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Dilemmas of inclusivity

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Abstract: While the precise meaning of terms such as ‘inclusive’, ‘universal’, and ‘accessible’ may be debated in relation to design practice, in general, they encompass a perception that designers of objects and environments should be aware of the needs of diverse populations. Yet, designers often collaborate with others in situations that feature complex and even competing goals, wherein, for example, ideas of how best to consider others may shift as the design process unfolds. This presentation outlines how a group of students (designers and occupational therapists) work together to design seating that is intended to be used by a quadriplegic male. By closely examining the talk that occurs amongst the group as they work together, we can see how their interaction enables them to manage the competing goals of completing their project in a timely fashion while also meeting the needs of their disabled client.

Biography: Arlene Oak’s research focuses on the social aspects of creative practice, with attention directed to how conversational interaction occurs during the design and mediation of the material world, (particularly architecture and consumer products). Her most recent project has been leading an ethnographic study of North American ‘design-build’ education, wherein architecture students work with clients and others to plan and construct projects. She is an Associate Professor in Material Culture & Design Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada, with a BA in Industrial Design from the University of Alberta, an MA in the History of Design from the Royal College of Art, and a PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Cambridge. She can be contacted at

This talk is part of the Engineering Design Centre Seminars series.

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