Designing for the Visually Impaired

Affordable accessibility design.

Min Choi
Adjunct Professor
San Diego State University
San Diego City College

Low vision is a part of the natural aging process, and we all have the potential to face it at some point in our lives. Though there are many exceptional high-tech devices to help people with visually impaired and blind, there has not been enough attention given to applying accessible design when creating affordable everyday products to benefit them.  The statistic shows that in the U.S., only around 30%1 of people with a visual disabilities are fully employed, and cannot afford to buy assistive technologies that may be awesome for them, but costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

To address this issue, I am researching how people with low vision could experience high-contrast colors and basic shapes with tactility at a reasonable price. In-person, human-centered design approach guided me to build a deep empathy towards my audience and explore design process and solutions that would help celebrate their disabilities.

A home product line incorporates high-color contrasts and tactility using universal symbols for people with visual impairment. It is an experiment to help them to be independent and empower their everyday activities those of us with good vision often take for granted—including eating, getting ready for bed, and getting dressed in style.

At its heart, we must identity what the audiences’ needs are—and the only way to create design solutions is to connect with those who will benefit the most. Design with purpose and function is beneficial for everyone—especially those with disabilities.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.2: CAA 2020 Conference Chicago on February 14, 2020.

Questioning the Canon: Discussing Diversity and Inclusion in the Classroom

Sherry Freyermuth
Assistant Professor
Lamar University

Although Meggs’ History of Graphic Design is a well-regarded and extensive textbook on the topic of graphic design history, it has been criticized for its lack of diversity in the designers and artists featured in the textbook. This short form presentation will outline the results of a History of Graphic Design project where students are tasked with analyzing the topic of diversity and inclusion in graphic design. Students must select a designer that is part of an underrepresented group and put together a persuasive presentation about why this designer must be included in the next edition of the textbook. Questions students must research and address include: What is diversity and inclusion? How does diversity and inclusion impact graphic design? How is diversity and inclusion being addressed today? How is the selected designer impacting (or has impacted) graphic design? What other steps do you think are needed to improve diversity and inclusion in graphic design?

The final student presentation outcome builds on the student’s skills in research, persuasive strategy, critical thinking, visual, written and verbal communication, as well as soft skills in empathy and team building as students are put in groups to discuss topics and assess one another’s work. The assignment helps foster discussions about the importance of inclusiveness and how it directly impacts their own professional career and has provided an opening conversation for other ways to explore this topic in the classroom and beyond.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.2: CAA 2019 Conference New York on Thursday, February 14, 2019.

Lowering Barriers to Access at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Teaching Award Winner

Helen Armstrong
Associate Professor
North Carolina State University

Armstrong’s advanced graphic design studio course, GD400, took on an acute problem for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS). One of the museum’s key exhibitions—the Acrocanthosaurus Exhibition—repelled visitors on the autism spectrum. The space was so overwhelming for these visitors that they often could not enter the room. Instead, they sat on benches outside to avoid the sensory overload of the exhibition. The wide reach of this problem was apparent. In addition to the number and diversity of visitors with Autism adversely affected by the Acrocanthosaurus Exhibition space at the NCMNS, the common occurrence of similar spaces—with similar issues— in Natural Science museums across the world compounded the impact of this problem.

In keeping with the technological focus of the course, Armstrong outlined this student design brief: “Working with the NCMNS Office of Accessibility & Inclusion, develop an assistive tool to transform the central exhibition into an Autism-friendly experience. This assistive tool (phone, tablet-based, physical artifact or embedded technology) should customize the exhibition to serve young adults on the Autism spectrum.” The intent here was not to create what could easily be developed by off-the-shelf technology, but rather to design prototypes that challenged what it meant to enter a space of tangible artifacts as a visitor with impairments.

Over the course of the semester, the students consulted with the Autism Society of North Carolina, as well as the NCMNS, to build representative personas of museum visitors on the spectrum. They benchmarked assistive technology, established research guidelines appropriate to their specific personas, generated User Journey Maps to isolate visitor pain points, and sketched out User Experience Storyboards. From this research the students harnessed technologically-driven approaches—bone conduction tech, chatbots, conversational interface, sensor embedded-networked objects, and gesture-driven participatory interfaces—to build hi-fi prototypes and construct scenario videos that redefined the visitor experience. Via a series of studio visits, the museum team provided feedback. At semester end the students presented to stakeholders, making their work freely available for use by NCMNS museum staff and beyond.

NC State Impact
  • Built empathy in students while equipping them with user-centered research methods that enabled them
    to effectively harness technology to lower barriers for individuals with disabilities
  • Created a dialogue between NC State students and local stakeholders engaged in supporting accessibility
  • Established a model for collaborative studio projects that generate new knowledge and then disseminate that knowledge via in-person presentations and online content
  • Introduced students to a variety of technologies useful for prototyping and testing assistive devices
Wider Impact
  • Identified common pain points to be addressed by the NCMNS in future exhibitions.
  • NCMNS has already implemented one of the prototypes: the sensory map and is exploring the implementation of bone conduction technology to create alternative soundscapes.
  • Established best practices for designing inclusive museum spaces across the country.

For complete documentation of the process and outcomes of this project, visit

Helen Armstrong views design from across the spectrum of a college professor, a researcher, and an author. She is an associate professor of graphic design at North Carolina State University. From 2013–2015 she served as co-chair of the AIGA Design Educators Community Steering Committee, striving to build communities of students and educators. She is currently on the AIGA National Board of Directors and the Design and Culture editorial board. Armstrong authored Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field and co-authored Participate: Designing with User-Generated Content. Her recent book, Digital Design Theory explores the effect of computation upon design methodologies from the 1960s to present. Currently, Armstrong is combining her knowledge of participatory practice with computational thinking to explore the potential of intelligent interfaces to address the needs of individuals with disabilities.

Recipient of recognition in the Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2018.

New York Times Article on Disability, by Elizabeth Guffey

We’re excited to read Elizabeth Guffey’s opinion article published in the New York Times yesterday.



A Symbol for ‘Nobody’ That’s Really for Everybody

The blue and white wheelchair icon is more than a guide to parking spots and ramps. It allows millions to fully participate in society.

Designing Disability: A New Book by Elizabeth Guffey

Design Incubation is excited to announce Elizabeth Guffey’s latest book published by Bloomsbury Publishing, titled Designing Disability: Symbols, Space, and Society. This book describes the development of disability as an idea. Disability, accessibility, its institutionalization, acceptance, and integration is considered within the context of design history.

In collaboration with Design Incubation and AIGA/NY Elizabeth Guffey will host the upcoming panel discussion and workshop, Designing for and Teaching Accessibility, on Saturday, April 14, 2018. There are still a few seats available so register today!

Designing for and Teaching Accessibility: Panel Discussion + Accessibility Workshop

“Inclusive design” theory and practice are becoming the norm. Know the common standards and specifications of accessible interfaces for people with disabilities (and meet legally mandated ADA compliance standards).

Saturday, April 14, 2018

General Assembly NYC
902 Broadway, 4th floor
New York, NY 10010

To register.

Follow the discussion on our discussion board:

Designing for and Teaching Accessibility Panel Discussion

At a minimum, criteria for success of a designed product, service or experience should be its usability by everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Since digital access is a Civil Right covered by the American Disabilities Act, the question of usability and access are now as important to digital and interactive designers as to those who produce products and physical artifacts.

“Inclusive design” theory and practice are becoming the norm with companies increasingly expecting employees to know the common standards and specifications for accessible interfaces which are used by people with disabilities (and meet legally mandated ADA compliance standards). Unfortunately, even as progress has been made in industry, teaching digital accessibility is rarely part of design curriculum or undergraduate course work.

To raise awareness and provide specific examples of ways to incorporate principles of accessibility into professional practice and design education, Design Incubation and AIGA/New York is inviting a group of scholars, practitioners and industry leaders to discuss accessible digital design and its relevance to the New York design community.

A morning panel discussion will provide a venue for experts to share their knowledge and an optional afternoon workshop will promote understanding of basic accessibility issues, concepts and best practices.


Elizabeth Guffey heads SUNY Purchase’s MA in Modern and Contemporary Art and specializes in art and design history. She is author of several books, including Designing Disability: Symbols, Spaces and Society (Bloomsbury, 2017, Posters: A Global History (Reaktion, 2014), and Retro: The Culture of Revival (Reaktion, 2006. She has also authored numerous articles and is also the founding editor of the journal Design and Culture.

Neil Ward is currently an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Drake University. At Drake, Ward’s  students work through IDEO’s design thinking methodology along with user-centered design principles to solve problems in new and unexpected ways. Neil’s most recent projects focused on movement throughout the art building on campus for those who are unable to take the stairs along with creating a product to help a veteran – with limited mobility on his right side – cook for and feed himself at home. Both projects involve exercises in empathy for the user, ethnographic studies and a discussion around universal design. Outside of the classroom, he is the principle of Neil O. Ward Graphic Design specializing in identity and publication design.

Bo Campbell is an Interaction Designer and Accessibility Design Lead at IBM. As an accessibility thought leader and innovator in the IBM Accessibility organization, Bo functions as a driving force behind the integration of accessibility practices and techniques in the IBM Design Thinking framework. Additionally, he functions as a lead designer on products designed to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Bo has been with IBM since 2013, is a member of the W3C CSS Working group and has his Master’s degree in Human Computer Interaction from Iowa State University.

Liz Jackson is the founder of the Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective, a disability design organization that is focused on increasing the impact of beautiful, functional products in our everyday lives and in the global economy. Liz is committed to shifting the disability narrative, as current mainstream representations of disability do not accurately portray disabled lives. She is currently focused on creating pathways into design for disabled people through initiatives such as The Disabled List, a curated list of creative disabled people who are available to consult and collaborate. You can learn more about Liz on her blog The Girl with the Purple Cane.

Accessibility Workshop

Integrating Accessibility: Inclusive Design Methodologies and Practice

Bo Campbell, an Accessibility Design Lead for IBM, will conduct a workshop on accessible design while focusing on disability as a design challenge.

Participants will explore how and when to apply accessibility in the design and development process and will use empathy exercises to understand why accessibly is important for users with differing cognitive and physical abilities. Campbell will also discuss IBM’s inclusive design framework and will describe some of the training methodologies taught to new employees at the company.

Through a series of exercises, attendees will have the opportunity to learn how to apply the ideas and methodologies presented during the workshop to specific educational and/or practice-based design scenarios.

All are welcome, however, this workshop will be most useful for designers and educators who are less familiar with best practices around accessible design and want to learn more about how to practice and/or teach inclusive design.

(artwork: Mike Lagattuta)

Teaching Inclusive Design: Design with Everyone in Mind

Ziddi Msangi
Associate Professor
Graphic Design
UMass Dartmouth

The World Health Organization defines disability as “a contextual variable”. One is more or less disabled by their interaction with a physical environment, social environment, or institutional environment. Inclusive Design aims to “reduce the experience of disability and enhance everyone’s experience and performance.

Universal design standards were developed to guide Designers in addressing disabling environments. The goal is to create accessible spaces for people with functional limitations.

Graphic design educators can integrate these principles in the design studio, providing a generation of students with the tools to improve the quality of life for all citizens.

“A User Expert is a person who has developed expertise by means of their lived experience in dealing with the challenges of the environment. due to a physical, sensory, and/or cognitive functional limitation. User/Experts include, older people with changing vision or stamina, people of short stature, limited grasp, or who use wheelchairs.”-Institute for Human Centered Design

In this model, we move beyond personas, as a way of identifying a users needs when developing a brand. User experts with functional limitations share their lived experience with students. The insight students gain from a User Expert helps guide the design process.

This presentation will share the visual outcome of junior level branding and identity projects, and the impact on student understanding. Over the course of the semester, students were in conversation with four User Experts who helped guide the development of the projects.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 4.0: SUNY New Paltz on September 9, 2017.