Column: SU’s Intelligence++ competition promotes inclusive design

Column: SU's Intelligence++ contest promotes inclusive design

The Wheelchair QB: An entrepreneurship course has students without disabilities collaborating on innovative solutions with InclusiveU students.
Published: May 18, 2021

Historically, designers have laid out the framework for products without accessibility and inclusion in mind. But to Syracuse University professors Don Carr and Beth Myers, the exclusionary nature of products could not be emphasized enough.

Carr and Myers set out to change this and normalize designing for accessibility in the recent Intelligence++ competition in which 21 SU students participated. The competition, which distributed $30,000 in prize money among the three teams with the most innovative and inclusive product, was a culmination of a year-long inclusive “Inclusive Design: Intelligence++” course.

For the competition, students without disabilities observed students with disabilities who attend InclusiveU — SU’s program to accommodate students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The InclusiveU students were full members of the course, however, the Inclusive nature of DES 400 sets it apart, said Myers, executive director of SU’s Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education.

“Intelligence++ was the first course that was specifically designed to be co-taught with this focus where it brought together students from various disciplines to learn about inclusive design,” Myers said.

Carr, an associate professor at SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. said the pair strived to teach students without disabilities the importance of accessibility while drawing upon a broad range of student disciplines. The course majors from industrial design, communications design and fashion design alongside those studying bioengineering and business.

Carr added it operated differently than he envisioned — for the better.

“Due to COVID, we started the fall semester by doing tag-alongs,” Carr said. “This kind of observational research often allows for all kinds of discovery and insights. From this, the students are able to gain empathy and a deeper level of understanding.”

Computer science master’s student Shravani Jadhav said the tag-alongs opened her eyes to the struggles those with physical disabilities experience. She would go around campus with Robert Howes, an InclusiveU student who uses a wheelchair.

Jadhav, a member of the Attainable Accessibility team, recalled seeing Howes struggle to find the ramps along different paths on campus and occasionally had to take a detour to the opposite sides of buildings to find an accessible entrance.

As she noticed that Howes was struggling to arrive to classes on time, she wanted to help make better use of his time.

Jadhav and her three groupmates brainstormed, eventually landing on the Attainable Accessibility idea. Throughout the semester, the members have been attempting to create a voice-activated wheelchair in which Howes would tell the chair what building to go to and a SU-programmed system would take him to the accessible entry through a map of accessible pathways.

Intelligence++ team Attainable Accessibility team members Shravani Jadhav, a graduate student in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and InclusiveU student Robert Howes at the LaunchPad at SU Libraries

Intelligence++ team Attainable Accessibility team members Shravani Jadhav, a graduate student in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and InclusiveU student Robert Howes.

“This will not only help Robbie but also the millions of wheelchair users around the world who are still struggling to navigate in their own world,” Jadhav said.

Myers said she hopes that the success of these projects provides the foundation for future Intelligence++ competitions and inclusive design courses.

“I was so thrilled to see the students in the class actively solving design issues related to disability with some really strong final projects,” Myers said. “They will take away ideas about accessible design from this collaboration but really become inclusive business owners, coworkers, neighbors, friends, and community members.”

Editor's Note:

SU magazine senior Joey Pagano’s column, The Wheelchair Quarterback, appears regularly on The NewsHouse this semester and features insights on issues facing people with disabilities with a focus on empowerment. Inspired by first-hand experiences, The Wheelchair Quarterback reports with a solutions- and advocacy-journalism approach.