• Exploring the possibilities of universal design in sport

    15m 43s

    Merrilee Barnes from the Australian Sports Commission explores the possibilities of universal design in sport

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Thank you. Before I delve into ‘Universal Design in sport today’ I just want to recount a TED talk that I heard recently that challenges the myth of the average and the reason why I want to do that is because I believe that the average actually is the enemy of Universal Design and hurts Sport Design.
It’s 1952 and the Air Force has a problem. They’ve got great pilots, really good planes but they’re getting worse results and they don’t know why and it turns out that the problem is with the cockpit. Imagine you’re an Air Force pilot and you’re in command of a machine that’s going faster than the speed of sound. Success and failure, life or death depends on a split second in a lot of cases. Every pilot knows that their performance depends on the fit between them and the cockpit. After all, what’s the point of having the best technology in the world if you can’t reach the critical instruments when you need them the most?
This posed a bit of a challenge for the Air Force because not every pilot was the same size so how do you design one cockpit that fits the most people and for a long time it was believed that you could do this by designing a cockpit for the average sized pilot. This seems intuitively right - design something for the average person and it should fit the most individuals. It actually was wrong and one researcher 60 years ago set out to prove just how wrong that was and what he did was this. He studied 4,000 pilots across 10 dimensions of size and he asked one fundamental question. How many of these pilots were the same on all of those dimensions? You’d think most would have been right? Well, actually none were and in fact he discovered that there was no such thing as an average pilot and in fact what he found out was that they actually had a jagged size profile and what that means is that no one pilot was the same on every dimension so just because you were the tallest didn’t mean you were the heaviest, didn’t mean you had the broadest shoulders or the longest torso. This was tricky because if every pilot had a jagged size profile and you were designing a cockpit for the average then literally you’ve designed it for nobody so the Army did have a problem so they did a very interesting thing, they banned the average and what I mean by that is that they refused to buy any fighter jets from the companies that made the planes if the cockpits had been designed for the average pilot and instead they demanded from these companies that built the planes to design to the edges of the dimensions of size.
What I mean by that is they said, “So rather than design on average height we want a cockpit that actually accommodates as close to the shortest pilot to the tallest pilot as the technology would allow”. Now most of the companies looked at them and said, “That’s impossible. It’s going to be too expensive. It can’t be done. How can we do that?”
Well, when they saw that the Air Force wasn’t going to budge they saw that it was possible and it wasn’t that expensive actually and they engaged in what today we call User-Centred Design or Human-Centred Design. They observed the pilots in action and they looked at their environments and how they were relating to those environments and so they did a bit of research and they observed and they came up with something that today we take for granted in our everyday lives. They designed the adjustable seat. It seems so simple right and not only did they improve the performance of the pilots they had but they actually dramatically expanded their talent pool and today the US Air Force is one of the most diverse Air Forces in the world but how many brilliant pilots would have fit into a seat designed for the average? It’s something to think about and I use that example because not many of us have sat in a $150 million fighter jet but we’ve sat in a classroom and we’ve played on a sports field and I would argue that these are the cockpits of our economies and our communities yet we’re putting more and more money into education and sport and we’re getting worse results and we’re getting more inactive people.
So now if I just go back to the classroom example because I think this is pertinent to understand how we can apply this to sport so if you’re looking at - say we take Maths and Science results and dropout rates, we know from research that a lot of people that drop out of school are actually intellectually gifted so there’s a design problem there. We’re designing for the average and we design for the average in sport and we design for the average in the classroom and it hurts individual potential and if you think back to that Air Force example I can’t help but think that it’s just a case of bad design much like the conundrum that the Air Force had.
This is where I get to with User Experience and User-Centred Design. Most of the time we’re designing something that no-one uses and the users find their own way around that. 
So if we just take the education example we design our curriculums for the average. We’re getting better but no one student like the pilot is the same. Like the pilots had a jagged sized profile, students have jagged learning profiles meaning that they’re average on some things. They’ve got weaknesses and they’ve got strengths but we still design our curriculums and our textbooks for the average. Take Billy and this TED talk talks about Billy. He’s a primary school kid and he’s pretty good at Maths and Science but he’s not a very good reader and yet textbooks of old, classrooms of old - it’s their first and foremost - a reading test. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you would be at Science, if you can’t get past that first base of the reading test of what traditional average education is then Billy doesn’t have a chance.
The advent of technology such as iPads have really helped kids like Billy with apps that are flexible enough to bring out that individual potential. You don’t have to read. You learn through other mechanisms so basically what they did for Billy was the equivalent of the adjustable seat for the Air Force using that kind of technology and as the Air Force example if your design learning environment is based on the average the odds are that you’ve designed them for nobody.
So how do we get the equivalent of the adjustable seat in the hands of would‑be sports participants? We’ve also got a problem in sport because we tend to design our sports for the average. What if we, like the Air Force example - what if we banned the average and designed to the edges? We have a jagged performance profile with sport much like our students and our pilots. We differ on a range of dimensions. We’re average on some things and we’re high on others and we’re weak on others but Australian sport has tended to design for the average and that in a lot of cases is able-bodied males and strength - strength and power as well so that’s probably not an accurate description. The average is probably more towards the strength and the power that way but that’s traditionally how we’ve designed our sports.
I’m speaking quite generally here but I think you get what I mean so average is a barrier to accessibility. We know that. As I said we’ve designed sport for the able-bodied average person but there’s no such thing as an average person as we’ve seen.
Difference - I’d like to raise that, differences and innovation so like the adage said, ‘Ban the average and design to the edges’, we need to ban the average in sport and we need to design to the edges in sport because the difference - not the average but the difference lies at those edges so that’s where we need to start to shift our thinking. We need to design to the edges and I think as Sport Administrators we’ve failed a bit there. We need to start thinking left field. We need to observe those people that have already come up with the solutions that would make mainstream lives better.
If we just have a quick look at history of design you will see what I mean. In history of design there’s a lot of examples of Universal Design and I’ll get to Universal Design in a minute but basically all these things you’re going to be seeing - these five images I’m about to bring up are examples of Universal Design so the typewriter was developed to help the blind write legibly. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in a lot of his attempts to help the disabled. An inventor invented the flexible straw for his three‑year‑old daughter who was having trouble drinking from the table. Email arguably was developed by a guy that was hard of hearing that wanted to communicate with his deaf wife. The oxo potato peeler - that was developed through research for arthritis and arthritis sufferers and we all use it today. Lefthanders can use it, right-handers - the kerb cut - there’s eight of them outside right down below this building. On every kerb you’ll find eight kerb cuts. That’s a great example of Universal Design so it’s built obviously for wheelchairs, helping the blind get across the road to mount the footpath but it also helps mothers with prams and kids on bikes. It’s a perfect example. It’s still a kerb but the cut makes the kerb accessible.
The aeron chair was developed during research for bed sores on the elderly. There’s no such thing as an average person. I will just quickly go through these.
Our capabilities are always changing and permanent disability versus situational disability so we learn so much from those with a permanent disability for our everyday lives. There’s not one persona. We all have changing abilities throughout the day from grabbing a bag of groceries and trying to pick up your phone. You share a world albeit briefly with someone that’s only ever had the use of one hand so the solutions are there. We just need to design to the edges because the difference in our society - people that are different and I’ll get to that; they’ve actually come up with what we need.
A quick definition of disability from the World Health Organisation - very one dimensional back in 1980 almost puts the blame on the person but if we look at today’s definition from the World Health Organisation it’s context dependent. It’s not just a health problem. It’s a complex phenomenon reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives. That’s really powerful. It’s not about the person, it’s about the society that they live in and I would argue - well disability is mismatched human interactions with the world around us but I would argue that disability is a design problem and not just disability. I’m talking about all under-represented groups being young is a design problem or being aged is a design problem. Female LGBTI, speaking English as a second language - they’re design problems. In sport, we allow these people to come into our sports and adapt and say, “You can come into our sport. We’ll adapt it for you but you can come in”. Why don’t we design it from the beginning and design to the edges so that these people are in it from the beginning and you have a better product for everyone much like the kerb cut and the oxo potato peeler so this is an example. We’ve got to reframe the difference as an opportunity. Use it as an opportunity. Universal Design - that’s the definition and the last few words are probably the important ones so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people. It’s creating a space that’s usable by all people, not inviting them in.
Bing - just a quick example. They’re in the late stages of user testing of their wayfinding app. Now wayfinding apps tend to be designed on cardinal direction so walk North 1.5 kilometers, turn left - walk another 300 meters. They’re looking at how women use their navigation different to men and what they’ve found is women use visual cues and landmarks so they’ve got a beta version of a wayfinding app that actually says, “Turn left at the café, walk about 10 seconds and turn left on Smith Street” and so by observing how women and men are different they’ve actually come up with something that’s better for everyone else and Microsoft Design are big in Inclusive Design and Universal Design so just a quick - I know I’ve not got much time left but a sporting example. I’ll be like 20 seconds!
So my sport is golf and I played at quite a high level when I was younger and I hit the ball quite a fair way. Not every woman does. Not every senior does. Not every junior does. There are slow swing golfers. I was lucky but I still felt disadvantaged. Most female tees - they call them women’s tees are plonked in front of a male tee and so on a par 4 a man is hitting a driver nine iron into the green whereas a woman and in my case I was hitting a driver five wood so it’s a much harder shot to hit so why should I be disadvantaged? A lot of clubs in Australia are actually starting to look at this and I’ve got a black dot up there. That’s traditionally where the men’s tee is. The women’s tee is to be plonked right in front. A lot of clubs are now looking at tees right the way down the hole. They’re working back from the green and they’re actually saying, “What can we do to make sure that everyone is hitting into the green with a nine iron and so they’re placing the tees and this is a case of Universal Design so that everyone has got a shot into the green. That way you’re not going to lose women, kids and seniors to the sport and that’s just an example of Universal Design. I hope today makes you think about how you can design to the edges of your sports and there’s one thing that I know that we’ve got to ban that average because it’s just no good. It doesn’t work and we need to design to the edges to make sport a better place for everyone.
Thank you.