Access to Accessibility

Have you ever noticed how a country renowned for it’s storytelling legacy of seanchaí’s and legends can be so notoriously bad at communication? How is it we have almost total saturation, in mobile phone adoption, yet cut off the very people who need to access information, due to geographical barriers or limitations to their ability in our built environment.


I’ll start with a little background on myself, speak about the research and finish with innovations in conductive ink. My passion is design, I have worked in visual communication design for over 25 years. 15 of those years were in newspapers, where I developed an appreciation for page design, typography, journalism and information visualisation.

In 2010 I lost my vision in my left eye which was my first encounter with the lack of communication in the Irish health system. I returned to work the following day and approached the I.T. department for help, they switched the zoom tool on my Mac and walked away. This left me sitting bemused, looking at a bouncing screen, I couldn’t work with…I switched it off. I designed my own work-arounds, I’m sure you all have your own work-arounds too, or “design hacks”, as we’d like to call them. I would love to hear some more about them during our tea break. After a year of muddling through I was made redundant, this led me to further education. I upskilled into Digital Media Production and was lucky enough to work on an industry project as part of a team with Dr. Sabine Moebs, a usability and accessibility researcher from DCU.

I returned to newspapers and due to the demise of print media was made redundant yet again in 2015. As, the author Sandra Coelho said “In the ashes of adversity, lies opportunity.”


An opportunity to return to research arose and I began a Masters in Interaction Design last year, at IT Carlow. Design research led me to, life experiences of the over 40s in rural Ireland and the barriers we face . While investigating “inclusion in online publishing”, I interviewed industry representatives first, thinking that as communication is their business they would want to “fix” the accessibility deficit in digital formats. I quickly realised that this was my assumption and went back to the drawing board. I contacted the NCBI who put me in touch with a community group in Newbridge, of people who are blind and visually impaired, this is where the real learning began.

Over the following months we tested the current environment for people with a disability using voice-over technology and devices.

During general conversations, I.T. workshops and while testing news and newspaper sites, using our iPhones and an Android smartphone, it emerged that not everyone knows what a “toggle button” is, or a “hamburger menu”.

Elements of design are commonly called “signifiers” by web developers, but what if you can’t see, the signifier? How would you know what to do?

Skills and tools of communication, are woven through the Irish newspaper legacy, for over 200 years.

The lack of consistent quality in voiceover technology was evident from the assorted applications and devices from iPhone to Android, Mac to PC laptops, And reading material for research through various audio books. If I could slow things down for a moment and ask you to listen closely to George Bernard Shaw discuss how to use a Gramophone for 3 and ½ minutes…it will be interesting to see if you make the connections between the technology versus quality in 1927 compared with voice-over technology today. Click to hear George Bernard Shaw speak about technology

I know I have spent a long time on audio quality this is only one aspect of the importance of the quality of communication and the impact it has on layering an experience.

During the course of the research I came across the same theme in education where Edgar Dale explored a multi-sensory method to communicate in 1953.

The prospect of communication “Reaching the whole brain

took me down paths of altered or limited perception of cognitive and sensory inputs by examining the work of Ramachandran and R.L. Gregory using illusions to challenge visual theory.

Innovation in Print

An exciting outcome on this journey happened when we were asked to deliver an infographic of our research for an exhibition at the end of the year. I struggled with the two dimensional aspect of a poster having worked with the group I asked myself how I could justify this… I couldn’t.

Investigating innovation in print led me to Novalia and Dr. Kate Stone who has made exciting headway in conductive ink products with audio, building on this idea I have some samples with me today using Touch, vision and audio such as Kees Overbeeke and the team from Delft when exploring the design of An Emotionally Rich Interaction. I’ll let Kate talk about this innovation herself with a presentation on her interactive paper models on YouTube Dr. Kate Stone speaks about interactive paper on Ted Talks As Kate says herself none of these innovations are new it’s just bringing them together in a different way.


We have everything in this room to bring it all together for a multi-sensory experience, to connect people, to collaborate through co-design and to create access to quality content for communication.

So let’s connect, collaborate and communicate…