[community] Is COVID Alert an Inclusive Design Fail?

Jutta Treviranus jtreviranus at ocadu.ca
Thu Aug 6 21:26:10 UTC 2020

Hi Ushnish,
Inclusive Design grows out of Universal Design. Two different versions emerged almost simultaneously, one in the UK and the version we developed in our centre since 1993 here in Canada. The UK version emerged as a "more realistic" approach to Universal Design (UD). It framed UD for business and calculated the customer base for accessibility features based on incidences of specific disabilities.  See: https://www-edc.eng.cam.ac.uk/downloads/idtoolkit.pdf . The UK inclusive design grew out of architecture and industrial design. They have since adopted many of our processes in the digital realm and integrated this into Design for All in the EU.

The IDRC version of Inclusive Design emerged in the context of digital systems, networks and the Web. We saw the opportunity to move from one-size-fits-all compromises of UD in architecture and industrial design, to the opportunity to provide one-size-fits-one designs within a digital system or network because of digital and network adaptability and sourcing. We differ from the UK version of Inclusive Design in that we do not stress incidence levels, in fact we stress the opposite and show the systemic benefits of beginning with and co-designing with people that are most marginalized.

With respect to accessibility in the digital space, we were involved in starting the Web Accessibility Initiative of the W3C together with Mike Paciello and the Yuri Rubinsky Foundation. This is where the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were developed. They form the basis of accessibility regulations relevant to the Web and other digital tools in most countries with accessibility policies. The original WCAG is in part based on our web accessibility guidelines. When we developed the guidelines we did not think they would be entrenched in laws as static criteria, because they do not encompass all the needs, and because technology changes very rapidly. However, regulations require testable requirements for enforcement.  We see the accessibility laws as intended for the laggards who fail to see the benefits of inclusive design. The original guidelines all reflected guidance that would enable greater flexibility in Web interactions and content.

The distinction that is made between accessibility and inclusive design is that accessibility is the criteria, inclusive design is the process. Juliana Rowsell and I are both Digital Fellows in the Digital Academy. Her accessibility guidelines are a merger of a number of sources of guidance.

We have an inclusive design guide: https://guide.inclusivedesign.ca
I have tried to capture our process in three blogs that are non-technical and not too academic: https://medium.com/fwd50/the-three-dimensions-of-inclusive-design-part-one-103cad1ffdc2
There are three parts.

Microsoft approached us to help them create an inclusive design toolkit about 8 years ago, see https://www.fastcompany.com/3054927/microsofts-inspiring-bet-on-a-radical-new-type-of-design-thinking and https://vimeo.com/138671443. The Toolkit is here: https://download.microsoft.com/download/b/0/d/b0d4bf87-09ce-4417-8f28-d60703d672ed/inclusive_toolkit_manual_final.pdf. Kat Holmes captured our inclusive design process and interpreted it for private enterprise in her book Mismatch.  I worked with Matt May to develop a set of courses in inclusive design for Adobe. See: https://adobe.design/inclusive/ There are many other inclusive design supports and resources emerging.

The Canadian Digital Service is in part modelled on the on the Ontario Digital Service led by Hilary Hartley. Here is an article they published on the areas of inclusive design and accessibility:

I hope this clarifies. There are many more resources we can provide on inclusive design.


On Aug 6, 2020, at 3:59 PM, Ushnish Sengupta <ushnish.sengupta at gmail.com<mailto:ushnish.sengupta at gmail.com>> wrote:

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Thanks for clarifications Jutta
I am definitely interested in learning more about Inclusive Design, so any resources are welcome.
I am able to find many more tools and practical examples for Design Thinking due to the prevalence of the method. Design Thinking tools and examples definitely need to be carefully selected according to context, and critiqued in some cases.
I would like to see more Inclusive Design related practical tools and real world project examples for sure.

I see a lot of overlap in descriptions of Inclusive Design and Design for Accessibility, for example the makers of the Canadian Covi19 App, the Canadian Digital Service discusses accessibility and inclusive services here:

Perhaps anyone more familiar with the subject can shed some light on the commonalities and differences between Inclusive Design and Design for Accessibility.  IMHO I dont see design for accessibility addressing the issues of socio-economic class, age differences, and the digital divide, as made evident by the Canadian Covid19 App.


On Wed, Aug 5, 2020 at 2:17 PM Jutta Treviranus <jtreviranus at ocadu.ca<mailto:jtreviranus at ocadu.ca>> wrote:
Thank you Ushnish for the thoughtful approach.

I wanted to add some considerations and clarifications.

Two of the distinctions between Design Thinking and Inclusive Design, as we conceive it at the IDRC, are 1) the logic model or process and 2) the methods of considering the needs of the 'end user.”

The difference is most striking in the process diagrams. Design Thinking has the famous squiggle that iteratively results in a winning design through a series of competitive processes, https://thedesignsquiggle.com/. In Inclusive Design we use a Virtuous Tornado which also iterates through full cycles that include prototype evaluation, but rather than narrowing down to a winning solution, we cycle out, in that we create a system that is capable of stretching to address more and more needs in each iteration.  See https://guide.inclusivedesign.ca/activities/VirtuousTornado.html and https://medium.com/@jutta.trevira/inclusive-design-the-bell-curve-the-starburst-and-the-virtuous-tornado-6094f797b1bf

We have discovered that there is no fix, solution, winning or best design when you are attempting to be inclusive. People with minority needs always lose out when the process is competitive. The current complex adaptive system we operate in also means that you need a system that can respond and adapt. Hence encompassing more needs in your system also supports greater flexibility in the underlying architecture.

(As a side note, many Design Thinking initiatives (e.g., IDEO) and Inclusive Design aim to "design for good". However, in Inclusive Design we feel that for any design to survive it must be integrated into standard mainstream practices or it won’t survive or interoperate. Inclusive Design is not about charity but about culture change for the benefit of the individuals currently excluded and the system as a whole.)

The second distinction is about how to and who to include in the design process. We feel that it is most important to include people who have difficulty or can’t use current designs. That is how we innovate; and surface and address unexpected issues. I have found that user research (especially statistical analysis that determines an average), persona, and identity-based representation can lead to a false notion of knowing what is needed or a false confidence. I find that only by actively engaging people that have been excluded by existing designs, or people that are most likely to be excluded by the design you are working on, can you really understand the spectrum of needs and how to address the needs  (designing with not for, "nothing about us without us"). By active engagement of people with lived experience of the barriers, I mean right from the beginning, with the problem statement. There are many instances where our understanding of the problem has become deeper and more fundamental when we have done this.

I’d love to explain further and I’d love your thoughts.


> On Aug 4, 2020, at 7:08 PM, Ushnish Sengupta <ushnish.sengupta at gmail.com<mailto:ushnish.sengupta at gmail.com>> wrote:
> 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
> knowledge
> 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.
> Solutions
> 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.
> Ushnish
> On Tue, Aug 4, 2020 at 6:28 PM John Willis <pickupwillis at gmail.com<mailto: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<mailto: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><mailto:roland.vanOostveen at uoit.ca<mailto:roland.vanOostveen at uoit.ca>>
>>> ontariotechu.ca<http://ontariotechu.ca/><http://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<mailto:pickupwillis at gmail.com>>
>>> Sent: August 4, 2020 4:39 PM
>>> To: Inclusive Design Community<mailto:community at lists.idrc.ocadu.ca<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...
>>> ________________________________________
>>> Inclusive Design Community (community at lists.idrc.ocadu.ca<mailto:community at lists.idrc.ocadu.ca>)
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