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 — — to connect and update those interested in this work. We also cut this video to demonstrate our vision for accessible environments —

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

Don’t fall asleep in the library!

northwestern libraryIn high school, everything was easy. I floated by, never studied, and aced the classes at my small, rural high school. When I got to Northwestern, I had no idea what to expect from my classes, and I failed to form any sort of plan to budget my time. That’s why it took until the spring of my second year before I felt like I had control of my schedule and was able to budget my time effectively.

Don’t make the same mistake I did! Give yourself time to think about how you want to structure your schedule and carefully select the commitments you want to make. Here are some best practices that I came to rely on – they might work for you too!

 Realize that your classes will actually take effort. If your high school lacked rigorous courses, you need to be mentally prepared to actually put time and energy into your classes, especially as a freshman. You might have been president of four clubs in high school, but it’s okay to slowly ease into extracurricular activities now. Make sure you have a solid handle on your academics first.

Figure out a calendar. Everyone seems to be switching over to Google Calendars now, which makes it easy to track everything across your devices. But if a large paper calendar or a small planner works better for you – go for it! Whatever the case, be sure to transfer all the deadlines from your syllabi to your calendar at the beginning of the term.

Keep working in between classes. When you have a break between classes, it can be easy to accidently waste that time surfing the web. Instead, find a quiet spot and catch up on emails, work on a problem set, or brainstorm ideas for a paper. This will free up time later in the day so you don’t have to pull unnecessary all-nighters.

Block distracting websites. If you’re anything like me, you quickly find yourself on Facebook, Reddit, or The New York Times when you’re attempting to study. Use the Self Control (ironic, I know) app for Mac to block the internet, certain websites, or only allow access to specific websites.

Don’t fall asleep in the library. As soon as you fall asleep in a study spot, it becomes ‘okay’ to sleep there again. Save at least one spot (library, or another favorite), as your ‘serious’ study place. And then vow to never sleep there.

Everyone has different styles, so maybe not all of these tips will work for you. Regardless, I would encourage you take a moment at the beginning of each term to reevaluate how you budget your time. Remember, better budgeting means more time to relax, hang out with friends, and dive into those student groups you’ve always been interested in.

— by Erin Turner, Quest Staff and Quest Scholar alum, Northwestern ’14

Discovering New Hoops: A QuestBridge-Inspired Story of Time Travel


If ever there has been a true “coming-full-circle” moment in my life, I experienced it while volunteering as a Group Leader at QuestBridge’s recent College Prep Scholarship National College Admissions Conference. I had graduated from Princeton University just weeks before flying out to the conference at Northwestern University, and my head was filled with the typical thoughts of a postgraduate life (like actually figuring out what this whole LinkedIn business is really all about…). But, during the course of my weekend in Evanston, I found myself facing someone I hadn’t really been planning on seeing: my 17-year-old self.

She looked at me through the eyes of the bold young woman who catapulted the unwieldy“so-what-did-you-get-on-your-SAT?” question my way just moments after meeting me. She was polished, articulate, and friendly, yet I couldn’t help but sense the ripples of stress hiding below the surface as she talked with someone who had successfully gone through the process she was just about to enter.

The ripples were easy to recognize. I still bore the marks of the stress that had radiated through me back when the things in my life felt uncertain in an uncontrollable kind of way, as I waded through all of the letters and e-mails that promised I had the whole world at my fingertips — if I could just somehow strike the right chord with an unknown admissions officer out there. A pretty big “if” in the mind of a teenager.

The anxiety over test scores, extracurricular engagement, and getting that opening sentence of my college essay to resonate just right were the worries beating a steady tattoo in the minds of the College Prep Scholars who had chosen to dedicate that summer Saturday to auditoriums, boxed lunches, and financial aid powerpoints in hopes of bettering their futures. Just as I was during the summer and fall of my senior year of high school, they were concerned with checking all the right boxes and jumping through all the right hoops — while trying to make the process seem effortless, like second-nature to those so precocious and well-suited to college life as they were.

In talking with the Scholars, I became very well reacquainted with the idea of my 17-year-old self, but I could not longer truly connect with her. Something fundamental had changed; we were quite simply no longer the same person. The 22-year-old had stopped thinking of herself as a list of accomplishments or numbers on a page. She had fallen out of love with the idea of being“successful”and moved on to thoughts of what it meant to be happy and balanced and good to the people around her. The ripples she felt these days were ones of excitement and the electricity of being young — not ones of stress.

What she had learned at college was that, in contrast to high school, life was no longer about being quantifiably great. It was about finding that subject or idea or author that made you too excited to sleep. It was about being surrounded with people so quirky, passionate, and alive that they made you better than you ever were when you were “the best” in high school. It was about becoming the flesh-and-blood embodiment of the person you were on paper.

I tried to convey these ideas to the students around me as best I could, but I don’t know if I was successful — it was a hard-won sense of purpose and confidence I had gained through my years of college, one that becomes somehow diluted and hackneyed when I try to put it into words. But I still want to reassure the girl who asked me about my SAT score, as well as every rising senior out there and probably 17-year-old me as well, that the stress she is facing will be well worth it in the end. The hard work and hours she spends on furthering her education now are just the dues she has to pay for a full, rich college experience. I am so proud of the effort and passion I saw among the College Prep Scholars I met in June, and I know that big things are in store for them.

And I would be lying if I said that a part of me didn’t want to do it all over again, even the hard parts. I want to pick up that course catalogue again, exchange cautiously-eager Facebook messages with my soon-to-be roommate, and dream about all of the people I could potentially become. I haven’t yet stopped the dreaming part yet, but the experience of being at the conference helped me see that that stage of my life had come to a close, partly to make way for new adventures ahead.

In the end, I am still that 17-year-old jumping through hoops. Not everything has changed, and I might be wired on some fundamental level to always be that way to some extent. But I’d like to think that, more and more, the choice of precisely which hoops to jump through is becoming uniquely my own.

— by Linnea Paseiro, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’14