Book on Universal Design

April 27, 2009

O’Reilly is one of the most important publishing companies out there right now. They print the books that techies read and refer to in order to keep the world’s IT systems, networks and applications running. Their Linux books were a godsend when I was in grad school.

Here is a new book in their product line:


And a website for the book.

I hate, hate, hate web things that use Flash for navigation, or buttons that are gif images without alt-text—and I don’t have a disability. Imagine trying to use a such a site with a sip-and-puff switch, or read it with a text-to-speech reader. It doesn’t work. And this can make it miserable for people trying to buy things online, research information, or participate in 21st century social/cultural events (which are increasingly virtual in scope).

Web designers should read this book and O’Reilly is commended for publishing it. I hope they expand and improve it for a second edition in the future, even.


Braille e-book

April 20, 2009

This isn’t out on the market yet, but this is a promising design.

This goes in the design and society blog because it really shows how far we’ve come in our attitudes toward disability. Prosthetic legs used to be designed to conceal the fact that they were prosthetic. Never mind that their design wasn’t much good for anything except sitting down and looking “normal.”

Ellie May’s prosthetics don’t look like natural human legs at all and they don’t have to! They are her legs. We judge them based on their function, not appearance. They let her walk and play like her peers, without the hindering pretense of hiding her disability. We don’t have to do that anymore.

I’ll bet in the near future we are going to see more designs that serve useful functions without being tied to traditional forms. However, it is hard to break free of doing things the way we always have (I should know; it’s what we are trying to do with communication systems at Penn State right now.)

What play looks like.

April 9, 2009

I just saw two kids running around in circles chasing each other around a bike rack. Looked like a brother and sister, age 4 and 6 perhaps.

Repetitive, and pointless behavior.

They do it—it looks like silly play.

Our kids do it—it is perseveration that needs to be extinguished through behavior modification.

Think about that…

My former coworker just posted a great quote that her daughter said:

“Shark boy and Lava girl are incompatible.”

Clearly, she was referring to this

“Incompatible” is a pretty big word for a five year old. She has access to this sort of language so she can try it out. I wonder how much of her saying this was testing the word to explore what it means. (It’s in her Zone of Proximal Development)*

Compare this sentence to the average utterance in an AAC system. When was the last time you programmed something this interesting and complex into an AAC system? (I know I never have.)
The point of all of this is that kids won’t learn this sort of language unless they have access to it. Don’t wait until they are “ready” and then give it to them. Throw the kids into the deep end of the linguistic pool and let them construct their way out.

*(This little girl’s mother is a behavior analyst and probably doesn’t hold to the theory of ZPD or language construction, but that’s beside the point).