Posts tagged “disability”

Elizabeth’s War Story: Ramping Up

Elizabeth Allen is a UX Researcher at Shopify, an ecommerce platform based in Canada. She told this story live at the Interaction 17 conference.

A few years ago, I was working at Centralis, a UX research and design consulting firm in the Chicago area. One of our clients was a public transportation agency, and our project involved testing the maps and signage within and between transit stations by accompanying participants as they completed realistic wayfinding scenarios to try to get from station to station and find their correct train or bus.

As part of this testing, my research partner Kathi Kaiser and I included individuals with motor and visual disabilities to make sure they were able to navigate just as well as those who didn’t have these challenges. One participant, Susan, was in a motorized wheelchair, and we began our session with a scenario that had us traveling to a station and accessing an elevated platform where she would wait for a train.

Chicago summers can be very hot and humid, and this was one of the hottest of the year. We were all sweating by the time we got to the station even though it was just a short walk from the coffee shop where we met to start the session. Now, this station had no elevator; instead, outside the station was a very long ramp to reach the platform. This was probably the longest ramp I’d ever seen at a transit station — it had two or three switchbacks just to reach the top!

We started up the ramp, and when we were about halfway up, Susan’s wheelchair started slowing down. “Uh oh”, she said. “I think my battery is about to die. I totally forgot to charge it before I went out, and steep ramps like this always make it run out faster.” Sure enough, a few seconds later, the wheelchair slowed to a halt, completely dead.

At this point, we had to make a decision based on what was best for Susan and for the research: do we end the session early, push Susan’s chair back to our starting point, and explain to our client that we would miss out on gathering valuable accessibility insights, or do we see if we can find a power source and salvage what we can of the session? We explained to Susan that we could either end the session or try to keep going, and luckily, she was still excited about the session and was game to push on — literally.

After wheezing our way up the rest of the ramp, dripping with sweat, we got to the platform and found no electrical outlets in sight. The ticket counter was also closed, but after a lot of roaming around we were able to find the lone janitor. We were very fortunate, because he was extremely kind, and offered to let us plug Susan’s chair into an outlet in one of the back rooms.

This story ends happily. After a half hour or so, Susan’s chair was charged up, and during that time we were able to improvise some interview questions and short scenarios we could talk through with her while we waited. It really helped that we were able to think on our feet and that we had a participant who had a positive attitude and was interested in the session. Overall, we were able to salvage a research session that was difficult to recruit for, and our client was really happy with what we learned.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Mice as Stand-Ins in the Fight Against Disease [New York Times] – Looks like this has been happening in some measure for a while, but some new methods are increasing the usage. The most science-fiction thing you’ll read all week.

In what could be the ultimate in personalized medicine, animals bearing your disease, or part of your anatomy, can serve as your personal guinea pig, so to speak. Some researchers call them avatars, like the virtual characters in movies and online games. “The mice allow you the opportunity to test drugs to find out which ones will be efficacious without exposing the patient to toxicity,” said Colin Collins, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Australia 2012 [Flickr] – My complete set of pictures from Australia earlier this month.

Chinese families’ worldly goods in Huang Qingjun’s pictures [BBC] – We’ve seen other projects like this, but the focus on China captures a material culture in transition.

Amid China’s tumultuous dash to become rich, one man’s photographs of families posing with their worldly goods will soon seem like records from a distant era. Huang Qingjun has spent nearly a decade travelling to remote parts of China to persuade people who have sometimes never been photographed to carry outside all their household possessions and pose for him. The results offer glimpses of the utilitarian lives of millions of ordinary Chinese who, at first glance, appear not to have been swept up by the same modernisation that has seen hundreds of millions of others leave for the cities. But seen more closely, they also show the enormous social change that has come in a generation. So the photo of an elderly couple of farmers outside their mud house reveals a satellite dish, DVD player and phone.

Four Big Things, a phrase dating from 1950s for most sought-after goods for newly married couples: sewing machine, bicycle, watch, radio. It’s since come to refer to whatever is most fashionable at the time. By 1980s the four big things were: TV, washing machine, rice cooker, fridge. Now, consumer goods flood China’s cities, it tends to be used to describe people’s aspirations for the latest thing.

Must-See Video: How a Woman With No Arms Dresses Herself. What Assistance Can Design Provide? [Core 77] – I love the reaction; that excitement of discovering how current solutions could be improved. Designers are so great at bringing that creativity and know-how to bear to make change for the good. But let’s remember, we don’t need videos to be posted by users to uncover what things aren’t working for them. Are designers waiting for broken products to appear in front of them so they can spontaneously improve them, or are they out there looking at current behaviors and solutions in order to proactively find opportunities. Designers: you don’t need the disabled (or anyone) to post their own videos, go and shoot your own!

I hope that more folks with disabilities make videos like this, not just to share with others what their particular trials are, but to enable us designers to improve upon the objects they use.

FILMography – a Tumblr with an incredible series of images where a printout of a still from a film is held up in the actual location where that scene was shot. It’s a “trick” I’ve seen before but mostly as a one-off; the breadth here is fascinating.

FILM + photography = FILMography.

Portigal Consulting Philanthropy, 2007

Our primary giving in 2007 was in support of two organizations: one local, and one in support of developing nations.

Coastside Hope is the “primary provider of safety net services” in our local area. They provide “monthly food harvest, emergency shelter and rental assistance services, crisis intervention and referral services, clothing vouchers, Christmas Adopt-a-Family program, [and] citizenship services.”

The Free Wheelchair Mission has taken an innovative approach to producing wheelchairs for developing countries: “to use components that are manufactured in high volume for other products…He removed every extra feature possible, ending up with the least expensive design that will satisfy a large portion of the world’s need for wheelchairs. This wheelchair design lends itself to manufacture by highly efficient companies where assembly costs are relatively low.”


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