REIMAGINING ACCESSIBILITY WITH LINKNYC

To date, there are 120,000 blind and nearly 1,000,000 visually impaired people in New York City. For our Design in Public Spaces course led by Jill Nussbaum, my team (Min Lee, Julian Gonzalez, James Vanié) worked with Paul McConnell, Director of Design at Intersection, to explore ways the Link NYC kiosk can better serve these communities.

The final deliverable of this project is a design fiction, which helped key stakeholders envision the value and possibilities of our solution. 

 
 
 
 
 

Project Details 

Tasks: User Research, Competitive Analysis, Product Design
Class: Design in Public Spaces
Team:  Min LeeJulian Gonzalez
Timeframe: six weeks

Project Deliverables

• Competitive analysis
• Use case design
• Discussion Guides
• Interview Synthesi
• Final pitch video
• Final proposal deck design

 
 
 
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MY ROLE

My role entailed facilitation of brainstorm sessions, competitive analysis, strategy, expert interview planning/synthesis, concept design, needs finding, copywriting/narrative design.  

As a team, we collectively gathered our findings and designed a final pitch deck that was presented to key members of the Intersection Design Team.

 

 

CHOOSING OUR FOCUS

Discovery phase

Our team shared a common interest in accessibility design and quickly gained momentum with our initial how might we statement:

How might we: Facilitate the blind and visually impaired people of NYC with more travel independence and comfort while moving through the city? 

 

We chose Lincoln Center as our target neighborhood – a high traffic area that is known to pose navigational difficulties for the blind and visually impaired. Gathering our initial assumptions, we spent two weeks in discovery phase familiarizing ourselves with NYC establishments, technologies, and communities in the assistive tech landscape.

 
 
 
 High traffic transportation hubs are a continuous challenge for the blind and visually impaired.

High traffic transportation hubs are a continuous challenge for the blind and visually impaired.

 
 
 

TOOLS FOR EMPATHY

RESEARCH METHODS

By immersing ourselves in relevant writings, products, events, and conversations relating to the state of assistive technology, we gained an insider's perspective of the daily lives of the blind and visually impaired in NYC. Here are the research methods that we used:

 
 
 
 
 
 

Focused Ethnography: We conducted ethnographic research at the following locations: 

  • The Lighthouse Guild
  • Disability Meetups events
  • NYPL | Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library
  • Goodwill
  • High traffic subway stations
  • MTA Bus stops
  • NYC intersections and crosswalks

Expert Interviews: We consulted with mobility instructors, facilitators, designers, and other people who are blind/visually impaired in the Assistive technology space. 

Participatory Design: During our interview sessions with industry professionals, we identified some of the most pressing painpoints for the blind and ideated potential solutions that might address those issues.

Secondary Research: We looked to the web to learn about Universal Design Standards, Section 508.gov, and the latest innovation trends in the assistive tech space.

 
 
 
 Tiffany Yu speaking at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library

Tiffany Yu speaking at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library

 
 
 

During the second week of our project, we were invited to one of the most active assistive tech Meetups in New York City, a11ynyc — New York City Accessibility & Inclusive Design Meetup. Every month, this group advances digital accessibility and inclusive design by bringing together NYC’s accessibility community to share ideas, best practices, and experiences. The featured group was called Diversability, a social movement that fosters community to connect, showcase, and empower people of all abilities doing amazing things. Through the stories shared, we learned about this community, their challenges and victories. After the event, we stayed and talked with attendees and shared the early ideas of our project. The impact of the experience compelled me to write an article on the need for inclusive design, which can be found here. It quickly circulated through social media and was well received by LinkNYC, The School of Visual Arts, and the Diversability Meetup Group.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH

EXPLORING TOUCHPOINTS FOR THE BLIND

During our first day of ethnographic field research, we started started taking notes as soon as we left the doors of SVA. We noticed that, during heavy snow, landmarks such as bus stop posts would be difficult to locate with a walking stick. 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Some additional insights and assumptions that we compiled:

  • Bikers and people walking while texting on their devices can be hazardous for the blind.
  • Audible traffic signals are located scarcely throughout NYC, only in proximity to major parks and facilities that serve the blind and visually impaired.
  • The limited level of audible traffic signals throughout NYC could be seen as restricting blind people who become dependent on them.

 

When we arrived to the subway station, we examined the accessibility functions of the MTA card machines and had difficulties accessing the features. There was braille signage under some of the subway stop signs, but we had questions around discoverability, given that the signs were placed in such an open space. We also looked at different interfaces in the city that had accessibility features such as ATM machines and the yellow taxi interface. We found that most of the features did provide the functionallity needed for the user to achieve the basic tasks, but many of the additional functions did not exist with the accessibility version. 

 
 
 
 

EXPERT INTERVIEWS

setting the context for a meaningful discussion

Taking our research into consideration, we crafted a discussion guide for interviews that we had planned with Chancey Fleet, Assistive Technology Coordinator at NYPL and José Medellín, Director of Communications at Goodwill Industries.

 
 
 
 

We also spoke with Carol Moog, a Mobility Instructor at the Lighthouse Guild. Her job is to assist people who are newly blind or visually impaired to navigate their houses, neighborhoods, and MTA bus stops and subway stations. Here are our biggest takeaways from the interview with Carol:

  • There spectrum of vision impairment is wide and case-by-case. There is rarely one solution that will solve for everyone.
  •  If the client is trained properly, the walking stick is the only tool needed for the blind and visually impaired to navigate the city.
  • For the blind, navigating the city is a type of literacy. If they are not constantly navigating, their senses and intuition are affected.
 
 
 
 (top right) Chancy Fleet and (bottom right) José Medellín were a pleasure to speak with.

(top right) Chancy Fleet and (bottom right) José Medellín were a pleasure to speak with.

 
 
 Notes from our interview with Chancey

Notes from our interview with Chancey

 
 
 

KEY FINDINGS

Synthesizing thus far

We consolidated the most important research findings from the ethnographic research, expert interviews, and additional sources that we had gathered throughout the project. The key findings below are what ultimately informed our final product design:

1. Sound Cues: Are heavily relied upon by the blind and visually impaired to cross the street. The audible street signals are few and far throughout the city. Street navigation depends highly on sound cues, so their ears must remain free of ear buds.

2. Technology: The blind and visually impaired are non-dependent on mobile devices, but find them convenient at times.

3. Navigation: High-traffic transportation hubs are a challenge for the blind and visually impaired to navigate. Locating bus stops and specific trains are a major painpoint. 

4. A Better System: There is a lack of accountability with private companies who design public services. Most public services are accessible, but the experience is second class. 

 

 

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

ASSESSING THE LANDSCAPE

We looked at some of the most popular mobile applications that are used by the blind and visually impaired and took notes on functionality and the navigational gestures that were used. With this, we began to envision what types of functionalities could be leveraged to meet the customer needs that we had uncovered during our research.

 
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During the competitive analysis, we came across Access-a-Ride, a shared-ride, door-to-door service for the blind provided by NYC. Due to the nature of the on-boarding process and length of time for requesting a pick up, it is a highly inefficient and costly service for the city of New York. We familiarized ourselves with Section 508, the law under the Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act that requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. We also gained insight from a citywide design competition to "Reinvent the Payphone" that was held in 2013. 

 
 
 
 

DESIGN PHASE

Establishing DESIGN principles

From there, we established design principles for our product concept and design fiction. We referenced the Universal Design Principles, which are a set of guidelines that designers have used to ensure that products are accessible for everyone, regardless of disability:

 
 
 
 
  • Space and Size: Considers people and interactivity from all heights and disabilities.
  • Intuitive: Mimics gestures and logic from existing universally designed products.
  • Tolerance: Allows for an experience that allows for mistakes and exploration without getting the user lost.
 
 
 
 

DESIGN PHASE

leveraging research to inform a Conceptual framework

Our initial sketches for the design fiction show the high level on-boarding, usage, and value of the our design initiatives from the user's perspective.

 
 
 
 
 

DESIGN PHASE

introducing: LInk ana

We received feedback on the initial design fiction and integrated it into our next iteration, in which we honed in on discoverability and functionality. Shown below, users register their mobile device via email before approaching a LINK in order to access wifi, and can set up the accessibility preferences in the app, enabling ANA.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

LinkANA is a feature that will alert a LINK when a user is in front of it and automatically activate the accessibility features:

• Voice enabled Navigation

• Talk Back

• Screen Magnification

• Screen Contrast Controls

 
 
 
 

These features will allow the blind and visually impaired to navigate the city with more confidence. For example, with the Realtime Navigation function, when a blind user is waiting to cross a busy street, if they have their headphones plugged in, they will get an audible signal that the light has changed to green. Of course there will always be unexpected instances of bikers and vehicles that will rush through red lights – but this will give an added layer of insight as to whether or not the light is green.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Basic features include:

  1.  Realtime Navigation: Google maps + Beacon (Eddystone) Real time information about location.
  2. Landmark Integration: Uber/Lyft Integration, Small fleet of buses / Shuttle request, Special pick-up area
  3. MTA SchedulingInformation about transportation schedule / live traffic can be pushed to users device
 
 
 
 

FEEDBACK AND ITERATION

pitching at facebook

Before our final presentation, we spent an evening at Facebook HQ to pitch our Design Fictions to our IxD class and Facebook Designers. Our team received great feedback and iterated on the structure of our narrative and progression of our research, use cases, and value proposition. 

 
 
 
 SVA IxD at Facebook NYC

SVA IxD at Facebook NYC

 
 
 

FINAL thoughts

The final presentation was received well by our audience – most questions were around functionality, gestures, and feasibility. Through this project, I have become an ally for the disabled community and an advocate for inclusive design – the idea that products and services should be designed to effectively meet the needs of as many people as reasonably possible, regardless of disability status.

Our team does intend to continue our research on inclusive design and assistive tech in NYC. Email me at vanie.james@gmail.com and meet with us at the next Meetup on assistive tech in NYC!