Reducing the uncertainty that comes with traveling in a wheelchair

Spin offers personalized recommendations of accessible routes and destinations for wheelchair users
Role: UX research, ideation, concept validation
Duration: 3.5 months
Team: Yiyi Liu, Rhythm Agarwal, Joyce Ker, Qianxu Zeng, Ajayan Subramanian
Skills: Interviews, user recruitment, literature review, contextual analysis, storyboarding
Problem Space
Most cities in the world were created by and for the normative population. People who don’t fit that standard become 'disabled'. Even with accessibility reform initiatives, people who use wheelchairs still face the great challenge of navigating in the ecosystem whose user journey is not designed for them. The issue of finding accessible routes and destinations is further complicated by the diversity in wheelchair users’ abilities, limitations and use of assistive devices. Therefore what is accessible for one wheelchair user may not be the case for another. 
Our Solution
Spin is a mobile application that takes the user's individual condition, preferences and context to suggest accessible local destinations and the optimal route for getting there. Apart from user input, Spin collects data from Google street view, phone sensors, Google maps, local business reviews, and crowdsourcing. It provides recommendations that best suit the user.

We built empathy for our users by immersing ourselves in the problem space.
To design a solution for wheelchair users, our first task was to use them and see what it was like to be seated for a prolonged period and overcome physical obstacles. We visited the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) and the Center for Assistive Technology (CAT), where we were exposed to a wide variety of manual and power wheelchairs. There was a big difference in the positioning of the wheels, width and height of the cushion, and the cost of each chair.
Left: A manual wheelchair with an unorthodox positioning of wheels. Middle: Controls on a power wheelchair to make the seat more comfortable. Over a 12 hr period these are absolutely vital. Right: My teammate Yiyi trying to ride a wheelchair up a slope.
We spoke to experts in the field - a clinician, a counselor and rehab scientists
We were extremely fortunate to speak to a clinician whose job is to recommend wheelchairs to patients. From her we learnt about the cultural factors and apprehensions of wheelchair users. From speaking to a rehabilitation counselor, we learnt about the problems users face that prevent them from participating in society. Two rehabilitation scientists gave us a summary of the current technology being employed in wheelchair accessibility.
We interviewed users with varying levels of injury, age, and experience in a wheelchair
In order to understand the specific issues wheelchair users encounter in daily life, we conducted interviews with 12 wheelchair users. 4 of them used manual wheelchair and 8 used power wheelchairs. Their time of using the wheelchair ranged from 1 week to 10 years. Some traveled alone while others always traveled with companions. It became clear that the current services and offerings for navigation and transport were simply unacceptable. One of our interviewees casually stated that he plans a 30 minute trip to his doctor 2 days in advance.
Left: I'm interviewing an athletic manual wheelchair user.
Right: My teammate Joyce interviewing a user with a relatively small wheelchair.
We synthesized our data through interpretation and modeling
Left: A quick overview of our key findings. Right: A sample of our modeling. We made cultural, flow and sequence models as part of interpretation of interviews.

We performed visioning and came up with more than 20 ideas.
We evaluated these ideas by generating their pluses and minuses. Meanwhile, we thought about technology that is readily accessible to our wheelchair users. We wanted to address a wide audience, and pick a solution that would have the most impact. After evaluation, we decided to focus on designing a service for planning a trip, while handling uncertainty.
Left: The four ideas that we shortlisted, of which we picked the second.
Right: Adding our pluses and minuses to evaluate vision sketches.
We storyboarded ideas to test our assumptions.
We tried out different ways of presenting accessibility information for trips. We also tested the onboarding process. We presented our ideas at the Students for Disability Advocacy Group at the University of Pittsburgh and The Spinal Cord Injury Peer Support group at UPMC Mercy Hospital. We conducted speed-dating with more than 10 users and found that:

1) Users preferred using mobile devices.
2) Displaying the percentage of uncertainty is less helpful than concrete suggestions.
3) Users care about parking information and the layout of rooms.
4) Users like information that is personalized to their condition and transport preferences.
Top: Sample storyboards that illustrated our ideas for task flows.
Bottom: Speeddating these ideas at the University of Pittsburgh Students for Disability Advocacy Group.
We used paper prototypes to focus our design discussions.
Since this project was not part of our regular coursework, we could not afford to spend several iterations on high-fidelity wireframes. To make the most of our short design phase, we tried to make important decisions at the low-fidelity, sketchy level. Our emphasis was more on communicating the scenario, than wireframing an entire interface. Rhythm made the wireframes below.
Final Mobile Wireframes
My teammate Qianxu led the visual design of our high-fidelity mockups. I was involved in iterating on these mockups on Sketch.
Video Illustrating Value of Our Solution
From this project I gained valuable experience in finding and recruiting stakeholders(scientists, target users, clinicians) for interviews and speed-dating. In this project, more than any other, it was important to immerse ourselves in the problem space. It was not enough to observe wheelchair accessibility issues, we needed to experience them. Since this project was outside of coursework, we spent our weekends carrying out research and design activities. We needed to have good communication and documentation so that any one of us could take over a task easily. While the CHI Student Design Competition was a motivating factor for undertaking this project, we feel strongly about our solution. We have validated it with users, and believe there is merit in implementing it.

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