February 16 2015By Ed Anderton
- Social Exclusion
There are so many ways in which people can find themselves denied full and free access to all that society has to offer - physical disability, lack of resources, prejudice, indifference, political repression, natural disaster and war, to name a few. The inspiring projects below demonstrate that digital technology, in particular through its ability to enable new forms of connection and exchange, can play a powerful role in opening up opportunities, breaking down barriers and empowering those ‘on the outside’ to participate on more equal terms.
The average stay in a refugee camp - in which people are perhaps most obviously ‘excluded’ - is 17 years. While meeting merely basic needs remains a challenge, the absence of opportunity, learning and entertainment over such a long period of time can also be incredibly debilitating. Ideas Box - a self-standing pop-up library and media centre - is a beautiful answer to this challenge. Designed by Phillippe Starck, their colourful, elegant boxes contain laptops, e-readers, tablets, content from MOOCs and more, and are currently being used in Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia and Burundi.
Barriers can present themselves in more subtle and - for those unaffected - effectively invisible ways. In such cases the seemingly simple act of mapping can be a powerful tool - both Euan’s Guide and Wheelmap not only provide their users with information about venues they can access, they also highlight how much remains inaccessible. Harassmap, meanwhile, makes the insidious intimidation of street harassment in Egypt visible not only online, but in person, as their network of community activists go out to ‘hotspots’ to discuss the impact of harassment with street vendors, shop owners and their customers.
Image courtesy of Harassmap
For those whose exclusion stems from a sensory impairment, technology can increasingly provide a bridge. Fingerreader, Georgie and Smart Glasses are, in different ways, ‘seeing’ for those who cannot: importantly, the heavy lifting here being not in camera technology, but in software which ‘makes sense’ of what is seen, and communicates this clearly to the user. Talkitt is demonstrating how a computer can quite literally give a ‘voice to the voiceless’ (their introductory video is particularly lump-in-throat inducing…). In the case of Migam, motion recognition and machine learning are being used to allow reciprocal exchange between those who can and cannot understand sign language.
Finally, we can also see tech being deployed to include those unable to enjoy what most of regard as everyday experiences: whether it be playing computer games (Specialeffect), using a touch-screen phone (Sesame Enable) or affordable printing (Braigo, brainchild of the unreasonably talented teenager Shubham Banerjee).
Image courtesy of Braigo
More responsive and cheaper sensors, more data, more powerful analysis and, crucially, an increasingly sophisticated understanding of how to combine these ingredients in the most ‘digestible’ ways for users, seem certain to lead to a steady stream of inspiration. As our research efforts continue, we look forward to seeing more projects like these take full advantage of such advances to meet needs, broaden horizons, raise expectations and challenge assumptions.