Design for Participation and Inclusion will Follow : Disabled People and the Digital Society

Abstract: Digitalization is rapidly taking over all aspects of society, but still there are parts of the population who have to struggle for access to, and to be able to use, the digital resources. Design processes and outcomes in the form of artefacts, that takes accessibility into account, is key to participation. This gives the designer a central role in providing for a more equal participation of all, in the digital society. The work in this thesis contributes to a better understanding of the prerequisites for participation in the digital society, and in the design processes to accomplish this, by presenting research done together with three communities: people with cognitive impairments, people with mental health issues and homeless people.The overall question has been How can participation in the digital society be understood? We have investigated the nature of difficulties or enabling factors for people with impairments, people with mental health issues and homeless people, when using the internet. We have also investigated possible digital divides within the groups, and how they can be explained.Ontologically, the work is based on an assumption that knowledge is to be found in a dialectic interplay between the material world and how we interpret what is going on in this world. The underlying epistemological assumption is that data has to be empiric, and critically interpreted in dialogue between members of the communities, which are being researched, and other stakeholders. This work draws on the idea of emancipation and that research can be liberating.The work also takes on a pragmatic stance. We have used adapted versions of Emancipatory Participatory Research, and of Participatory and Value Sensitive Design, thus making them accessible to people with cognitive impairments, people with mental health issues or homeless people. We have tested and adapted methods for sampling of rare populations, to enhance the quality of quantitative studies of how people with impairments and people with mental health issues have access to, and are using, the internet.In our research, we have found fourteen prerequisites, all of which need to be in place to provide for participation. To promote participation, we need a toolbox of methods and accessible tools. Finally, to analyse what is going on we need an analytical model which allows for analysis on multiple levels and from multiple perspectives.As a result, I here propose, define and position a framework for researching and understanding participation in the digital society, based on three parts: Guidelines, Ethics and Statistics. Guidelines can be understood as the theories, the regulations, the standards, etc. that inform our thinking. Ethics guide us in the right direction. Statistics make progress or lack of progress visible.The conclusion is: if we plan for participation - by improved statistic survey sampling methods, a participatory approach to collaborative research and in using research methods in an accessible and emancipatory way – inclusion will follow.