Co-design involves working creatively with, rather than for, people throughout the design process. Increasing attention is being paid to the power and value of applying design thinking to improve public services. However, while still in its infancy the application of co-design for healthcare is relatively fragmented and underdeveloped. There is a considerable gap in the research literature and practice concerned with accessible co-design methods and approaches. This research explores how an accessible approach to co-design may produce a more empowering experience for participants who experience disability and impairment. In New Zealand, according to the most recent disability survey, 24 percent of the population were identified as disabled. Since persons with disabilities are often more vulnerable to secondary and co-morbid conditions, they tend to seek more healthcare than people without disabilities.
In this research, principles for conducting co-design with participants who experience disability and impairment were explored, contextualised and analysed through a series of co-design workshops. The focus of each workshop was two-fold, the university experience for students who experience disability and impairment was explored, and the co-design process was assessed for accessibility. Participants reflections on the co-design experience brought to life the meaning of ‘accessibility’ in this context.
The resulting outputs of this research include an accessible co-design toolkit produced for designers and researchers. The toolkit consists of a guide which explores principles for conducting accessible co-design to help other researchers establish more accessibility-friendly environments and experiences. A toolbox on wheels, to support more independent making in group situations, was developed, along with suggested materials and tools to use in a co-design process.
If co-design continues to be applied in healthcare and wellbeing fields, co-design should acknowledge, respect and accommodate the variability of physical and cognitive function in the population. Participant empowerment is a core function of co-design. Consequently, researchers and designers need to ensure that co-design is used in a way that is accessible to all participants regardless of their impairment or disability.