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Why inclusivity is the new exclusivity

By James Patefield

Inclusivity is imperative in our society today, but it can’t be achieved by a ‘one size fits all’ attitude. By creating unique products that focus on the needs of one particular group, we are all constantly working on being more inclusive—not allowing anyone to feel ostracised or unheard.

We are seeing companies offer a wider variety of products. There is even mass customisation so that products can be made to order, adhering to personal needs. Gradually, we are embracing uniquely customised and designed products. In turn, many of us who were previously at the centre of every new design have had to step back and understand that some products are simply designed for others.

Recently, we’ve witnessed some truly inspiring and diverse products and campaigns hit the market. Here are some of the brands and ideas that are leading the way in championing inclusivity by thinking of every last detail. Here’s why exclusivity is so last year!

The clear facemask

Over the last few months, facemasks have become an essential part of our everyday attire. But for many people with hearing difficulties who rely largely on lip reading and facial expressions, this has made communication much more difficult. Overall, 55 per cent of communication is visual, so the traditional mask design prevents many deaf people from accessing these all-important cues.

In response to this, companies such as Clear Mask have designed see-through masks that allow those who heavily rely on visual communication to see people’s full faces. In many scenarios, miscommunication causes serious errors, as well as leading to people feeling isolated. Thankfully, these clear masks are now readily available on the market, allowing the hearing and the hearing impaired to communicate clearly.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller

In 2018, Xbox released its Adaptive Controller. According to Xbox, it was primarily designed to make gaming more accessible by meeting the needs of gamers with limited mobility. Not only was the Adaptive Controller designed to meet these needs, the user experience is also customisable, which allows players to create their ideal gaming experience through button remapping and profiles.

This design was created hand in hand with multiple disability charities including the AbleGamers Charity, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, SpecialEffect, and Warfighter Engaged, in order to ensure that Xbox gameplay would now be accessible to as many people as possible.

Colours of the world

In addition to accessibility and a push for inclusivity for those with disabilities, we have also seen a recent surge of companies that are creating products which embrace ethnic inclusivity. Crayola, for example, recently launched a crayon set entitled ‘Colours of the World’, which includes 24 different skin tone shades.

Thanks to this push towards inclusivity, children everywhere will now be able to recognise their own skin tones in their drawings, colour-in people of all different skin tones, and learn about diversity from an early age. About time!

OXO Good Grips cooking utensils

Designed with people who suffer from arthritis in mind, Good Grip utensils are created from rubberised material and they incorporate ridged surfaces which make the devices easier to hold.

The idea for the innovative and inclusive design was born when Sam Farber, founder of OXO, realised that his wife struggled to hold cooking utensils due to her worsening arthritis. After this, he decided to create a range of ‘more thoughtful’ cooking tools that would benefit people with arthritis everywhere.

Fluide makeup

Finally, we have Fluide, the brand that creates “makeup for him, her, them, everyone.” Fluide works to improve inclusivity in the makeup industry by championing LGBTQ+ and ethnically diverse communities. Fluide creates makeup ranges for all skin tones and gender expressions, allowing every one of their customers to feel seen and included.

There’s no doubt about it—inclusivity is the new exclusivity and one size certainly doesn’t fit all. Hopefully, we will see this trend towards inclusive designs and exciting new product ideas continue over the coming years.


Robots aren’t taking over the world, they’re teaching kids with autism social skills

In the last few years, advancements in technologies have opened up promising new ways for humans to utilise robots. And although many people still fear AI and robotics by only perceiving them as what will replace humans altogether and take our jobs, a few have already realised their potential in helping the sector of personalised care.

That’s what the American computer scientist, roboticist and founder of the Interaction Lab Maja J. Matarić and her team at the University of Southern California (USC) are working towards—implementing robots in the lives of kids with autism in order to teach them social skills and help them develop.

Why children with autism? Worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). And while some people with ASD can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support.

This kind of care and support requires a lot of human-based interventions, ones that are both expensive and time-intensive. Behavioural treatment and parenting skills training programmes can reduce difficulties in communication and social behaviour, thus resulting in a positive impact on the well-being of someone with ASD. And yet, globally, access to these services and support remains inadequate. That’s where Kiwi the robot comes in.

Kiwi consists of a machine-learning model that interacts with autistic children and uses data such as dialogue and eye contact to predict whether they are engaged in a given training activity. If Kiwi understands that they’re not engaged anymore, the robot can then react and re-direct children to hold their attention on therapeutic exercises for longer. During testing, the prototype reached a 90 per cent accuracy in predicting the child’s engagement.

The study was based on the information collected after leaving Kiwi with the children for a month in their homes. The kids participating in the study regularly played space-themed math games on Kiwi’s attached tablet. The robot would then give expressive personalised feedback through a reinforcement-learning algorithm.

The game’s main purpose was to teach the kids fundamental social skills through their interactions with the robot, such as turn-taking and eye contact. With every intervention, a behavioural therapist evaluated the child’s social skills before and after in order to validate the approach for improving them.

Screen Shot spoke to Matarić about her team’s study, what assistive robots can really be useful for and how she devoted most of her career to researching their ability to help people. “We don’t yet have robots on the consumer market, at least not any robots that are truly useful, except perhaps robot vacuum cleaners like the Roomba. I hope that soon we will see actually useful robots such as robot tutors for children and robot companions for the elderly,” she explained.

In Matarić’s mind, once people actually start seeing useful robots on the consumer market, then they will be better informed about what those robots can do and will therefore know what to think of them. Until then, people will remain wary of them.

Could that be what the future holds for Kiwi? Matarić certainly hopes so. “We have developed and tested robots that helped stroke patients, healthy elderly, Alzheimer’s patients, children receiving IV injections, and of course children with autism,” she said, “so we, and others in our growing field, have demonstrated that socially assistive robots have great potential across the age and ability spectrum.”

But unlike what most people who are scared of these technologies and the endless possibilities they offer us tend to think, robots will not replace humans. Human care should not be deleted completely, but for some certain conditions such as autism, the amount of needed care greatly outstrips the time and resources many families have at their disposal. “Similarly, patients with Alzheimer’s disease often need around-the-clock care that is not affordable. These are just two examples where technology can serve to fill the gaps where human care is not available, accessible, or affordable,” explained Matarić.

It looks like we are slowly but surely accepting the presence that robots will soon hold in our lives. In Wuhan, China, a hospital ward run entirely by robots has just opened—a piece of news that we were all happy to welcome as we’re struggling to handle the impact that the coronavirus is having on so many countries. Progress in robotics is being made worldwide, each day.

Regulations and carefulness will be essential for everything to go smoothly, but the hope that such robots will become an affordable companion for children with autism is enough to get me excited about the near future.