An application to improve the trip planning process for wheelchair users.

Client: CHI 2016 Student Design Challenge Length: 4 months Team: Rhythm Agarwal, Joyce Ker, Ajayan Subramanian, Yiyi Liu, Qianxu Zeng

Project Brief

For the CHI 2016 student design Do Good Challenge, my team wanted to design something to benefit the wheelchair user population. The world around us was built for the normative population, making those who don’t fit those standards disabled. For wheelchair users, they spend a minimum of a day trip planning, because of the complexity and uncertainty when figuring out the accessibility of a new location and its route. They can be prevented from participating in society because of the lack of systems that provide applicable and accurate accessibility and routing services.
Final Design Solution

We created Spin, a personalized and context aware trip planning application that balances convenience, time and cost to help wheelchair users have reliable, easy and stress-free local trips. Below are the major highlights of our design:
Personalized Recommendations
When the wheelchair user first downloads the application they will fill out a survey about themselves to help them get suggestions relevant to them. When the user is planning a trip they can provide more specific preferences and the system will take those preferences and other contextual information such as weather or construction to provide the most accessible path for them. Additionally if the user selects a location that is not accessible for them, the system will suggest alternative accessible locations nearby.
Data Sources 
Spin will take its data from crowdsourcing, phone sensor information, and Google Street View. We have also looked into other methods of augmenting gaps in the data available such as other collected data resources, volunteers, and installing sensors on baby strollers.
Using the Data for Recommendations 
The reliability of information will be presented to users based on relevance, freshness and accuracy.
Reporting an Issue
Users can provide feedback regarding the accessibility of any part of their trip by taking a photo or commenting on the particular issues that arise.

Our poster submission for CHI to explain our product.
After filling out a quick survey, the user can look up destinations and look at its accessibility information. Once they select the destination, they can enter their travel preferences and the optimal route for them will be suggested. If there are any changes such as weather, a better route will be suggested. They can report any issues at anytime and their location be recorded with the issue. When they are done, they will be prompted to rate their experience.
Pavement such as this can be traversed easily by someone walking, but can be dangerous for a wheelchair user, causing them to be pitched from their wheelchair.

I took part throughout the research and design phase of the project. 
    •    UX Research; Recruiting and interviewing experts and users, Modeling (Flow, Sequence, Cultural), and Competitive analysis
    •    UX Design; Synthesis and ideation, Storyboarding, Contributed to wireframes, and Worked on final deliverables
Methods: Literature Review, Empathy Exercise, Competitive Analysis, Expert Interviews, User Interviews
We wanted to understand the main issues wheelchair users faced in daily life. From our research we learned about the complicated social, economic and cultural ecosystem that existed for wheelchair users.  Access was a large issue, whether it was an issue with insurance or lack of trained medical professionals, there was a lot of difficulty in getting necessary equipment. This could be properly fitted wheelchairs, or different features necessary for the user to participate in society.  Also, many times  'accessible' was not truly accessible. From too narrow pathways, broken pavement, things out of reach, and lack of accessible bathrooms, what wheelchair users had to struggle with on a daily basis would be unnoticed by the average person. 
When we went to visit the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Lab, we were allowed to try out the wheelchairs in order to build empathy with some of the difficulties wheelchair users faced. Even such a shallow ramp took a lot of effort for us to get to get to the top, so injury from steeper hills can be devastating for manual wheelchair users.
Wheelchair users also faced issues with cultural and social perception. From people looking down at them when talking to people seeing power wheelchair users as lazy when the they needed to lean back their chair to help with blood flow. Also, the lack of mobility would affect wheelchair user's social life and their ability to participate with society. 

"It was embarrassing, with the flashing lights and the slow panel, people stopped and stared as I went up the handicap escalator."

We were able to visit the Center for Assistive Technology, where the Clinician there was able to show us the variety of wheelchairs available and explain how she fitted each individual to their specific wheelchair.
We went to the Spinal Cord Injury Peer Group at UPMC hospital multiple times, initially to interview wheelchair users and then to test our paper prototypes. 
Key Findings
After synthesizing all our research through creating models (cultural, sequence, flow) we found the following major breakdowns for wheelchair users:
Complicated and Time-consuming Trip-planning Process 
We learned from our interviews that wheelchair users had a lot of anxiety towards visiting new  locations and would start planning their trips at least one day in advance. From using Google Street view to look at road conditions to reading Yelp reviews to see if their destination was truly accessible, there was always still the possibility of inaccessible routes.
Lack of Customization 
What is accessible to one wheelchair user may not be accessible to another. However, accessible is often used as a blanket statement and can often be misleading due to each wheelchair user's particular circumstances.
Unreliable Services
The current services available to wheelchair uses can be very unreliable and the wheelchair user would not know except from personal experience or word of mouth. Wheelchair users also have difficulty adjusting to inclement weather and other delays due to their reduced mobility. 

From our findings we came up with over 20 initial design ideas, which we then evaluated and narrowed down to narrowed down to 4 major design ideas:

    •    Customized gloves for wheelchair users. 
    •    A service for trip planning, when there is uncertainty
    •    Making mobility in the rain/snow safer and more comfortable for wheelchair users.
    •    Providing wheelchair users with a better grocery shopping experience. 

We took these ideas and evaluated feasibility and impact, which helped us to focus on designing a service for planning a trip while handling uncertainty. We wanted to make sure that our final design could address the needs of most wheelchair users while being easily attainable.
After generating a bunch of ideas, we each went through and added the positives, negatives and additional questions we had regarding each of the ideas.
To validate our concept, we storyboarded our concept at the Students for Disability Advocacy group to better understand what was important for the users. 
    •    Users prefer using mobile devices.
    •    They want concrete suggestions, percentage of uncertainty was not meaningful.
    •    Users care about accessible parking information.
    •    Users care about the layout of a room (e.g. the space between tables and chairs). 
One of our storyboards testing the presentation of  trip uncertainty percentage.
Here we are speed dating our concept with the Students for Disability Advocacy at UMPC hospital.
We used our findings and mocked up a paper prototype to present to the Spinal Cord Injury Peer Group at UPMC hospital. This allowed us to quickly iterate on our application before developing the high fidelity application we presented to CHI. People remarked on how helpful the found our application and how it would save them a lot of time when trip planning. 
Moving Forward

We would like future test and develop our application. Since we submitted our design we have noticed an increasing number of accessibility resources. While there is nothing universally accessible,  we hope our design can be implemented to address the individual needs of the wheelchair users, helping them to interact with the world around them.

What I Learned

Because this project was done during our spare time, we had to very proactive and organized to make sure we were getting the project done by the deadline. We had to learn how to quickly adjust to setbacks and how to deal with limited resources. We also had to learn how to be persistent and creative when recruiting  important stakeholders. This project also made me think about the complexity of design and accessibility, things that often fall beneath the notice of one group of people can have strong effects on other groups of people. The needs can be so nuanced that even within the group of wheelchair users, what is accessible for one person may not be accessible for another. 

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