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Timely collaboration with National Research Council on software guidelines for accessible virtual healthcare during pandemic

Co-designing inclusive systems at the IDRC.”
Co-designing inclusive systems at the IDRC.

Accessing healthcare information and services can be a challenge during the best of times.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many health units have moved to virtual care. With this transition, vulnerable individuals and communities are at risk of being excluded.

This is where OCAD U comes in.

A partnership between OCAD U’s Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC), under the direction of founder, Dr. Jutta Treviranus, Professor, Faculty of Design and the National Research Council (NRC), will address such risk.

Numerous health services are being delivered remotely during the pandemic because of constraints on travel and face-to-face contact. Many people who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 require health services.

These services include diagnostics and health advice, health monitoring and check-ups, specialist consultations, mental health services, and even tele-surgery. Given Canada’s demographic and distribution, tele-health has been a growing practice.

The IDRC and the NRC will be working collaboratively in co-designing guidelines for inclusively designed virtual health applications and user interfaces that are personalized to meet diverse needs.

“This pandemic has highlighted that our well-being is determined by how we treat everyone in our community, especially people who are most vulnerable,” said Dr. Treviranus. “It has also shown that the risks and barriers are not evenly distributed. It is critical that we shift our focus from the average experience to the experience of people who have the greatest difficulty with our current services.”

“We are very pleased that Jutta and her team at the IDRC will be collaborating with the NRC to conduct this valuable work during this critical time,” said Ana Serrano, President and Vice-Chancellor, OCAD University. “The ingenuity and creativity of OCAD University’s makers and thinkers will help us find a way through this post-COVID-19 world that makes room for everyone, including the most vulnerable.”

The IDRC strives to work with individuals who are missing or overlooked in standard design practices. This includes people living with disabilities in rural and remote areas, people who speak neither French nor English and are aging, people who have memory loss and are isolated, and many other individuals who are falling through the cracks or are stranded at the edges of our healthcare delivery systems.

“We at the NRC are pleased to be working with OCAD U’s worldwide experts in inclusivity. We anticipate that the accessibility guidelines we develop and the tests we conduct will improve the lives of all Canadians,” said Denis Laroche, Team Lead, Bio-mechatronics, Medical Devices Research Centre, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

The IDRC brings more than a quarter century of experience in accessibility guidelines and the application of personalization to address accessibility barriers; as well as an iteratively refined practice of co-design that supports the participation and consideration of people that are most often marginalized when systems are designed. NRC brings deep expertise in virtual health. The outcomes will be openly distributed and applied to a virtual health platform NRC is developing.

Work has already begun. “We are looking at existing standards and guidance from around the globe and any research related to the topic,” said Dr. Treviranus. “We are also reaching out to communities to find co-designers with lived experience of barriers.” The project timeline extends through to July 2021.