NAV ME for Accessible Futures

navmeJuan and I received the Quest Summer Service Grant to start creating an indoor navigation solution for people with vision impairments. As this was an ambitious project that required manpower and extensive skills in different areas, we also worked with another Northwestern Quest Scholar, Spencer Williams, and two other Northwestern students, Suhong Jin and Austin Dickey.

The Quest Summer Service grant allowed us to start the arduous and repetitive process of user-centric design in coordination with The Friedman Place, a support community for people with vision impairments in Chicago, Illinois. The entire process took a combination of research, brainstorming, sketching and designing, mocking up, and user testing. As a group, we spent two weeks gaining a working knowledge of our end users and sourcing different research papers on the abilities, cognition, and habits of people with impairments. We combined this with preliminary user observations and interviews of different Friedman Place residents to get the foundation of user requirements and specifications. What we found was that our users needed a solution that was cost-effective, easy to use, durable and stylish, and relied heavily on haptic feedback. These findings led to another week of research as we familiarized ourselves with the new topics such as haptics and ergonomic form factors.

From there, we spent four weeks repeatedly taking to whiteboards and piles of scratch paper to sketch out our visions for this solution. In line with design practice, we started out with broad ideas and iterated through mock-ups to test our ideas, narrow down the options, and refine them. Initially, we heavily tested different form factors to hold our solution and deliver haptic feedback. These ranged from wristbands, to armbands, to additions to our user’s white canes. We ultimately decided on the wristband form factor, which allowed us to leverage an emerging technology — smart watches. This came after a considering the support of Android and iOS API’s and code libraries as well as the availability of devices, all of which would be beneficial for our users.

We acquired Android smart watches and rooted them for development. Then we began mocking up and testing different methods of interacting with the device, both user input and output. We tested different input options from voice recognition to gesture control and also tested haptic and audio feedback. Some of the results were promising but across the board it was clear that smart devices (including smartphones since we also tested those) are not completely accessible and friendly to users with vision impairments. We knew then that we needed to revisit the drawing board and some how amend or add-on to smart devices to make our solution truly accessible to users with vision impairments.

This summer has been very informative and educational to us. We developed skills in design, teamwork, communication, and programming for meaningful causes. It has revealed to us where modern technology fails to meet modern standards for accessibility. We learned that as designers and creators, we make the active decision whether or not to make our products accessible and all too often we choose to not to.

Now, Adel Lahlou, Spencer Williams, and Suhong Jin will continue to work on creating NavMe, an indoor navigation solution. We have setup this website — http://www.isistive.com — to connect and update those interested in this work. We also cut this video to demonstrate our vision for accessible environments — http://youtu.be/JqNQXktnQZ8.

A lot of this experience would not have been possible without support from the Quest Summer Service Grant. So from our team and on behalf of people with vision impairments, thank Quest Scholars Network.

— Adel Lahlou and Juan David Dominguez, Quest Scholar, Northwestern ’17