The Project and its Goals
Everybody knows visually impaired people are a part of our society. More than 2.2 billion people in the world are blind or visually impaired (World Health Organization [WHO], 2019b). However, many people have no idea of the struggles this population must overcome to function in today’s technology-oriented world. There are several assistive technologies that VIPs (visually impaired persons) can use daily to make their life easier. In addition to assistive technologies, some organizations provide content to the blind, and one such organization is, Audio Journal, a nonprofit radio reading service that broadcasts programs to the blind, visually impaired, and print disabled listeners all day, every day. There are multiple ways for Audio Journal listeners to access their live content including smart speakers, landline phones, cable TV, and a special radio receiver provided free of charge to people who request one.
While there are many ways to access live content, the same cannot be said about their previous programs or archived content. That is why the Audio Journal approached us with a specific goal to find the best way for their listeners to access their content on-demand. Initially, there were two possible options, an Alexa skill or a concept design for an app, and our job was to determine the better one through research and write a report with recommendations for the future engineer team. In the case we decided an app was best, we also needed to create a concept design for the app.
The most important population that we needed information from was Audio Journal’s listeners. The main goal was to learn more about how they access Audio Journal, how they’d prefer to access it, what assistive technologies they have, whether they need them to access Audio Journal’s broadcasts, and what accessibility features they’d need to use a smartphone app. It was also important that we spoke with visually impaired people who use smartphones. While there are Audio Journal listeners who use smartphones, many of their listeners are older than 65 and less likely to use smartphones as a result. To ensure that we got feedback from smartphone users, we expanded our target audience to include people with print disabilities who don’t necessarily listen to the Audio Journal.
We also felt that it was important to meet with social service workers who work closely with the blind and visually impaired. While getting information from listeners directly was undoubtedly vital since it is a challenge for the Audio Journal to keep track of its listeners, our pool of known listeners was only a fraction of the population. Interviewing social service workers who work closely with people who are print disabled helped to fill in the gaps. Finally, it was important to learn more about best practices from actual software developers that had experience working with our platform. Ideally, we wanted to get in contact with developers that made software with the accessibility features that Audio Journal’s listeners need.
Because of the qualitative nature of the information we needed, we decided to conduct interviews with our target populations. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, these interviews were done either over the phone or through video conferencing services like Zoom.
With all of the knowledge we had gained from 21 interviews and our background research, we were able to find the ideal way to create our concept design of the Audio Journal app. First, we determined the ideal platform to deliver the app on. Initially, we were considering either a smartphone app for Android or iPhone or a skill for the Amazon Echo. After our interviews, it was obvious that the best platform was the iPhone. We made this decision because of its popularity with Audio Journal listeners, as all Audio Journal listeners who had smartphones had an iPhone, and because of its tremendous accessibility features such as VoiceOver and Zoom, the magnifying feature not the video conferencing service. Apple’s accessibility features received high praise from app developers and social service workers as well, solidifying the decision to have the iPhone as our platform.
After determining the platform, our data suggested that would make our app accessible to Audio Journal listeners. We separated the features into two categories, primary and secondary features. The primary features were the features most important to the app’s accessibility. These features were VoiceOver and Zoom compatibility, the ability to listen live, and a search and browse feature to access previous broadcasts. Without these features, the app would not be usable by most audio journal users. The secondary features include voice control, a color palette changer, a favorites section, and a continue listening option. The secondary features, while not as important as the primary ones, supplement the primary ones to make the user’s experience as easy as possible.
Finally, we found implementation strategies that will make the app even more accessible and easy to use. The main strategy is keeping it simple. Keeping it simple is the most important implementation strategy that makes the app more intuitive and understandable for those who are not that technology literate. The other strategies are keeping the most important items at the top of the screen, and the other is to keep the app’ layout static. These other strategies help keep the app simple and will aid the user in navigating the app more easily.
Conclusion & Recommendations
A future team that continues this project and turns our concept design into a fully functioning app should keep the target audience in mind when creating the app and keeping accessibility and functionality the main focus. We also recommend the app interface with Audio Journal’s website to minimize maintenance for the app. The team should also be aware of some of the obstacles that can occur when trying to get an app on the App Store, such as the review process potentially taking longer than expected. We also encourage the future team to reach out to us if they have any further questions or concerns, as we have developed a lot of contacts and insight into the blind and visually impaired community that would be very helpful.