My role: User Research, Workshop Facilitation, and Report Writing (team of five at the University of Toronto)
Our team of four, from the Knowledge Media Institute, initiated participatory design (PD) journey to translate the University of Toronto's accessibility services into ubiquitous digital environment. We initially identified this as an opportunity as it seemed natural to extend a land-based service into the mobile sphere, thus making accessibility services a cohesive, multi channel experience for both students and staff. It is important to mention that we did not anticipate or brainstorm any functionality in isolation. Rather, we wanted this to be shaped by our participants in an open design space, where they can collectively come together and freely express their ideas.
We approaches the future solution from a usability standpoint as opposed to that of accessibility. We quickly realized that the former had far fewer current software implementations than the later. The Accessibility technology domain aims at developing assistive and adaptive devices and making digital artifacts accessible to people with disabilities. This appears to be achieved through standards and software that interprets content. Though this is also highly relevant and definitely applies to later stages of the project, we decided to gear our research towards identifying more functional and usable elements. This decision was made when we realized that accessibility was an extremely technical and regulated field, where existing software is currently made digestible in many different ways, depending on the type of disability. We decided to focus our research into developing a platform to provide and communicate information to students, while keeping in mind the accessibility solutions already available to our group to utilize.
Our PD investigation began with a problem and context definition phase where we engaged the centre staff first and students second. It is worthwhile to mention that we summarized staff session outcomes to the students in the beginning of our student workshop session, so that students were aware of their counterparts’ contributions. After this phase, we were beginning to see parallels between the staff and student inputs. These parallels began to define contours of a possible solution. Both groups agreed that certain aspects of the Centre’s services should be mobilized; moreover, because the Centre deals with students who have particular needs, the solution should be customizable to accommodate a variety of groups that have distinct use requirements.
Together with student participation, we recognized that the future design will resemble a platform that supports integration of various accessibility tools and technologies into a single, seamless mobile experience. The mobile platform will feature a set of core functionalities as well as features that can be added on. The subsequent flow of sessions involved us identifying problem areas that can be addressed by a core set of tools. Due to the grand scope of our proposal, we settled on the idea of focusing on four tools as well as (low-fidelity) platform features. From there, we selected a Happy Path that we could explore in further depth.