#1223: Defining Disability Through Differences in Movement, Sensing, Feeling, Thinking, & Communicating

Christine Hemphill started Open Inclusion in 2018 as a disability-inclusive research and design organization that is working at the intersection between accessibility and emerging technologies. She makes sense of the broad spectrum of disabilities by saying, “I talk about people that think, feel, move, sense or communicate significantly enough differently that they’re excluded from the way design works today. So to me that’s disability.”

Hemphill’s phenomenological framing of disability reminds me of Bernd Schmitt’s 1999 article on Experiential Marketing where he defines the “strategic experiential modules” as being “sense, feel, think, act, and relate.” VR researcher Dustin Chertoff drew upon this experiential marketing research to expand VR presence theory into the domains of “sensory, cognitive, affective, active, and relational.” In my own elemental approach of presence theory, I conceive of it in terms of Embodied Presence from sensory experiences, Active Presence of agency and interactivity, Emotional Presence of emotional immersion, and Mental Presence including the cognitive plausibility and sensemaking aspects as well as the Social Presence and communication dynamics with other people.

Each of these approaches have commonalities that seen when juxtaposing the frameworks from Hemphill, Schmitt, Chertoff, and Bye together:

  • Sense, Sense, Sensory, or Embodied Presence
  • Think, Think, Cognitive, or Mental Presence
  • Feel, Feel, Affective, or Emotional Presence
  • Move, Act, Active, or Active Presence
  • Communicate, Relate, Relational, or Social Presence

There are experiential design implications for how to accommodate for a broader spectrum of thinking, feeling, moving, sensing, or communicating differently. Hemphill’s slide shown at XR Access lists more details of this spectrum including move differently (mobility, dexterity), sense differently (hearing, sight, touch), feel differently (mental health), think differently (memory, learning), communicate differently (social, communications), and other access needs (mental health, chronic health, neurodivergence, neurodiversity).

Hemphill also lists out contextual dimensions to consider including finances, social resources, education, digital literacy, and just access to that technology in general. In addition, there is also a spectrum of how adaptable folks are given the novel nature of emerging technologies. But defining the spectrum of these variations and differences helps to identify the experiential design considerations when thinking about providing multiple options to users. We’ll be diving into some of those universal principles of design and emerging XR heuristics in the next interview with Reginé Gilbert as well as throughout the course of this series on XR Accessibility.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So this is the second of 15 of my series of looking at XR accessibility. I went to the XR Access Conference that was happening in New York City on June 15th and June 16th. I wanted to also begin the top of this series by looking at how we start to think about disability in the different populations. And from a design perspective, what are the different specific considerations? And so I wanted to talk to Christine Hemphill, who is the founder of Open Inclusion. They do disability inclusive research and design within the context of their organization, which means that they have a whole way of thinking about how do you classify and define disability. For Christine, she defines that anybody that moves differently, senses differently, feels differently, thinks differently, communicates differently, or there's some other access needs as well. And so I tie this back into my experiential design framework, where I start to think about active presence and mental, social presence and emotional presence, as well as embodied environmental presence. And so movement, I think of it as active presence, where you have mobility, dexterity, Sensed differently, I think of that as embodied presence. You have hearing, sight, touch, all the different sensory experiences, blind and low vision, hearing impairments, different touch sensitivities. Feeling differently, I think of that as emotional presence, so different emotional sensitivities, whether that's different aspects of mental health. You have think differently. So memory learning cognitive skills cognitive impairments and then communicate differently of social dynamics communication So I think of that as mental and social presence and then the other access needs ranging from mental health chronic health neurodivergence and neurodiverse and epilepsy so lots of different types of impairments and so just wanted to start that off and as we start to dig in and she'll talk about how she starts to think about not only these complexes of disability, but also what's it take as a design organization to have both the awareness and the intent, also being aware of all these other dimensions of context, whether it's finances, social resources, education, digital literacy, and just access to that technology in general. So I think this will give a good primer to understanding this landscape of how to start to think about these different populations and how to tie that back into the different design considerations. And then we'll start to dive in more from there. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Wastes of VR podcast. So this interview with Christine happened on Friday, June 16th, 2023. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:44.353] Christine Hemphill: I'm Christine Hemphill. I'm the founder and managing director of Open Inclusion. And we're a disability-inclusive research and design organization. But we specifically love working in the intersection between accessibility and emerging technology. So we've been involved in XR research programs and design since 2018 we started. So gosh, that's five years ago. Yeah, we've been running research in this space.

[00:03:09.532] Kent Bye: Great. Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into this space.

[00:03:14.691] Christine Hemphill: My background is I came from a design and innovation background, then I kind of went back up the chain into research. Really because I understood that designers will turn up with intent, most of the time, to design something fabulous. The reason they fail people is they don't have the insight that is broad enough of the full range of humanity and people that they're designing for. to design wonderfully for all people. So these design failures that are coming, you know, we see throughout society today, are specifically impactful in emerging technology because they're creating the design failures of the future. So, you know, essentially I designed a research organisation to address that challenge, so specifically we just do disability and age-inclusive research so that we can support people turning up with intent to be able to design things that will work more consistently, more delightfully for more people.

[00:04:09.155] Kent Bye: And yeah, and maybe you could talk about how XR and virtual reality started to come into the mix.

[00:04:15.090] Christine Hemphill: It's a really interesting one. It's coming in increasingly, you know, having been working in this space for five years where it really was in the gaming space but not significantly outside of that five years ago, to now seeing it in real human rights spaces like education, employment, health, these areas where if you've got exclusion, it's not just excluding people from fair and fun entertainment, it's actually excluding people from life capabilities and opportunities. So, I think one of the things that I've really seen change is that progression into areas where the cost of exclusion or the benefit of inclusion, if you take the optimistic side, is so much higher. In terms of accessibility, we've also seen a transformation there. So, I founded Open in 2015. There wasn't an organisation that did what we did then, not commercially anyway, there were universities and non-commercial organisations. It's a really fast-growing area. People are understanding that, in fact, large commercial organisations, as well as government and educational institutions and so on, are understanding if they're not designing for human variation, they're not designing for humans. That's come through from a range of other EDI perspectives, not just disability. It's come through with Black Lives Matter, with the Me Too movement, with just recognising that we're failing communities quite significantly and we can do better. And actually it's come into disability inclusion as well. So we're really feeling a transformation in intent. Now we need to inform that intent with the practical how, so that's where conversations like this are so important. People want to do the right thing now, they're at different points in their maturity of that, but now we need to actually just give people the tools, the capability and of course the insights to be able to do that.

[00:06:07.336] Kent Bye: Yeah, you showed a slide yesterday that showed a wide spectrum of different types of either physical or cognitive disabilities. Maybe you could give a range of how you start to think of the taxonomy of different verticals of specific considerations that are either excluding people or ways that you have to have specific design considerations in order to be as inclusive as possible. So I'd love to hear if you give a little bit of an overview of how you start to make sense of the demographic populations in that way.

[00:06:37.211] Christine Hemphill: Yeah, it's a really important question because it can get, we say there's two things that really get in people's way once they've got the awareness and intent. One of them's complexity and the other one's fear. And the complexity piece, which is what you're really asking about, is how do humans vary in a functional way? And I talk about people that think, feel, move, sense or communicate significantly enough differently that they're excluded from the way design works today. So to me that's disability. We heard a whole lot of definitions of disability this morning. To me it's a design challenge that there's this point in design beyond which we've not taken into consideration the breadth of humanity. What's really interesting is there's these functional areas of difference and many people have multiple functional areas of difference. So I'm also someone who regularly challenges what I call jam jar accessibility solutions. Oh let's solve this for blind population, let's solve this for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, let's solve this. Many people have multiple co-occurring differences. So solving it just for a jam jar, you might actually just put it in someone else's additional needs. So we need to solve for whole humans. And that includes other characteristics not to do with their functional needs. That includes financial resources. It includes social resources. It includes education and digital literacy, certainly in the world of XR. Access to headsets or access to very expensive equipment and the ability to use it to its No one uses it to its full functionality, but closer to its full functionality. So all of these are layers of exclusion that impact experience. Underneath all of it, I care about experience. What does the person actually experience? So there's a functional need. There's also identity becomes incredibly important. If someone identifies as disabled, they might go looking for an accessibility solution. If someone, say, is just getting older or has a temporary access need, or maybe has a newer access need that they haven't yet taken on that identity of disabled, they won't know where to look or they won't use the same language in order. to look, so we need to have multiple ways in to the solutions that we're designing. So identity is important. Then of course the way we adapt is quite different. So you might have three people with exactly the same functional level of difference. They might have the same identity, but they adapt quite differently. We were just hearing a session on lip reading. For some people who are deaf and hard of hearing, lip reading is a fabulous way of navigating and adapting to a world that is a sound world. For other people they might use sign language and for someone else they might be using a hearing aid or a technical device that is supporting their hearing. All of these things are absolutely effective more or less in different circumstances but will create different borders and boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. So when we're thinking about that taxonomy different functional needs, different other characteristics and intersectional characteristics, including multiple characteristics of disability, but also the fullness of the human, their gender, their racial identity, their resources, access and so on. And then how they adapt, you know, how they identify and adapt.

[00:09:45.212] Kent Bye: Yeah, as I've been listening to a lot of the discussions here, there's a bit of a chicken and egg problem with some of the XR technologies with folks who are either low vision or blind may have no reason to buy a VR headset because a lot of it isn't accessible. And so they don't own the technology. And so we can't hear back from what they may need. And so how do you start to overcome that challenge? Do you start to send technology out to your network of folks who are helping to test these things? Or what's the way that you start to address this issue?

[00:10:12.435] Christine Hemphill: I think one of the more effective ways of doing this could be designing things that are specifically adaptive and assistive. So designing XR to actually solve currently significant unmet needs in populations, whether it's blind and low vision, whether it's deaf and hard of hearing, whether it's people with different mobility, dexterity needs, or people who are neurodivergent and neurodiverse. or mental health or chronic health needs. So any of these kind of communities, they have very significant unmet needs. And if you can specifically design something that will fulfill those needs in a more efficient way than what's available outside of the exile world, then there is a very good reason for people to be early adopters of this technology. So as an example, again, just In a recent session we've been in around education and thinking about how education barriers are there for deaf and hard of hearing students. Thinking about, well, if you can make education more accessible where more of the attention and intellectual energy is spent on understanding, comprehending, absorbing that knowledge, not just accessing that knowledge. That's going to be very compelling for students to take on these new technologies and say, let me give it a go and see if I can find greater success in something I deeply care about because you've solved for this unmet need on the way. So I think we need to actually go to the community and say, I've got these things, we've got these capabilities that are emerging, that are increasing, literally week by week. We just saw Apple's rollout last week at Vision. So with this new technology, how would you see it might solve for, you know, I can see there's some of these things that we're aware of that are causing barriers in your life. How might this do that? And that's a really interesting challenge as well because someone who's what I would call a user expert is not necessarily a solution expert and might not know how it might solve for those unmet needs. The more we can bring people with disabilities and different access needs into the solution expert community, the more they'll very naturally and intuitively find the spaces where this suite of technologies will be really powerful. And equally we need our solution experts to really start to more deeply understand the experience of people with disabilities. So we need both communities to kind of meet in the middle.

[00:12:39.852] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of XR, spatial computing, all these immersive technologies, with accessibility in mind, and what that might be able to enable?

[00:12:52.537] Christine Hemphill: Enormous. The ability to bring the physical environment, digital content, and social engagement together in an adaptive way is incredibly exciting. Power is huge. The potential is huge. The current reality is still very, very limited. So there's a lot of cynicism because it's been around for a long time and it's still not solving sufficient numbers of needs to be really pervasively powerful technology. With 5G, with sensor technology, with generative AI coming in, that power is only going to get greater and we just need the right people in the room, in the right space together to go, how do we plug this capability that is very quickly becoming the potential for really solving problems is just getting there. So how do we really understand the problems that can solve? Well, and equally I would caution, and what problems can it create, that we can design for now, thinking about the broader suite of humanity, both designing for solving the problems, but also designing for not creating new problems.

[00:14:13.287] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community?

[00:14:18.790] Christine Hemphill: It's really fun. It is so joyful to be in a place like this, where that combination of solution experts and user experts are here in the one place. This is when the magic will happen. So this is what we need. These are the conversations that are important. It's very exciting.

[00:14:35.320] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[00:14:36.560] Christine Hemphill: Pleasure. Thank you.

[00:14:38.061] Kent Bye: So that was Christine Hemphill. She's the founder and managing director of Open Inclusion, which is a disability and inclusive research and design organization. So I've had a number of takeaways about this interview is that first of all, so I actually really liked the way that Christine is talking about the phenomenological definition of disability through the lens of moving differently, sensing differently, feeling differently, thinking differently. communicating differently, and these other access needs. Again, like I said at the beginning, I tie this back into my experiential design framework, where I start to think about active presence and mental social presence and emotional presence, as well as embodied and environmental presence. And so from the active presence, you have moved differently. So all the different ways that people either have mobility limitations, dexterity, if maybe they're in a wheelchair, and then the context of VR, you have different locomotion options and variety of different interaction paradigms. And if you only have the use of one hand or whatnot. Then you have sense differently, which is the embodied presence of the sensory experience. So that's anything from blind and low vision, hearing impairments, different touch sensitivities, and then also potentially other aspects of like epilepsy, neurodivergence, neurodiversity, and then feeling differently associate different aspects of mental health. And then thinking differently, you have cognitive or memory limitations, or folks are aging or have different neurodegenerative diseases. And so that's thinking differently, but also communicating differently. So there's different sensitivities to social dynamics or communication limitations. And then a whole other range of different types of access needs for mental health, chronic health, neurodivergence, neurodiversity, epilepsy, other physical medical conditions as well that may not neatly fit into any of the previous categories. So as you start to think about each of these different modalities of moving, sensing, feeling, thinking, and communicating, then starting to see how there's a variety of different ranges and opportunities as you start to break those down. And as we continue to go through the series, there's some resources that'll be digging more into that. I'll be talking to Reginae Gilbert in the next interview. There's also the XR Association in collaboration with XR Access. They created a whole PDF that is trying to map up all these different things, but there's still yet a lot of work to be done to be able to come up with the heuristics that are going to more completely describe all of these things. So I'll be digging into a high level overview in the next episode with Regina Gilbert, who has written a book that goes into inclusive design for digital world, starting to lay out some of the different work that she's been doing to start to map some of these different heuristics in the context of XR. So, that's all that I have for today, and I just want to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a thisisreported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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