Computing Reviews

Digital outcasts : moving technology forward without leaving people behind
Smith K., Morgan Kaufmann Publishers Inc., San Francisco, CA, 2013. 288 pp. Type: Book
Date Reviewed: 11/13/13

Kel Smith makes a significant contribution to the subject of user experience in this easily read but important treatise. Written in a broad nontechnical style, the book makes a compelling case for universal design, a concept far more expansive than the more common notion of handicapped-accessible technology. The information here will be challenging and profitable, not only for designers but also for anyone associated with advancing computer technology.

The chapter titles provide a convenient outline of the contents: “Who Are Digital Outcasts?” “Interpreting Ability,” “Why Accessibility Alone Isn’t Enough,” “Accessibility and the Real World,” “Defining Inclusive Innovation,” “Playing for Health,” “Virtual Reality, Universal Life,” “Inclusive Design is the New Green,” “Designing for Tomorrow’s Digital Outcasts,” and “The Future Is Already Here.” Many chapters include a representative case study.

The author correctly notes that the disabled demographic is growing, particularly when one thinks of the expanding elderly population. Legal standards are works in progress that frequently develop on a case-by-case basis. This slow change all too often fails digital outcasts. Businesses need to understand not only the potential of a large external market, but also the internal fact that workers with disabilities frequently achieve high productivity. This requires a fundamental change in how one approaches design. One interesting design innovation is presented via a case study that addresses a better way to purchase groceries. Another meaningful discussion involves the ways in which virtual realities can have multiple interactive, mind-expanding, and therapeutic uses.

The author suggests making accessibility an enterprise initiative. In fact, product design may be considered part of social responsibility. There are exciting breakthroughs even now appearing in specially designed computer-assisted clothing. Smith suggests: “We may be nearing a point where the digital augmentation of physical capacity is advocated to be a fundamental human right.” However, Smith is not promoting idealistic proposals removed from realistic thinking. He concludes, “One day, we will expect that technology will adapt to us rather than force us to adapt to it.” Empathy requires us to consider the impact that our design decisions have on others.

The book’s layout is quite reader-friendly, with detailed breakdowns of the contents of each chapter, notable quotations in the margins, and a comprehensive index and list of references.

Smith asks us to rethink the meaning of design and consider how we might make our designs seamlessly inclusive. This is a significant and meaningful challenge.

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Reviewer:  Brad Reid Review #: CR141724 (1401-0050)

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