Using iBeacons to offer more freedom in safe spaces for the visually impaired
Accessible Tech Hackathon
UX researcher and developer
The Accessible Tech event was a 2 day hackathon, with the goal of improving employment for those with visual impairments. I worked with a team of 4 differently skilled people, some I did and did not know.
The hackathon was particularly amazing in that an effort was made to invite those with a range of impairments, and judges also had impairments.
New areas pose a problem to those with visual impairments. Learning layouts of spaces like offices and knowing where meeting rooms are difficult for those who can't see the environment. This can lead to being late to meetings and a lack of independence at work.
Our app would map out office spaces using iBeacons. Then it would offer simple directions to where the user needs to be. Temporary iBeacons would also be used for temporary situations. For example, a janitor would put an iBeacon in an a-sign warning users of a wet floor.
Our project won the Makes Sense prize! My idea was praised as being simple and scalable for many situations.
“Well done! I You came up with a really simple concept that I think can be applied to many other situations that can support all workers.” - Graham Race
“I think this has seriously good potential for public spaces and institutions. This would give it an instant global market to tap into.” - Chris Cusack
“A nice idea to help blind and visual impair people. Easy to deploy and small budget.” - Piotr Imielski
I was fortunate to meet Bill, a blind person on my flight home from Malta. I asked him a few questions to understand the limitations he faced because of his visual impairments.
Being on a plane, I simply used Lookback on mobile to record the conversation, and made notes with pen and paper. He talked to me about his life, including his wife, their wedding day and his aspirations. He was a musician from New York, now living in the UK with his wife.
From there Bill explained his hobbies, which included museums. However, often he felt restricted in museums using audio guides due to their lack of interactivity. He said he had to strictly follow the order of audio guides and had no freedom to filter out his own interests.
"I don't venture out as much as I should"
"[Public places] are too restrictive for me"
"[in museums] you have to follow the audio guides and they're very restrictive"
Originally my idea was to build a solution for use in public spaces like museums. We wanted to provide more freedom to visually impaired people by guiding them to things of interest, rather than forcing them to go through every step in an audio guide.
However, our team had to explore ideas which represented the employment theme of the hackathon. During exploration we briefly interviewed those with visual impairments at the hackathon. I lead the conversations and explored the problems visually impaired people face when starting new jobs.
I was able to validate the concept of the idea through asking those with visual impairments at the hackathon about the idea. Unfortunately we were unable to conduct usability testing on our implementation due to the time constraints.
I presented the idea of the project to judges, explaining our inspiration behind the idea and future challenges, including scalability.
Our team also created a short video as part of the submission, taking the audience through our team and project.
On a personal level I learnt to be more accessible and inclusive. One thing I did notice was the visually impaired people didn't know what was happening when presenters were doing ice breakers. For example, we were told to mirror the actions of the presenter. However, they did not describe what they were doing.
I learnt to describe the actions we were being shown, explaining "Now the presenter is washing his hair like in the shower and everyone in the audience is doing the same".
This project allowed me to explore new accessibility challenges for those with visually impaired people, in public spaces like museums and at work.