Human Centered Design: The Ubuntu User Experience

Early in 2017, Ubuntu became a finalist in a challenge put forth by with the goal of using Human Centered Design to fuel a global effort to increase understanding around disability and inclusion. Their call to action was to answer a question central to the mission of the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre – ‘how might we reduce stigma and increase opportunities for people with disabilities?’ They reviewed 480 proposals, fueled by participation from all 27 eligible countries around the world. Of these proposals, the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre was chosen as one of 84 finalists to move on to the next phase.

What is Human Centered Design?

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with innovative solutions that further your goals to assist with their needs. It is all about building empathy for this end-user, generating new ideas and ways of thinking, evolving your approach, building upon your idea, and eventually putting this new solution into place which is truly rooted in people’s actual needs.

The Ubuntu SNC User Experience

A tenet of human-centered design is truly understanding your end users and the community your product or service aims to serve. As a part of this challenge, Ubuntu was tasked with creating a User Experience Map. This process allowed us to break our concept of the SNC experience into bite-sized pieces – to visualize the end-to-end experience a child might have with the Centre over time.

Meet Prince


Prince is an example of a child who would benefit from the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre. He has suffered from cerebral palsy and grand mal seizures since he was born. Both have limited his mobility and muscle development preventing him from being able to walk. Due to his disabilities, he has been unable to attend school or socially integrate with his community. His mother is unable to secure full time employment and rarely leaves home due to Prince’s around-the-clock needs.

When she does, she is the target of stigma and abuse from members of the community lacking an understanding of PWDs. The family is therefore restricted financially, socially, and physically - unsure of where to turn.

The Awareness Phase


Prince’s family learns about the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre (SNC) when they see information about the project on the back of an Ubuntu water bottle. They also hear from neighbors about community events at the Centre geared towards awareness and inclusion of children with disabilities. The family now has an anonymous hotline number, email address, website, and an awareness of Ubuntu’s presence locally.

Initial Contact and Counsel

Prince’s family reaches out to the SNC staff by calling the discrete phone number listed on the back of the water bottle. They speak to an SNC staff member who assesses Prince’s disabilities and needs, explains how the program can help, connects them to key resources, signs them up for the next medical clinic, and sets an appointment for Prince to visit the Centre.

Assessment and Care

Prince’s family visits the SNC and enrolls him in the full-time classroom program. The SNC staff creates a specialized plan to tackle his physical issues associated with cerebral palsy, educational gaps from inability to attend school, and social development needs. The staff keeps his family involved in the process so that even at-home the biggest roadblocks are being removed.

Medical Clinic Visit

Prince attends an Ubuntu medical clinic to identify the long term cause and severity of his disabilities. He is started on medication for his ongoing seizures which would otherwise significantly impede any progress. His treatment is tracked in the medical clinic database to inform monthly care from a local pediatrician.

Independence and Life Skills


Prince attends classes 5 times a week, gaining confidence and engaging in life skills trainings with his peers. He learns everything from hygiene basics to social training, all centered on peak performance instead of perfection. Through individual sessions with an Ubuntu occupational therapist, Prince increases mobility to the point where he can walk for the first time in his life.

The Socialization Phase

Prince builds comfort interacting with SNC peers and the Ubuntu community. Through social inclusion events he also feels comfortable with other children and in seeking help from adults when necessary.

As he develops physically and socially he is prepared to join the mainstream school curriculum and the gradual integration process is started working alongside local teachers.

Final Phase: Advocacy and Employment

Years later, Prince has successfully integrated into and graduated from a mainstream school. He is able to secure a job with one of Ubuntu’s many business partners and is now an advocate for PWDs and an example to the community of what intervention programs can accomplish. As he attends SNC events alongside other program graduates, he helps his community to better understand disabilities and reduce associated stigma.

What’s Next?

The process has been enlightening for our team in considering how to adjust our programs and how to gain feedback from our beneficiaries more effectively. The nature of the Centre's work has required us to actively collect feedback from our beneficiaries and the community but not with the specificity provided by focusing individually on each step of our user experience. This level of focus unlocked valuable feedback on how to amplify the impact of the Centre beyond our classroom and at-home work. The families we surveyed expressed a need for even more points of interaction between the Centre's team and the community so as to make it easier for them to reach out. 

Some goals we hope to set as a result of this challenge:

  • Grow our events and create an additional education event targeting siblings of special needs children
  • Increase our initial consult capacities by way of providing greater points of contact and allowing anonymous call in consultations via a hotline
  • Grow our at-home treatment capacities

We look forward to sharing what we learn from the Disability and Inclusion Challenge and how the process will help guide our understanding of the community that we serve, children that we work with, and the service that we provide.