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Michigan State University Usability and Accessibility Center, World Usability Day Presentation November 3, 2005. Presented by "Experts lead the way"Speedy in his wheelchair titled experts lead the way from Community Connections a center for independent living, with help from Michael Hudson, and Stephen Blosser.

The following abstract for the usability day presentation marked the launching of the "Experts lead the way" project. It is the goal of these experts to help create a more accessible world by offering disability consultation services to companies and individuals creating new designs.

Accessibility Experts Lead the Way to Profits by Design

Usability Day Presenters, November 3, 2005

Experience the adventure of creating accessible products.

Learn about portable communication systems, talking washer and dryer, accessible farm equipment, boating and exercise devices for people with diminished mobility and sensory impairments, and a host of resources that are available to help you open up new markets for your products.

Learn how expert partners can help designers and usability teams in their effort to build accessibility into their creations.

See how these projects have changed lives and opened up new opportunities to meet the needs of persons with disabilities and aging Baby Boomers—a market with impressive buying power.



MSU has developed expertise in designing assistive technology for persons with disabilities beginning with the establishment of a reading program for the blind in the 1930s. With this extensive know-how, MSU is making the world more accessible. Through the continuing work of the Artificial Language Laboratory, the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities, Michigan AgrAbility project, the Usability & Accessibility Center, and other MSU departments and outreach projects, MSU expertise empowers countless individuals around the world to lead satisfying, productive lives.

Through collaboration, other organizations in Michigan have joined MSU’s effort to enhance accessibility. These partners include Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Western Michigan University, and Community Connections, a Center for Independent Living.


Many products being produced today are designed for and by people who are young, healthy, intelligent, and at their peak both physically and cognitively. As a result, they typically do not take into account that, as people age, we develop diminished vision, hearing, mobility, cognition, and / or fine motor coordination. It’s one thing to ignore the needs of a few unfortunate people who were born with disabilities, particularly if people with disabilities are perceived as a small market who buy only necessities of life. It’s quite another to ignore the needs of a demographic segment with impressive buying power to buy convenience items and to treat the grandchildren to whatever their hearts desire! There are 550 million people with disabilities worldwide, and they have an aggregate income of $1 trillion dollars, including $176 billion in discretionary income. 29% of all American families in the U. S. have at least one member with a disability. People with disabilities influence more than $770 billion of the $3 trillion in annual spending in the U.S.

Furthermore, machines, appliances and tools that require human interaction are being redesigned and mass produced at an ever-increasing rate. The way we live our lives (cook, wash our clothes, drive our car, communicate, run farm equipment, continue our employment, etc) is changing on a daily basis. These newer items typically are designed without the specific needs of seniors or persons with newly-diagnosed impairments. These persons with disabilities are looking for convenience, ease, and safety—items that empower them to do what they want, even though they can’t do it the way they did it before with the items they already own: items that were designed with young people in mind.

Fortunately, through creative collaboration, MSU and its partners can provide a ready-made focus group of persons who can advise engineers and designers on ways to make products more accessible and convenient. These are people who have a lifetime of experience recognizing and dealing with barriers because they experience them every day. Seniors who can’t understand your owner’s manual will complain that you have made it too technical. These people can advise you to use simple illustrations and large print. Seniors who can’t open excessive packaging around children’s toys will avoid your company’s products if little Joey cried for a half hour because it took Grandma that long to get your toy out of the box. These people are able to advise you on packaging that’s far more accessible.

By including people with disabilities in the design loop, you are bringing in people who know from personal experience which features work for everyone and which ones present barriers.

Design engineers focus on cost, efficiency, production speed, and performance issues. They tend to think that accessibility is not feasible. What’s feasible about producing products that large numbers of people won’t be able to use? Baby Boomers are approaching age 60, an age when disability characteristics are experienced by an increasing number of people. It is not feasible to ignore a significant segment of the market for new products.

In a good faith effort to make their products accessible, some engineers rely strictly on published guidelines: ADA guidelines and web consortiums. These are extremely detailed and nonspecific. They fail to provide insight into how persons with impaired faculties will interact with your specific product. While they may routinely run focus groups of young mothers, athletes, or children, people with disabilities—experts when it comes to barriers and barrier removal—are seldom a routine part of the design loop.


Accessibility experts and collaborative partners include:

Services available:

Sample projects:

Talking Whirlpool duet washer and dryer project

Accessible fishing and boating system

Portable Communication Systems

Accessible farm equipment

Benefits to manufacturers

Open New Markets with Buying Power for Your Products: Expert, Experienced Focus Group Members Available Now!

Are you closing your doors, installing barriers, and hanging a "No thanks--we don’t want your money" sign on your business? You could be if you are not recognizing, in every phase of design, that Baby Boomers are approaching age 60--an age when increasingly, they're going to be experiencing loss of various functions. They won't be able to see as well, hear as well, walk as well, comprehend complicated instructions, or manipulate controls that are small, hard to see, or hard to operate. Even packaging can be the reason they choose your competitor's product!

When you recognize that Baby Boomers, with the children grown and gone, have more discretionary income to spend on convenience items or things the grandchildren will enjoy than any other, you begin to see how important it is to make your products universally accessible.

This is a significant segment of the market, with significant buying power. The most recent national census figures show that people over age 45 are the only segment of the population that’s growing. 68% of online buyers are over 40 and 70% of people over 65 have a disability.

If you've always been able to run a 5K, read small print, and translate technical user manuals into useful knowledge, it will be hard for you to see why some features of your products can be barriers to a large part of your potential market. Think of how frustrated your parents become re-setting the time on their VCR after a power outage, or refusing to get a cell phone because "it's just too complicated," and you begin to see that life changes after a certain age. You can laugh at it, or you can do what you need to do to make your products appealing to a large group of people with impressive buying power.

Removing barriers that you don't see can be difficult. Fortunately, help is available from a group of people who have become experts at recognizing such barriers, and suggesting simple, low- or no-cost ways to remove them. Using universal design features and assistive technology, these people have learned firsthand how to lead productive lives even though they can't do things the way other people do because they're missing a hand, or legs, or vision, or hearing, or maybe memory. You may see these people as "handicapped" or "crippled." When you see how their guidance will help you design a better product that's more usable by more people, however, you'll see them as the accessibility experts that you need on your team.

This team is experienced, with a proven track record. Working with design engineers at Michigan State University, they have created working examples of accessible products (see above). They have all the latest technology available to also add “really cool” new features and intelligence at little to no cost to your product.

These accessibility experts stand ready to evaluate your product to assure that a large number of people will find it easy to operate and safe / convenient to access, store, and clean.

For more information, contact:

Stephen Blosser

Assistive Technology Specialist

Michigan State University

Resource Center For Persons with Disabilities (RCPD)

120 Bessey Hall

East Lansing, MI 48824-1033

Phone: (517) 353-9642 ext. 237

fax: (517) 432-3191


Artificial Language Laboratory: (517) 353-6399

Home/workshop: (517) 372-2810


Kathy Ellis

Community Connections, a center for independent living

133 East Napier, Suit 2

Benton Harbor, MI 49022

800 578-4245 or 269 925-6422

Fax: 269 925-7141

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