Adaptive Path: A Story of Travel With a Purpose


Adaptive Path has been involved in the design of Changemaker's site according to this press release
Adaptive Path Logo.gif
They are also involved a project with important crossover to the portion of the Inclusive Tourism community engaged in tourism as a contributor to disability and development work: Mobile Literacy - Designing Mobile Technology for Emerging Markets.

One section of their report leaps out as if it emerged from a classic Disability Studies perspective:

Regardless of culture, humans have a set of finely honed senses - touch, auditory, visual cognition - that allow us to understand and interact with the world.

Unfortunately these senses are overlooked in most technology experiences designed today. The mobile device landscape is dominated by visually-driven interfaces that require reading comprehension to use. Explore and privilege interfaces and interaction models that engage these dormant senses.

The Adaptive Path project is ripe with a variety of opportunities for review from a disability-aware perspective. For example, it complements directly the Geotourism Challenge entry on Inclusive Tourism by uniquely addressing the key issue of systems of reliable information in making travel decisions.

One researcher notes difficulties experienced by cell phone users and remarks:

These workarounds underscore a key problem with mobile devices in emerging markets: the interface conventions used to guide people through mobile experiences are largely misunderstood by a large portion of the world's population.

Adaptive Path has isolated a set of principles from their project and published a project report:

  • Honor the Culture of Relationships. Understand how people in the market are going to use the device or service to communicate or get information, by seeing what they do now.
  • Design for Cultural Relevance. Support existing needs, values, networks and experiences.
  • Design for Today's World. Resources in rural India are scarce, and people manage them carefully. Systems and services familiar to western cultures simply don't exist. Designing a solution to fit existing infrastructure and cultural experience is essential to its success.
  • Design Legos, Not Model Car Kits. Giving people a flexible toolkit of parts rather than a prescribed solution to a one problem opens up opportunities for cross-cultural iteration.
  • Leapfrog the PC. More than a phone, mobile devices present the opportunity to invent new ways for people to access and interact with information.
  • Generate Awareness & Adoption. Creating mechanisms for facilitating awareness and adoption helps to ensure that all who can benefit from a device or service are aware of and able to use it.

You can download our research findings and design principles.Source:

The original project focuses on rural India and rural culture.

We hear resonances of the core disability culture value "interdependence" in their elaboration of the principles.

They also give implicit recognition to Universal Design principles 3, 4, and 5 ( Flexibility in Use, Simple, Intuitive Use, and Perceptible Information) with their emphasis on cultural realities:

Giving people a flexible toolkit of parts rather than a prescribed solution to a one problem opens up opportunities for cross-cultural iteration. Instead of forcing people to wait for outsiders to introduce solutions to local problems, creating systems that leverage local knowledge and abilities enables progress to happen more rapidly and collaboratively.

To create devices and services that cut across cultures and address needs we might never have anticipated, we must create flexible and adaptable systems that address known needs while being open-ended enough to support novel usage.

...assume the mobile devices are shared and that conversations may involve many people speaking to many, rather than one to one conversations on a personal device...

The system should rely on organization principles, communication methods and iconic representations that are relevant to local experience. Recognize the cultural norms of verbal communication and spatial memory.

Poverty and inadequate infrastructure in rural areas, together with lack of healthcare, transform treatable conditions into chronic disabilities. The disproportionately large incidence of disability in rural settings is a cultural reality not addresses in the Adaptive Path study.

Interdependence is the cultural technology of disability used to provide resilience. In rural societies with strong family networks interdependence is ubiquitous. Its role can be overlooked. In Western individualized societies interdependence has been preserved and refined by disability culture as a resistance strategy where attitude, environment, and designed objects conspire to exclude those who experience disabilities.

If Adaptive Path is successful in applying its insights on cell phone usage to cell phone design we may finally see a fracturing of the "solid wall of (inaccessible) design."

Taking on the challenge to the status quo is Rachel Hinman in a post that is interesting both as an essay on design but also as a sort of intellectual travelogue chronicling an urban Westerner's encounter with rural resiliency. A historian of the explosive diffusion of technology (via rural culture) across Europe in the Middle Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire could find rich data in her experience for documenting a similar phenomenon today. A Disability Studies scholar would hope for more information on how disability culture explicitly shapes the overarching rural culture of the area where she researched.

Notice her choice of "Steampunk" to illustrate what rural culture in America refers to as "handiness" (As in "He's pretty handy with that oxy-acetaline torch") - tinkering, repurposing, American ingenuity. Examples of such engagement and invention abound in disability culture: Jesse Owens, Mark Felling, or Jessica Zarin Kessin.

Steampunk became the conceptual wrapper for the mobile device we envisioned. Steampunk enthusiasts create work that reflects the design and craftsmanship of the Victorian era. Similar to the exaggerated physical interface elements found on objects modded by Steampunk enthusiasts and artists, we designed a mobile device that celebrated physical interface elements like knobs that turn, scroll wheels, and exaggerated buttons.

Removing the aesthetic of "preciousness" was a key design goal for this phone. Most modern pieces of technology like computers, phones, and televisions convey a sleek aesthetic that does not invite tinkering and exploration. Steampunk aesthetics applied to modern objects like computers and electric guitars triggers a different emotional response. Similar to the exposed inner workings of a motorcycle, works of art created to reflect the Steampunk genre possess a look of craftsmanship and cobbling. It's an aesthetic that invites the touch of the human hand and it encourages engagement and foster curiosity and play.

For more on the project:

For a travelogue on the on-site research:

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