Conversational user interfaces (CUIs) are often advertised to be accessible and easy-to-use, yet it is still not known how to make them fully inclusive and acceptable for all of their potential users, especially for those who may stand to benefit the most from CUIs. This workshop is the latest installment of a workshop series on conversational user interfaces and will bring together scholars, practitioners, and researchers to discuss the state of CUI design for marginalized and vulnerable populations, how inclusive design is considered (or neglected) in current CUI design practice, and how to move forward when it comes to designing CUIs for inclusion and diversity. Our aim is to spark vigorous and interesting discussions from multiple perspectives on issues related to inclusive design, marginalization, and the benefits and harms of CUIs. We aim for this workshop to serve as a platform on which to build a community and determine future directions to tackle important topics of inclusivity and equity in CUI design.

Conversational User Interfaces (CUIs) allow users to interact with digital devices in manners that have been frequently hailed as more “natural” and “easier-to-use” compared to “traditional” modalities such as GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces). Technologies employing CUIs, such as voice-based Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, allow users to use speech to manage their lives through digital means (e.g., through calendar and reminder applications) and connect with essential services (e.g., shopping and ridesharing). With CUIs becoming an increasingly popular and commercially viable way of interacting with digital devices, this mode of technology interaction is often seen as having much promise in making technology more accessible for certain user groups such as older adults and people living with disabilities.

However, preliminary evidence suggests that we do not yet fully know how to design CUIs in a way that is inclusive of marginalized and vulnerable populations. For example, more research is needed on older adults’ perceptions of and barriers to using voice assistants, how voice assistants should talk to them, and how anthropomorphism plays into their interactions. Design decisions that overlook user groups (e.g., older people or people with disabilities) in the design of CUIs can foster their social exclusion. When conversational technology is not designed in a manner that is inclusive of marginalized and vulnerable peoples, for example by considering their information and accessibility needs, these users face a greater risk of encountering offline social consequences that can push them further towards the margins of society and grow the digital divide. Such was the case with a legal incident involving a pizza ordering website and mobile app that was incompatible with screen readers, and thus excluded blind or low-vision users from using them and denied them a method of engaging with offline society in a manner that was available to everyone else.

Attention to the design of conversational and speech systems that support diversity and inclusion has rapidly increased over recent years. For instance, open issues in the design of CUIs for older adults were highlighted at CHI 2022 and CUI 2019. Moreover, matters of design for inclusion and vulnerability are a primary focus in the upcoming CUI 2023 conference, which has a theme of Designing for Inclusive Conversation. This workshop will build on these community conversations through focused discussions on the design and study of CUIs through the lens of inclusion and diversity.

This workshop aims to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue on the challenges to the inclusive design of CUIs. By engaging the CHI community about inclusive practices for the design of speech-based systems, we aim to encourage interest in and discovery of further research opportunities in the practice and design of more inclusive speech interactions. To do this, in our workshop discussions, we will reflect on the state of the inclusive design of CUIs for marginalized and vulnerable populations, examine the topic of inclusive design of CUIs in design practice, and discuss how the CHI community should move forward on this design issue.

Please see our Call for Papers page for details about submitting to the workshop.