Design Challenge Series Part III: Design for the Blind

You’ve seen how our previous groups tackled the issues of incarceration and poverty, now you’ll see how our last group used design thinking to solve an accessibility issue.

Design Challenge Brief 3: How can we use design and technology to improve accessibility for blind people using the internet?

A survey from the CDC identifies blindness and/or vision problems to be one of the top 10 disabilities affecting adults aged 18 years and older.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that being legally blind doesn’t mean that someone has experienced a total loss of vision. Many people who are legally blind still have some form of usable vision. In order to be legally blind, someone must have a visual acuity of 20/200 or less, and/or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.

As an example, here’s how someone with normal vision would see a busy street:

This is the same image, but through the eyes of someone that’s legally blind:

It’s estimated that there are 3.4 million legally blind adults in the United States. Many face problems associated with health care and accessibility, but one of the biggest issues the blind face is employment.

Working age adults that report significant vision loss can struggle with employment. The National Federation of the Blind estimates that only 40.4% of working-age blind adults were employed in 2014.

With reasonable accommodations, people who are legally blind can do almost any job someone with normal vision could. But if they lack higher education and degrees, they could have a difficult time finding steady employment.

The National Federation for the Blind also reported that in 2014, 23.7% people with a visual disability had less than a high school education. Around 31.5% had a high school diploma or GED, and 30.4% had some college education or an associate's degree. Only 14.4% had a bachelor's degree.

Higher education is key to increasing earning potential and career advancement. After seeing employment and education statistics, the group wanted to build on their prompt and help the blind in a different way.

They wanted to improve internet accessibility for the blind, and also find a way to increase the likelihood of earning a degree so they can have better employment outcomes. After doing research, they decided that they wanted their solution to accomplish three main goals:

This group decided that they wanted to target high school students. Visually impaired high school students need a clear path to attain a 4 year degree. Many colleges and universities accept visually impaired students, but their application process needs to be improved to reasonably accommodate them.

Some college websites accommodate visually impaired students with large-text versions of their applications. Many websites geared towards the college application process assume that blind students will have their parents, guardians, or guidance counselors fill out applications on behalf of the student. The majority encourage students to reach out directly to schools if they need more help.

Relying on others to fill out the application or having to directly contact the school can potentially lengthen the already long application process. This can cause issues with meeting deadlines and forces students to rely on others to complete their application.

The Common Application has become the most popular submission method for students who want to apply to college. Over 700 American schools use it, from top universities like Brown and Yale to local institutions like Cabrini University and University of Pennsylvania.

Although the site does offer accessibilities options like descriptive “alt” and “label” tags, audio, video, image maps, flash, and java applets are not used in the Common App Online.

After seeing that the most popular college application submission platform lacked certain features for the blind, the group decided that the best way to improve internet accessibility during the college application process was to create a program specially designed for visually impaired students.

Meet LUCI.

LUCI is a chatbot that will walk the applicant through every step of the process. Aside from helping them apply to the college of their choice, it’ll also provide suggestions based on their desired geographic location, area of study, and level of visual impairment.

Although LUCI is a chatbot, the group still put some thought into visuals. Because many visually impaired people have problems with deciphering colors, the group created different pre-programmed color schemes to best suit levels of colorblindness.

Applying to college with LUCI isn’t a long or complicated process, it’s a simple conversation.
Chatbots are already being used for a variety of commercial purposes, current tech could easily be used to make LUCI a reality.

Our Challenge Week allowed our design team to really flex their creative muscles and conceptualize something they cared about.

We don’t just do things like this internally. We put our own spin on challenge weeks when we design Innovation Workshops for our clients. If you want to see what we’ve done in the past, check out our post on our workshop for PGA TOUR.