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Ask the expert: Robyn Steward

In this video, learners hear from expert Robyn Steward about her work in accessible design.
I am a member of the core team at Heart and Soul at the Hub, at the Welcome Collection. I’m also the, I was the recipient of a Drake music commission last year, which meant that I could pay to get an accessible breadboard made, which I’ll talk about later. And I’m a musician. I play the trumpet. And I run a series of gigs at Cafe Oto in East London called Robyn’s Rocket.
I wanted to be able to play the trumpet through guitar pedals. The trumpet is a great instrument for me because I have cerebral palsy on my left side, and so I just use my right hand, and the trumpet is mostly just a right-handed instrument. And guitar pedals meant that I could play more than one note at a time. But I decided I really wanted to be able to control my pedals from the other side of the room. And so I was very fortunate to get some money from Drake music. And I decided that what I’d use some of the money for was to create an accessible breadboard.
The idea of a breadboard is that you can make circuits to try them out to make sure that they work. And that could be as simple as a little LED light or it could be as complicated as, like, a stage lighting rig.
The kinds of experiences that I have are very different to someone who, say, has macular degeneration or somebody who is blind. Even within blindness, you know, somebody may have a very small amount of sight. Some people may have nothing. Some people may be able to perceive light and dark. So you know, one label does not really describe a person’s experience. So I think when you’re trying to create something that’s accessible or you’re trying to engage with a certain group of people, I think you have to be realistic about - you can’t make something that is going to meet everybody’s needs.
The kind of technology issues that impact my life are things like I just changed from an iPhone to a Samsung phone. And the Samsung phone, you could have a yellow keyboard with black text. And that makes everything a lot easier. And also, I have a case that when you close it, the clock comes up quite big on the case. And that’s really good because I struggle to read the small clock at the top of the screen. I don’t find the departure boards at train stations very accessible. I have to use an app on my phone to get the live departure board on my phone because it’s too small and too high up and too far away.
I think sometimes - and I think this happens in autism research, as well - that there’s often a difference between what people want and what researchers are interested in researching. Like, so often within your career as a researcher or a technologist, you might be really focused on one small thing. And that’s not necessarily what the rest of the world would want. So it’s like you’ve got to weigh up your interest and the rest of the world’s interest when you’re creating something.
The way that I approached that was just thinking about, well, what would I like and what do I know about autism and learning disabilities? And I mean, I have worked in the field for, like, 15 years, so I have a lot of experience of different people’s needs, but also there’s, like, organisations like Attitude is Everything. They have a charter for grassroot promoters and festivals and stuff that you can read about. And it just talks about how to be accessible. So that was a good guideline to look at. And I think we’ve done pretty much everything that we can on that charter.
I just thought about like what the problems were and then made sure that I didn’t just assume that I knew the best way to overcome it, because maybe I don’t and I need to learn from other people.

Robyn Steward is an educator, researcher, author and musician. She has been diagnosed with multiple disabilities and is autistic. A large part of her work is teaching non-autistic people about autism, and educating others about what it is like to live with autism.

She has done a lot of work in schools and with parental groups, training those in positions of authority to have more empathy and understanding when interacting with autistic students and children. Robyn has published academic papers, has contributed to academic books and has also published two of her own books aimed at the female autistic community. In her musical work she promotes innovation and experimentation.

Robyn is also an active researcher who has explored many aspects of accessibility and how autistic people are affected in their daily lives. She describes her own work, including her prototyping tool. She talks about the inspiration for it and how it can be used.

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Introduction to UX and Accessible Design

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