) There is a phone technology based digital divide, its not a binary
have/have not issue, its a spectrum of access issue including type of
device, age of devices, operating system, cost etc.
In particular the digital divide involves low income and age factors, so at
a minimum the project team has to include people who can perform a
Socio-Economic Class and Ageism analysis.
2). The Covid19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted senior citizens in
long term care homes, as well as racialized low income communities, so any
technology implemented to combat the pandemic has to take this
disproportionality into account, and the technology selected, designed, and
implemented has to be appropriate for these specific groups.

Unfortunately the demographic of the developers of Contact Tracing apps
tend not to match the demographics of those most negatively affected by
either Covid19 or the implementation of the app.  The developers tend to be
early adopters of technology having the latest phones, and have limited
lived knowledge/experience of the digital divide. The app developers also
tend to be younger and have no lived experience of technology access issues
for senior citizens.  So is the solution just throw in a couple of people
with these specific lived experiences onto the project team?
Not necessarily, whats important is having team members be cognizant of,
and able to recognize the issues of the digital divide, agesim, and ableism
which comes often from lived experience, but also from training and
education on these frames of analysis, something that was missing in this
project.  We need to have people that can recognize these issues on the
project team from the start to avoid or mitigate them.

p.s. I am going to write a coherent blog post out of this at some point, so
comments including critiques are welcome.


On Tue, Aug 4, 2020 at 6:28 PM John Willis <pickupwillis at gmail.com> wrote:

>  Thanks Roland, Michael., Justin for your great responses – this has
> enlightened me and I really appreciate it.
> Working in the area of social assistance and digital transformation, there
> are a lot of assumptions being made in government about the spread of
> digital technology and its ubiquity in low income communities. While it is
> obvious that in urban areas most people now have a smart phone, the
> variation in operating systems and how old they are, not to mention the
> difficulty of Wi-Fi access in more rural areas, makes the situation far
> more complicated
> Does anyone know of any quantitative analysis in Ontario or Canada of low
> income families and individuals and their specific digital access?
> Thanks
> John D. Willis
> Design & innovation in Public Services
> > On Aug 4, 2020, at 17:21, Roland Van Oostveen <
> ROLAND.VANOOSTVEEN at uoit.ca> wrote:
> >
> > When I heard this report I immediately thought that the failure to
> install on older platforms might be due to the use of BlueTooth technology
> (for security purposes) that allows the app to work in the first place. If
> it could be installed on older mobile OSs but couldn’t do what it is
> supposed to, where would that get us. This is similar to the issues that MS
> had with Windows and support for all of the older equipment. Eventually
> even MS got to the point where obsolescence is built into the OS, I.e.,
> nobody can run Windows95 anymore.
> >
> >
> >
> > Roland
> >
> >
> >
> > Roland van Oostveen
> >
> > Director, BA in ESDT Programs
> > Associate Professor - Faculty of Education
> > Ontario Tech University
> > 905.721.8668 ext. 2657
> > 905.767.5993 (cell)
> > roland.vanoostveen at uoit.ca<mailto:roland.vanOostveen at uoit.ca>
> > ontariotechu.ca<http://ontariotechu.ca>
> >
> > [Ontario Tech University logo]<https://ontariotechu.ca/>
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > [Twitter icon]<https://twitter.com/rolandvo>
> >
> >
> > [LinkedIn icon]<https://linkedin.com/in/roland.vanoostveen@uoit.ca>
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Ontario Tech University is the brand name used to refer to the
> University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
> >
> >
> > The university is proud to acknowledge the lands and people of the
> Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation which is covered under the
> Williams Treaties. We are situated on the Traditional Territory of the
> Mississaugas, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation which includes
> Algonquin, Ojibway, Odawa and Pottawatomi.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Sent from Mail for Windows 10
> >
> >
> >
> > From: John W (personal)<mailto:pickupwillis at gmail.com>
> > Sent: August 4, 2020 4:39 PM
> > To: Inclusive Design Community<mailto:community at lists.idrc.ocadu.ca>
> > Subject: [community] Is COVID Alert an Inclusive Design Fail?
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > the new Covid Alert app just released in Ontario apparently requires
> users
> > to have the latest device / software, leaving low-income and more
> > marginalized folks -- aka people most likely to contract the virus -- out
> > of the loop.
> >
> > I verified this myself yesterday when I could not install it to my
> iPhone 6
> > because it requires iOS 13.5
> >
> > WTF? is this an inclusive design fail of top ranking, or can someone with
> > greater technical knowledge dismiss my budding outrage?
> >
> > maybe it's just an MVP, okay - but surely the communication on this is
> > feeble and misguided because word is already out that it's for the
> > privileged few. Sheesh!
> >
> > j
> >
> > --
> >
> > *John D. Willis | CE CAIP MDes*
> > Design & Innovation in Public Services
> > Toronto CANADA
> >
> > Garbled text? My apologies - speech-to-text technology is still a work in
> > progress...
> > ________________________________________
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