Social Inclusion

Our research focuses on developments where digital technologies can deliver major social benefits. An interdisciplinary approach is essential for this work to have a real impact, and so the projects are being investigated from the research perspectives of the user relating to other perspectives of technology, society and business.

Each of our three current projects aim to tackle social exclusion by making it easier for people to access the life-changing benefits offered by digital technologies:

Our focus is on the end users of technology and the social and technological barriers to technology adoption. At the heart of all our endeavours are the people who will be the users of new technology. Research is informed through direct interaction with a wide community of older adults with diverse need and abilities helping researchers evaluate usefulness and usability of technologies.


In SiDE, our vision of the Digital Economy is of a socially inclusive infrastructure that enables easy and effective access to the media, web-based social networks for older people, and access to a full range of digital services (including commercial, financial, health and well being, transport, and leisure activities). The accessibility activity within SiDE examines the usability of Digital Economy products and services for older adults and disabled individuals, together with the need for appropriate special services for these individuals.

Work on accessibility involves researchers and students from the School of Computing at the University of Dundee. Sample projects from this work include:

Case study: Multi-touch Braille for Mobile Devices

Braille has paved its way into mobile touchscreen devices, providing faster text input for blind people. This advantage comes at the cost of accuracy, as chord typing over a flat surface has proven to be highly error prone. A misplaced finger on the screen translates into a different or unrecognized character. However, the chord itself gathers information that can be leveraged to improve input performance. We have developed B#, a novel correction system for multi-touch Braille input that uses chords as the atomic unit of information rather than characters. Experimental results on data collected from 11 blind people revealed that B# is effective in correcting errors at character-level, thus providing opportunities for instant corrections of unrecognized chords; and at word-level, where it outperforms a popular spellchecker by providing correct suggestions for 72% of incorrect words (against 38%. We finish with implications for designing chord-based correction system and avenues for future work.B# is a novel correction system for multi-touch Braille input. (a) The user types the letter 'f'. (b) Character-level correction; the closest characters in terms of Braille distance for 2 unidentified chords. (c) Word-level correction; top suggestions return by B# considering the letters that are at a Braille distance of one from the entered chord.

List of Partners:

  • Newcastle University - Computing Sciences / Civil Engineering / Culture Lab

Other staff working on the project (all at Newcastle University):

  • Prof Paul Watson (PI)
  • Prof Phil Blythe
  • Prof Patrick Olivier
  • Prof Aad van Moorsel
  • Mr Ranald Richardson
  • Prof Peter Wright



How can the built environment facilitate physical ability and wellbeing in care homes?

Our goal is to transform the network of stakeholders involved in care environments into a virtuous cycle of research and design improvement, in which architects, professional bodies, academics, policy makers, charities, and care home providers are all motivated to pursue improvement in the built environment for older adults. To effect this transformation, BESiDE uses a multidisciplinary team working with a consortium of external Project Partners and Expert Advisors. We undertake this research in the context of care home environments.

Methodologically, the BESiDE research will have four main approaches.

  1. The first uses interviews, observations, and critical analyses from stakeholder interactions. The objective is deep understanding of the ways in which the built environment is currently shaping the behaviour of care home residents, staff, and supporting family members.
  2. The second approach uses sensors for understanding the physical activity of individuals in relation to socialisation and the movement of occupants of care homes with respect to building design. This work begins with co-design methods to create engaging and appropriate ways for care home residents to wear or carry sensors for use in data collection. Using architectural-modelling programs (i.e. AutoCAD) the quantitative data in capturing daily tasks, physical activity and social interactions occurring within care environments will be visualised.
  3. The observational and conversational data will be combined with the analysed sensor data to understand and crisply define care home design elements that enable mobility. This mapping will create an understanding of when and where different types of social interactions take place. More importantly, it will allow hot-spots to be understood in relation to the design of the built environment.
  4. Lastly, experimental studies testing identified elements will be used to validate the findings.

Within the context of older people’s care homes, BESiDE’s impact aims are to train professionals on better design of the built environment (internal and external) for ageing, and inform policy change as to what built environment designs encourage activity and how these can be engineered to facilitate increased wellbeing in older people.

To achieve this impact, BESiDE researchers will work with two groups of stakeholders. The first is professionals (Expert Advisors) who bring specialist insight; the second is older adults. Comprising the BESiDE Advisory Board are professionals representing a number of stakeholder communities including architecture, care professionals, clinical professionals, healthcare industry researchers, and government. In addition, BESiDE will ensure strong input from older adults who are members of the SiDE User Pool and representatives from charitable organisations.

List of Partners:

  • Balhousie Care Group
  • Bupa Care Services
  • Collective Architecture Ltd.
  • Healthfield Residential Home Ltd.

Other staff working on the project:

  • Prof Chris Reed, School of Computing
  • Prof Paul Watson, Newcastle University, Computing Science
  • Prof Marion McMurdo, Ninewells Hospital
  • Ms Hazel White, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design
  • Dr. Lesley McIntyre, School of Computing

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Dementia is a growing concern worldwide, with an estimated 35.6 million people living with dementia. As the population ages, this number will soar. The care of people with dementia has recently been receiving a great deal of consideration as it has become recognised that current care solutions too often are not meeting the standard of care that most of us would want for loved ones. The Portrait system is designed to help care staff see the whole person not simply as a set of service needs, but rather as an individual. In this goal, it is a part of the welcomed trend of care-giving that seeks to move away from task-based care to person-centred care.

Portrait addresses the needs of the growing population of people in care homes. The work takes a novel approach to this area by focusing on care-givers, addressing the need to facilitate conversations between care staff and residents. For residents with communication difficulties, such as those that arise from late stage Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, it is difficult for care staff, given their limited time and skills, to initiate conversations with such residents. The Portrait system was designed from the perspective of care staff. It provides an easy to use and quick means of getting information about the lives of residents before they entered the care home. In short, it allows care staff to know who the people are.

The Portrait system is the culmination of a research and development effort by the project researcher, Dr Gemma Webster, in which the Portrait software was created to act as a communication bridge between carers and people with dementia through the use of simple but effective 'Portraits'. Portrait is unique in terms of specifically targeting the work schedules and usability needs of care staff.

The Portrait system consists of multimedia portraits of each care home resident presented on an easily and quickly accessible touch-screen interface. Informed by background research on what people would like care staff to know about them if they went into a care home facility, each portrait contains information about the person's family, key life events, preferences and hobbies or interests. The system has been tested with staff from two care homes and was well-received in terms of providing the care staff with quick and easy access to usable information about residents.

Other staff working on the project:

  • Dr Gemma Webster, University of Aberdeen


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