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Designing Inclusive Products with Image Schemas

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Technology more accessible to vulnerable populations

An EU-funded initiative should make using technology a lot easier for those experiencing a decline in cognitive function.

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The technological explosion witnessed even within the last decade alone has left several vulnerable populations behind and cut off from the information and services that could make their lives easier and more efficient. The 'Designing inclusive products with image schemas' (Includis) project set out to investigate new ways of designing user interfaces for mainstream interactive products such that they retain their user friendliness in the face of cognitive decline. In particular, the researchers focused on image schema theory, where an image schema is a multi-sensory cognitive pattern (not only based on visual experience but also on our sensorimotor experiences or bodily interactions as well as others). These schemas help us to understand and intuit conditions in place and time – in other words, to process information. The Includis project succeeded in producing a model that integrated image schema theory with a user's prior experience with technology, testing the model for a variety of applications and evaluating the ease of training designers in the use of this framework. The research was particularly focused on the ageing population in Europe, given that by 2020 one in every two European adults will be over 50. The results demonstrate that image schemas are a useful tool for inclusive user interface design, potentially making living with and using technology easier for certain vulnerable populations such as those with cognitive impairment.

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