Inclusive focus groups are a designer’s best friend for many reasons. Through accommodation, focus groups reflect a society that values inclusivity and diversity, as they are mirrors to our own communities.
When conducting inclusive research, it is important to include the subject demographic in the research process. Traditionally in the research of minority groups, such as persons with disabilities, the subject’s experience and knowledge are unrepresented. This is because the persons conducting the research are from outside of the community, with no first hand experience of what it is like to be a member of the group that they are studying (Kitchin 1). One ways of actively engaging subjects in the research being done on their own community is through focus groups (Morgan 133).
Focus groups help to reflect the ideas of a society through gathering a group of individuals with a common ground together (Bauer, Gaskell 47-48). Focus groups are a flexible form of research, allowing the methodology to be adapted to the needs of the researcher and individual subject. Inclusive aspects of focus groups include the interview process, facilitation, and location, all of which are malleable to the individual and group’s needs.
One cannot talk about focus groups without discussing interviews, as there are many similarities between individual interviews and group interviews (Bauer, Gaskell, 44). Both can be viewed as inclusive methodologies as they each allow for a free flow of conversation where a facilitator asks questions and an interviewee answers them. Unlike questions written on a survey, a facilitator can adapt and change questioning to suit the interviewee’s answers, body language, and needs (Hancock 9-10).
A differentiating characteristic between one-on-one interviews and group interviews is that focus groups enable a researcher to interview multiple people at once. This is especially valuable when research requires a group’s perspective on a subject (Rothe 99). The more voices heard is often thought as better as it allows for a greater understanding of individuals’ experience and universal truths (Jackson, Mazzei, 1-3). A focus group echoes a society or community, allowing for a collective view that may be different than a series of individual views (Rothe 99). When a group of individuals are brought together, group dynamics and hierarchy emerge, often with an adaptation of the individual’s opinion to that of the consensus of the group (Bauer, Gaskell, 47).
A shortcoming of interviewing is that verbal words are the “main medium of exchange” between participants and researcher (Bauer, Gaskell, 45). This can create exclusivity if a participant or researcher is non-verbal or has difficulty communicating. However, due to the malleability of focus groups, accommodations can be made. For example, if a person does not speak the primary form of language used, a translator can be brought in. If a person has difficulty expressing them self verbally, but has assistive technology to aid in expression, then accommodations should be made to bring that technology into the interview setting. These are two of the many ways that accommodations can be made.
Due to the malleability of focus groups, the success of the research is dependent on how participants interact with each other and the facilitator. When choosing a facilitator for the focus group, it is important to take into consideration their perceived role by the subject community (Kitchin 4). Are they a member of the community themselves, an outsider to the community, or in-between these two categories? All three categories have positive and negative attributes associated with them that affect the direction of the research and its perceived inclusivity (Corbin Dwyer, Buckler 56-62).
When a researcher is an insider, they will have first hand experience, knowledge, and are credible about the subject at hand (Kitchen 4) (Corbin Dwyer, Buckler 56). The participants may also open up more when they have an identifiable common ground and a sense of trust with the researcher because of shared experience. However, this emotional connection may jeopardize the study as an emotional response may limit the research (Corbin Dwyer, Buckler 56). Outsiders who have specialized skills and knowledge will have the ability to question the experience of the participant (Kitchen 4) (Corbin Dwyer, Buckler 57). However, they can also misinterpret and misuse the information coming from a community they do not wholly understand (Kitchen 1-2). When a researcher can hold both perspectives of insider and outsider by remaining in-between these two polar opposites, they can utilize both benefits and hold the greatest malleability. This identity does create vulnerability however, as an in-between researcher cannot fully occupy one space or another (Corbin Dwyer, Buckler 61-63).
Focus groups are not restricted to holding sessions in a particular environment. An area can be chosen to suit the combined needs of the participants. The location should be decided upon by looking at the associations and location of the residences of the research participants. To avoid a bias in the opinions shared, neutral spaces need to be established to avoid a strong service or education ambiance. A physical space that is outside of an institutional context and in use by the community itself can be felt as empowering to the participants as institutions are not value-neutral (Doyle 7).
Location can be a difficult decision to make when organizing focus groups. The person choosing and organizing a location for a focus group needs to be conscious of the needs of the participants and how potential spaces can be adapted to their needs. For example, do any participants have problems with small or enclosed spaces, or is navigating the building difficult with a cognitive disorder or vision impairment? Are the entrances to the building, washrooms, and the space utilized by the focus group, wheelchair accessible? Can obstructions in the building be moved out of the way? The space must be malleable to the needs of the participants (Doyle 4).
When conducting inclusive research, it is important to include the subject demographic in the research process (Kitchin 4). Focus groups are an excellent way to complete inclusive research because of their malleability. Through their structure, focus groups evolve with the answers of its participants. This fluidity transfers into how focus groups allow for adaptation and customization for individual needs in a group setting through the interview process, the facilitation, and location. All three categories have benefits and areas of improvement to address in the context of an inclusive focus group, but can be changed to meet the unique needs of an individual within a group setting. Through accommodation, focus groups reflect a society that values inclusivity and diversity, as they are mirrors to our own communities.
Bauer, M, and Gaskell, G. Qualitative Researching with Text, Image and Sound: A Practical Handbook. (2000). London: SAGE.
Corbin Dwyer, S. and Buckle, J.L. “The space between: on being an insider-outsider in qualitative research.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 2009. 8 (1) pp.54-63. 2009. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.
Doyle, J. “Using Focus Groups as a Research Method in Intellectual Disability Research.” National Federation of Voluntary Bodies, 2009. (n.d). Web. 22 Dec. 2011.
Hancock, B. (1998). An Introduction to Qualitative Research. University of Nottingham. Web. 22 Dec. 2011. PDF document.
Kitchin, R. “Towards. Emancipatory and Empowering Disability Research:
Reflections on Three Participatory Action Research Projects.” National Disability Authority. (n.d.). Web. 22 Dec. 2011. PDF document.
Jackson, A.Y. and Mazzei, L.A. Voice in Qualitative Inquiry: Challenging Conventional, Interpretive, and Critical Conceptions in Qualitative Research. (2009). New York: Routledge.
Morgan, D. L. (1996). “Focus Groups”. Annual Review of Sociology, 22, 129-152. Web. 12 Jan. 2012. PDF document.
Rothe, J. P. (1993). Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide. Heidelberg, Ont: RCI Publications.
Why accessibility and inclusive design are vital for Ontario’s economic growth and stability.
I originally wrote this as a speech for Toastmasters this past summer. I remembered it today and thought it would make a blog post.
What are your thoughts on the inclusive design and Ontario’s economy?
The changing economy of Ontario is an exciting place to be today. We have unique opportunities to impact the lives of many, including persons with disabilities. Inclusive design may seem like a challenging and a poor use of resources. However, it can powerfully impact Ontario’s economy and give it the push it needs to gain power on the international stage.
There are three main reason that businesses and organizations in Ontario will benefit from inclusive design. First, Ontario’s consumers are growing older, and inclusive design will help businesses meet the needs of its changing demographic. Secondly, inclusive design encourages more creative and innovative problem-solving which will add value to products and services. Third, the cost of exclusion is higher than inclusion and will save Ontario business owners and organizations money in the long run.
Ontario’s consumers are growing older.
The face of Ontario is changing. The workers, residents, and consumers of the province are growing older. We all become disabled in some way sooner or later, thus it is important that products, services, and environments can continue to meet the needs of it consumers, or else a huge market is left ignored. Inclusive design can accelerate Ontario’s economic growth by reaching a market the size of China- the international disability market. A market that large cannot be ignored by Ontario businesses.
Our population is not getting younger. Catering to the disability consumer market will help Ontario become an international leader in social and human centred design.
Inclusive design encourages more creative and innovative problem solving which will add value to products and services.
In reality, no-one wants design for all; everyone wants design for me. Whether its something as personal as the organization of applications on your dock or desktop, or the features of a new car or home, we all want something unique to ourselves. Ontario businesses need to offer the ability to customize a product to meet an individual’s needs and wants- and especially the flexibility of the digital world can allow us that freedom.
Inclusive design adds value to a product- just think of Siri on your iPhone, the TTC stop announcements, or closed captioning on the TV when you’re at the gym or a noisy bar. It adds value. For example, Nestle improved their packaging so that people with arthritis could open their coffee containers with ease. Although the new packaging had a higher consumer price tag, it improved sales.
When a product or service is easier to use and access, it increases consumption. Ontario needs higher consumption of its goods and services. It is good for the economy. When these things are made easier to use and to access, Ontario will thrive.
The cost of exclusion is higher than the cost of inclusion.
When the available goods and services do not meet the needs and wants of its residences, there are long-term social and economic challenges. Social problems lead to an unhealthy society as a whole. Studies have shown that more equal societies do better on many measures of social health and wealth, improving the quality of life for all residences. A unhealthy society becomes a cash drain on the province and businesses.
Think of the workplace as an example. Poorly designed work environments cause stress, and stress creates disabilities. Well designed workspaces and equipment increase employee productivity, which increases Ontario’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Additionally, it is estimated that increased workforce participation among people with disabilities will increase the GDP per capita in Ontario by $600 per annum. The Prosperity and Economic Progress report of 2009 stated that Ontario is not as productive as its competitors. With Ontario’s shrinking labour pool, the province cannot afford to loose further productivity.
Ontario needs inclusive design.
As a young professional, those are some of my thoughts and research on how inclusive design can help save Ontario’s economy. The reality that Ontario’s consumers are growing older, that innovative problem solving adds value to goods and services, and the high cost of exclusion are three of some of the reasons that businesses and organizations will benefit from inclusive design. We as a province cannot afford to merely catch up to our competitors. Instead, Ontario needs to build for the future.
Donovan, R. Lecture. Inclusive Design Summer Intensive. OCAD University, Toronto.17 July 2012.