Engineering students do accessibility. Graphic design students, not so much

3 February 2019 | Ted Page

“I wish we had been taught this stuff at Uni”

Mortar board iconWe regularly train graphic designers in government departments, charities and design agencies in creating accessible PDFs from Adobe InDesign, and we get the same feedback all the time: “I wish we had been taught this stuff at Uni”.

Given that anyone proficient in InDesign can learn to create accessible PDFs in a day or two (depending on the nature of the content in question), it is surprising how scarce the teaching of these skills is in our universities. This is in stark contrast to the opportunities that are open to engineering students.

Engineering 110, Perspectives in Assistive Technologies

For example, a recent article on the Stanford University website highlighted its course (now in its thirteenth year): Engineering 110, Perspectives in Assistive Technologies

[a] course that focuses on creating technological solutions to the challenges and problems faced by the growing population of people with disabilities and older adults.

Stanford is by no means alone in this: MIT, Duke University, University of Washington and the University of North Florida in the US, and UCLGlasgowSheffield and Dundee universities in the UK, to name but a few, all run accessibility-focused engineering courses.

Market size

The initiatives of university engineering departments make complete sense if you consider the numbers involved. According to the World Bank and the World Health Organisation’s World Report on Disability, 2011 (PDF 10.44MB), some 15% of the world’s population,  over one billion people, have some form of disability. And of course, world-wide, populations are continuing to age.

So why not graphic design students?

Engineering faculties clearly have grasped the commercial opportunities that catering for older people and people with disabilities present. However, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, teaching in accessible graphic design/document production is still largely absent from graduate, undergraduate and higher education graphic design courses.

Get in touch

If you run a university or any other higher education graphic design course, we would, of course, be happy to hear from you.