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The contributions of co-creation to universal design

The contributions of co-creation to universal design
14 Dec. 2020

Since the adoption of the European Accessibility Act in 2018, industrial players have been encouraged to apply the principles of universal design and thus make their products and websites accessible to all. Based on three co-creation workshops with people with disabilities (PWD) around distinct products (a check delivery terminal, a rehabilitation video game and a photocopier), Estelle Peyrard, doctoral student at the Institut Polytechnique de Paris and head of APF Lab and Cécile Chamaret, university lecturer at the École polytechnique, both attached to the Institut Interdisciplinaire de l'Innovation - Centre de Recherche en Gestion*, highlighted the benefits of co-creation in terms of universal design and the associated good practices.

These design-for-all principles were formalised in the 1990s by the Center for Universal Design and cover usability, universality of use and error tolerance. Who better than the PWD to participate in the design of this type of product? In a recent article, Buisine, Boisadan and Richir propose to involve "extraordinary" users such as the elderly, PWD or children, because these, unfamiliar with the products, are able to return to the primary needs that other users have forgotten by adapting to the shortcomings of existing products.

It is from this idea that APF Lab was born in 2018, with the aim of supporting co-creation processes within companies. The research work of Estelle Peyrard and Cécile Chamaret, carried out in this context and published in the n°141 of Gérer et Comprendre, under the title "Innover pour tous mais avec qui ? Trois cas de co-conception avec des PSH", identified four good co-creation practices.

First of all, if the participation of PWD in co-creation workshops is accompanied by health professionals, it is necessary to give the users' opinion its rightful place. Indeed, the opinion of professionals, placed in a "knowing" position, may seem more important to decision-makers, who then lose sight of the end user.

Secondly, it is important that the testing of a product not only validates the fact that the user has managed to achieve the intended use, but also that this has not put him in difficulty (repeated testing or excessively long time).

The third good practice is to let users test the product without intervention. Indeed, the situation of disability often causes "over-assistance" during test workshops, preventing the representativeness of real conditions.

The last point highlighted in this work is that it would be desirable for PWD to be involved as early as possible in the design of products. This is true for all co-design approaches, but late involvement is particularly frequent in terms of accessibility. When PWD are involved, the prototypes are often at too advanced a stage to be sufficiently revised to overcome the problems raised during the workshops.

The ecosystem of disability start-ups is in turmoil. Incubators are flourishing, with multiple user-centred design methodologies. Research by Estelle Peyrard and Cécile Chamaret highlights the contribution of users with disabilities in design and highlights good practices in this area.

This research was supported by APF France handicap and Sodexo.

* I3-CRG – joint research unit CNRS – École polytechnique