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Considering the social barriers that any physical, mental and sensory impairment can bring to the life of the individuals dealing with a disability, taking political action towards participation of representatives must not be hoped for, but rather expected from society. In the end, “Empowerment is about people being able to have a voice and take control of their own lives and futures. All people, whether they have a disability or not, need to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives” [1]. 

In addition, perspectives on disabilities and those who must adapt to them are constantly reframed. This goes from reconceptualization of terms, as well as introduction of ones that more accurately describe the condition.  ““Disability”, for example, has been reconceptualised as something that is not within an individual; it’s the interaction between a person who has an impairment and attitudinal, social, and environmental barriers” [2]. Similarly, the term neurodiversity has been introduced to approach Autism from a more inclusive perspective, holding Autism as a different way of being a human, rather than a disease.

Reconceptualizing the term disability allows us to understand the role of Design for Specific users. ““Disability” must be understood as something that is not within an individual; it’s the interaction between a person who has an impairment and attitudinal, social, and environmental barriers”. Design for Specific Users, then, aims to design and develop a device or service that helps manage the environmental limitations of people with a cognitive or sensory impairment. For us, Group 13, the project resulted in and from interactions with a participant with a cognitive impairment. Mona, as we will refer to her from now, has Autism and predominantly struggles with communication skills. Navigating in the present website will provide relevant information regarding the design process that we, Group 13 and Mona, went through.  


The implementation of Co-design and Human centered design practices is the cornerstone of empathy and responsibility throughout a responsible design process. Though their processes provide guidelines to approach the challenge faced by the user (or group of users), these must adapt to their reality. For individuals with Autism, this is particularly relevant in terms of inclusion, since their needs (verbal and behavioral) must be prioritised, and even used as the main guideline during the design process of artefacts and services.


Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions. Because Autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.



Designing for specific users does not only require to identify the challenges that a person, or their representative group experience, but also the underlying factors influencing it. For us, designing for people with a mind disorder meant empathising with the specific user as much as possible. This way, we aimed  to understand their day-to-day struggles, as well as the ways in which our design knowledge could ease dealing with them. 

The online meetings changed in dynamic depending on the phase and goal of the design phase. At the beginning of the project, for example, we aimed to get to know Mona as much as possible, so interviews were ways to engage her and the members of the group from a more personal level. In turn, the outcomes provided personal information, from which some aspects could be concluded to be related to her experience with Autism. In later stages the meetings consisted in co-design activities, for which the group aimed to involve Mona in the design process and the decisions that we had been taking previously. In fact, her involvement was both cause and effect of the decisions made along the way.

It is relevant to mention that despite Mona was involved in the project as representative of a larger group of people with Autism, it became increasingly difficult to generalise the functions of the designed device. In other words, the final design becomes a device for a specific user of a group of specific users. 

Given the current situation, all interactions with the participant were developed online. This, despite making it difficult to get to know the participant at a more personal level, allowed more consistency in our encounters, as well as facilitated more flexibility: no need to be physically present somewhere as well as meeting regularly for a specific amount of time. Interviews became the main source of information, and gave relevant insights about the participant and her environment, which was later and further translated into a challenge that was representative of a larger group.

References :

  1. Loryman, H., 2015. Promoting empowerment and access for all: lessons from Disabled People's Organisations | CBM. [online] cbm: the overseas disability charity. Available at: <,decisions%20that%20affect%20their%20lives.&text=Being%20part%20of%20a%20Disabled,transformed%20many%20of%20their%20lives> [Accessed 10 February 2021].

  2. Fenton, A., 2007. Autism, Neurodiversity and Equality Beyond the ‘Normal’. [ebook] Halifax. Available at: <> [Accessed 9 February 2021].

Industrial Design Engineering | 2021

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