Mobility Map is a web app concept that focuses on making pedestrian communities more inclusive for people with mobility impairments. It is a collaborative mapping platform that allows users to highlight areas that are impassible for those with physical disabilities, and allows them to plan their routes more efficiently.
In the United States, The Americans with Disabilities Act works to make employment, education, and other opportunities everyone ought to have required by law for people with disabilities. This piece of legislation has greatly succeeded in improving architecture and landscape to be more accessible, making things much better for those who are disabled. The ADA states requirements for what an “accessible route” is legally, and how many are required in a given setting.
The ADA however, is not perfect. There are plenty of examples of places that technically meet the minimum requirements, but in reality don’t supply the actual people in the given environment a sense of feeling welcome or accommodated. For the purposes of this project, I honed in specifically on my college’s campus. SUNY New Paltz does in fact meet the requirements it needs to in order to be accessible. The strange thing about the situation is that ADA guidelines are actually rather strict for schools, but loosen drastically when it comes to post-secondary education. This is partially due to the fact that for a long time, the wee not proper measures in place to get people with disabilities to college. There is a lag in legislation that is getting people here (rightly so!) but not really taking care of them once they are actually IN college.
How I Addressed It:
To address this problem, I wanted to do several things. I wanted to create a means of crowd sourcing information so that if someone were to come across a significant obstacle in their wheelchair, while on crutches, or otherwise on campus they could alert others who may also be inconvenienced. Think Waze but for mobility impaired people in a pedestrian community. In thinking about how I could make this possible, I felt that it would be best if someone could report an obstacle on-location and have it available for others to view without much lag. I felt this information should be readily available to those who need it
An additional advantage of highlighting these obstacles is that when decisions are being made and people are arguing for accessibility beyond the ADA, a detailed record of what is not working would be readily available to those who need it. This could serve as valuable evidence in a movement to get administration to be more mindful in renovation and new construction.
Another problem I felt this product could help with is creating a greater sense of community amongst the physically disabled. Often times, people with disabilities can feel isolated in a world that was not made for them. Knowing that you’re not alone and being able to help those who face the same challenges seems like a good approach to address some of these feelings.
In my research, I interviewed and researched on campus to see what my school was doing to make our disabled students feel welcome. Our Disability Resource Center on campus is run by a great team that works very hard to make the college experience as positive as possible for the students that have physical disabilities. Their director herself has a mobility impairment and was a great resource in understanding the issues faced by this group on campus. Through talking with her, I came to understand the issues her and the students she helps face.
She provided me with examples of places on campus that do have accessible entrances, but you have to go around the back to use them. I found out several residence halls don’t have elevators, so mobility impaired students just can’t live there. At the end of the fall semester the students turn in their routes to the DRC so that they can get passed along to maintenance. This is so when it snows in the winter, their preferred routes to class get plowed first.
I also was able to read through the detailed account of long term-accessibility associated issues on the campus done by a group a graduate students in honor of a beloved professor who had many difficulties with her own mobility impairment in her time on our campus.
I also conducted a small survey of 20 participants (After getting research certified first!) asking about their opinions on the state of accessibility on campus. The vast majority felt that it was not ignored by the college, but there is a lot of work to be done moving forward.
To start out coming up with what this would actually be, I listed out some features I thought an app like this would have. I asked myself what people should be able to do in order to report obstacles, and what was necessary to communicate their experiences. After listing them out, I organized them in order of importance to help myself understand what ideas were working the best.
While all this was going on, I created Personas and potential use flows based off of them. These fictional people helped me apply the knowledge I was getting from my research and putting them together into how this product would be potentially used.
After that, I looked at the user personas and their associated use flows, and tried to map out how information would flow through the app. I laid out the app in as much detail as I could (probably too much detail, in retrospect). This went on to help me draw out all the screens I needed in my paper prototype.
The next phase in this project was to start visualizing my ideas in wireframes. The focus in this step was to make sure my information was organized in a logical way that worked, with no weird dead ends for the user. I started out drawing my screens on paper with pencil, but quickly grew frustrated by the fact I couldn’t navigate through them as easily as I would have liked. This resulted in me scanning my paper prototype images in and linking them up in InVision. This allowed me to still work in in pencil on paper, but made it possible for me to tap through it on an iPhone to make sure everything was adding up.
Once I was confident in my research and app structure, I needed to have a visual identity for my product. Since this project is a solo effort, I took on the role of the Visual Designer to come up with a brand that would come across as friendly and accessible to a potential user. I felt that if the app’s personality was not inclusive in itself, how would it make our campus more welcoming? I felt my product must follow the philosophy of the solution to the problem it was trying to solve. I was mindful to how I’d be using type, color, and contrast to create my brand. If you want to learn more about this process specifically, check out my blog post on it.
I want the interface to be usable by people no matter what their ability level, physical or otherwise, is. This led to some research on accessible color combinations for those who are color blind or vision impaired. I also read a bit about web accessibility standards and what is preferred by people with a wide array of constraints that could inhibit their experience using my app. I feel that by addressing the extreme use cases, I could create an overall better experience for every user.
The next phase was creating mobile mockups in Sketch. The process was quick and iterative, incorporating the inVision Sync application within Sketch to make my prototypes testable on devices as I was working on them. I tried getting as many people as possible trying it out and giving me feedback on what they had found strange or difficult when trying to use the prototype. I would make checklists of my feedback, go back into Sketch, make the changes, and try it out again. I logged my progress in a screen recorded video walk through that I would add to my Vimeo page. After my first round of user testing, I started making a tablet version and testing that too.
I consider this project in progress. It is an example of one of those things that is never done, just on hold until I know more about it. I learned so much through doing this. I don’t think I’ll ever have the opportunity to walk through the UI/UX design process entirely on my own from concepting, to information structure, to user research, to creating a visual identity, rapidly prototyping in paper and digital, and collecting user feedback to improve it all on my own.
To be honest, I really hope I don’t have to work on something this complex by myself again. This was a great exercise for me to learn why projects like this are better done by a team. I often felt very frustrated throughout this process because no one person should be in charge of every single portion of the process in creating a successful app. In my experience creating mockups and doing this kind of work professionally, there would be constant conversation amongst the people I was working with that could provide me with different perspectives and help me come up with ideas on how to do things better. I missed that a lot while concepting Mobility Map! I definitely gained a better appreciation for my collaborators and teammates from this experience.
I learned so much about user centered design when designing specifically with the goal of being inclusive in mind. I learned so much about designing interfaces in a way that makes them easier for everyone to use. A lot of what is outlined in web accessibility requirements talks about how to write better code, but there isn’t much out there that is definitive for interface specifically. I had to do a lot of research to figure out what an accessible interface means on the front-end. I hope to take everything I learned through this project and apply it to my future work, even if it doesn't specifically have an “accessible” theme. Why shouldn’t people of all ability levels be able to use the products we design? I think I will also find my UI/UX designs will work better, even if my users are not disabled in any way.