IncluCity Calgary consists of a team of volunteers who offer inclusive usability design and testing services that help people from all walks of life get involved with the tech scene in their communities. We spoke with their Director of Operations, Stephen Yuen, to find out more about them.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
At IncluCity Calgary, we’re all about making technology work for everyone. We’re a team of volunteers who offer inclusive usability design and testing services that help people from all walks of life get involved with the tech scene in their communities. Our mission is to make sure that the products and services we use everyday work for everyone, no matter who they are. By gathering insights from many diverse individuals through our inclusive usability testing, we’re helping to build a brighter future for our city where we all benefit!
What problem does it aim to solve?
Picture this: you need to find information on a government website, like health care or financial support. But when you go to the website, it’s really hard to find what you need.
The way the website is designed makes it confusing and unclear, and this experience leaves you feeling frustrated and inadequate. This is one example of how poor usability can create a barrier that keeps people from accessing important technology-enabled products and services. Other examples include:
● Voice recognition technology that does not recognize certain accents or dialects, making it difficult for people who speak these languages to use voice-activated systems.
● Health tracking apps that assume users have access to healthy food options or time to exercise, without considering the challenges faced by low-income or marginalized communities.
● Virtual meeting platforms that do not provide closed captions or sign language interpretation, making it difficult for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to participate fully.
● Automated hiring systems that use algorithms to evaluate resumes and job applications, which can perpetuate biases against people with non-traditional education or work experience.
● Smart home technology that requires advanced technical knowledge or a high level of digital literacy to set up and use, which can exclude older adults or people with disabilities.
Why is this happening? We observed that many solutions and services are too often created without getting input from the people who actually use them, and in the cases when that input is gathered it is often only done with a limited group. Our organization is trying to address this issue by including a diverse group of testers such as newcomers, those with mental, intellectual, or physical disabilities, seniors, youth, Indigenous, Black and racialized people, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community among others. As a result community organizations gain insights into the usability and design of their services from the people they serve.
When did you start/join it?
IncluCity Calgary Usability Testing Society was incorporated in 2021, but I was one of the founding members that brainstormed this idea at a Hackathon in 2019 with members from the meet-up group CivicTechYYC and we later joined forces with CalgaryUX to form IncluCity Calgary as it stands today.
What made you want to get involved?
I first noticed a trend of people blaming themselves or getting angry at an inanimate object when they got frustrated with the usability of their computer. However, poor design and a terrible user experience is often at fault, not the human. This problem grows exponentially for those who are a part of underrepresented groups or have a different set of abilities than the “general population.” When I started seeing examples of poor user experiences in the digital world and realized the problem also expands into the physical world, the issue popped up everywhere I looked. Inclusive design appeared to be one way we can fundamentally address diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in all the things we interact with in our digital and physical worlds.
What was the situation like when you started?
When we first started, we didn’t even have a name! We were a group of technologists, designers, public employees, community organizers, entrepreneurs, policy analysts, and engaged citizens from across sectors. What kept us inspired to continue this project and get it to where it is today was a collaborative interest in making Calgary a more inclusive and accessible city for everyone who lives here.
How has it changed since?
The pandemic exacerbated the need for inclusive design to be addressed in our digital world. Think about all the issues we faced when we first moved everything online. Think about how much more of a burden it was for those who have poor Internet connectivity in their communities or don’t have a computer at home. IncluCity’s impact has grown to serve Calgary in more ways than we could have imagined when we started. Today, we have over 100 volunteers and have recruited over 250 diverse testers from across Calgary. We have undergone several large projects with organizations and built partnerships with the community to support each other’s mission and activities.
What more needs to be done?
There is still much work to be done to highlight the importance of inclusive design and research practices to unearth hidden barriers in the technology that is being designed today. The support we have received from the community has provided us with the energy we need to continue having important conversations about this issue, and we are keen on continuing to build relationships across sectors to address accessibility and usability right from the start of the design process rather than as an afterthought.
Our journey to get here has proven that our work has an impact in Calgary and beyond. However, we need grant funding to continue expanding our impact and reach even more people who could benefit from our services. With funding, we can hire more staff, provide more training and support to our volunteers, and develop new programs and services that will empower more people. Every dollar of grant funding will go directly to support our mission and help us create a more inclusive and equitable society for all.
How can our readers help?
Something everyone can do is to be more mindful of the user experiences we take for granted. How something as seemingly simple as reading this article on a website presents various challenges for someone who is visually impaired and relies upon various technologies to receive the same (and sometimes not receive the same) information.
You can help IncluCity continue to make a positive impact on our community! There are many ways to get involved, whether it’s volunteering your time, sharing our message on social media, or making a donation to support our programs and services. We are seeking grant funding opportunities to continue expanding our impact and reach even more people who could benefit from our services. With funding, we can hire more staff, provide more training and support to our volunteers, and develop new programs and services that will empower more people. Your contribution can make a real difference in the lives of our community members, particularly those who are marginalized or underrepresented in technology and innovation. Join us in building a more inclusive future!
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
We’d like to highlight Immigrant Services Calgary, who has been a cornerstone of the Calgary community for over four decades providing essential support to newcomers and their families. With a vision of unleashing their clients’ potential and a mission to connect them with the right services, Immigrant Services Calgary is committed to innovating and transforming the newcomer experience.
We have had the pleasure of working with Immigrant Services Calgary through their Gateway Program and experienced first-hand the kind and dedicated team that comprises their organization. Their community has been a major support to IncluCity while we grow our impact in Calgary, and we can’t talk about their awesomeness enough!