Lynn Kirabo, Carnegie Mellon University, lkirabo@andrew.cmu.edu


Traditional approaches to accessible human-computer interaction focus on the needs and requirements of users in the Global North. While there has been some work on interaction accessibility for people in the Global South, these efforts usually focus on assistive technology rather than universal design. The work described here uses the goals of universal design, like cultural appropriateness, to understand the needs of diverse users in Kampala, Uganda, and Kigali, Rwanda. Preliminary results have revealed prominent absences of features related to physical mobility and hearing impairments. The subsequent phase of this work is to partner with local organizations to implement the resulting recommendations. Our goal is for these recommendations to inform new information technology and interactions designs that can support local stakeholders in their efforts to provide transportation services to people of all abilities.


Much research has explored the use of assistive technologies in countries in the Global North, while only handful have focused on the Global South. In the Global North, recent years have seen a shift towards increasing accessibility practices within technology design. This is evident in the growing number of approaches available today: Ability-based design [23], Inclusive design [7, 8, 9], Universal design [20], Universal usability [11, 22], etc. Each of these approaches has their own principles and goals. However, they overlap in their overall agenda to open the design process to a more diverse set of users. The work described here will demonstrate the use of universal design goals as a lens through which technology design can include and learn from people with disabilities in the Global South.

To achieve this, we focus the efforts of this work to the idea of equitable mobility, specifically for public transportation. This work will answer the following questions: (a) How are people with disabilities using technologies in the Global South, and (b) How can the goals of universal design be used to improve technologies designed for equitable mobility.

Universal Design

Universal design refers to planning to create environments (e.g., physical and virtual) that are usable by a wide range of people [20]. While the application of universal design has been successful in physical environments [19], this work supports its adoption to the field of human-computer interaction, specifically for people with disabilities in the Global South. The use of universal design in this work does not imply a one-size-fits-all solution or a simple transference of technology from the Global North to the Global South.

Related Work

Past work has seen the application of universal design goals and principles in various domains, such as public transportation[25, [26], quality-of-life technologies [21], architecture [3, 18], education [5], and apparel [17]. The specific application of universal design to Global South contexts is still an understudied area.

Accessibility Research in the Global South has focused on education [13], disability and conflict [4], partnerships with marginalized groups [1], and lived experiences [2, 14]. Some work has focused on users with specific impairments, such as visual impairments [12, 15, 16], and other work has explored the intersection of gender and accessibility [24]. We hope that our work will contribute to the field of accessibility by exploring the application of universal design goals to accessibility research in the Global South.

Methods Focus

We employ universal design goals as a guide throughout our investigation. These goals express the results of successful universal design application in ways that are easily measurable across multiple domains. For this work, I focus on the following subset of goals (as defined in [20]):

Guided by the above goals, we employ methods from the field of human-computer interaction, including ethnography, interviews, field studies and participatory design. Our work is split into three phases: Exploration, Collaboration, and Recommendation.

The Exploration Phase

Guided by the goal of cultural appropriateness, we used ethnographic methods and interviews to gain an understanding of technology perceptions in public transportation in Kampala, Uganda, and Kigali, Rwanda [10]. Using surveys and semi-structured interviews, we probed both riders and stakeholders with the intent of gaining a holistic viewpoint. Initial findings indicate biases in the transportation systems around discrimination and harassment, an influence of ability on preferred transportation modes despite inaccessible interfaces, and an influence of perceived social hierarchical structures on innovation.

Guided by the value sensitive design framework [6], we also are developing a map of the different stakeholders involved with people with disabilities as well as the relationships among them. We recognize that persons with disabilities in these contexts exist in complex ecosystems and thus incorporate our goal of cultural appropriateness to help understand these relationships before designing technology.

The Collaboration Phase

From the relationships already established, we plan to partner with two stakeholders: a local disability advocacy group and a smart transportation agency. Using the findings from the exploration phase, we shall implement designs that manifest insight gained from the earlier phase. We will translate the needs identified into actionable features that can be implemented using technology. In this stage of the work, we hope to be able to do two things: (a) implement a new technology within the public transportation domain, and (b) augment an existing transportation application with accessibility features.

The Recommendations Phase

Based on the findings from the previous phases, we will identify and document specific strategies that can be implemented by designers who are interested in improving equitable mobility in the Global South. We are also interested in understanding any changes in interaction techniques and user behaviour that result from adopting universal design goals.

Research Status + Expected Contributions

I am a fourth year PhD student at Carnegie Mellon’s Human Computer Interaction Institute. I am approaching the end of the exploration phase of my thesis work. Feedback from the doctoral consortium will provide valuable insights for my next steps. With the increased smartphone proliferation in the Global South, it is becoming increasingly necessary to design technologies that are inclusive of the wide range of abilities that exist and will work in local contexts. Little is known about the interplay between universal design for human-computer interaction and interaction designs for the Global South. This work seeks to bridge that gap.


This work is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number 90REGE0007). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).


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About the Authors

Lynn Kirabo is a PhD student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. She is part of the Transit, Bots and Disability lab, “TBD Lab”, where she is advised by Aaron Steinfeld. Her research includes Human-Computer Interaction, Accessibility, the Global South, Misinformation and Ethics. She is in understanding the role that context plays in technology design & adoption among different communities, such as people with disabilities and residents of the Global South.