Perkins Access: Users Aren't an Add-on: Building the User Perspective into the Design Process
DESCRIPTIONComcast and Perkins Access (the digital accessibility consulting division of Perkins School for the Blind) will share insights for creating accessible experiences, with an emphasis on building the user perspective into the design process. This ensures that all teams understand the specific challenges, and unique needs, of blind and visually impaired users. Panelists include the authors of Perkins Access’ Inclusive Design Guide, which will be released at Sight Tech and available for download.
- Geoff Freed, Perkins Access
- Gary Aussant, Perkins Access
- Jerry Berrier, Perkins School for the Blind
- Karyn Georgilis, MBA Candidate, Harvard Business School
- Tom Wlodkowski, VP, Accessibility and Multicultural, Technology and Product, Comcast
ROBERT FRAWLEY: Hello, and welcome, everyone. This is Users Aren’t an Add-on– Building the User Perspective into the Design Process. My name is Robert Frawley, and on behalf of Sight Tech Global, I’m excited to have you join us today. In today’s 30-minute session hosted by Perkins Access, you’ll hear from Geoff Freed, Director at Perkins Access, Gary Aussant, Director at Perkins Access, Jerry Berrier, Director of Education Technology at Perkins School for the Blind, Karyn Georgilis, MBA candidate at Harvard Business School, Tom Wlodkowski, VP of Accessibility Product at Comcast.
Before we begin, a couple of housekeeping items. This session is being recorded and will be available post-event on our YouTube channel and will also be appended to the agenda. Please remain on mute during this session. If you have a question, please use the Q&A box. Please know we also have live captioning running as well, and you should see it at the bottom of your screen. Great. So without further ado, please take it away, Geoff.
GEOFF FREED: Thanks, Robert. I want to thank everyone for coming to today’s breakout session. And I especially want to thank our panelists. We’ll get under way with some questions in just a second, but I would just want to set the stage with a few opening remarks.
Here at Perkins Access, we’re passionate about helping organizations create usable and accessible experiences for people who are blind or low vision, and in the end for everybody. And today, we’re not only excited to be here at Sight Tech Global hosting this session, but we’re really happy to be launching our new Perkins Access Inclusive Design Guide, which is focused on helping design teams put principles into practice that focus directly on the user. In fact, inclusive design begins with bringing users with disabilities into the conversation at the very earliest stages of a product’s development.
As designers, we may sometimes make assumptions about what’s the best approach or the most effective solution in terms of accessibility. But those assumptions may not always be the right ones. So rather than assuming, of course, in order to find out what works best for users with disability, it’s best to ask that question to users with disabilities. The Perkins Access Inclusive Design Guide as well as the things that you learn from today’s session from our panelists will help you use the knowledge you gain from working with people with disabilities to guide your decisions as you design the user experience.
So when you’re trying to design something specifically to help users who are blind or low vision, we know that accessibility should be included on day one of the planning process. And of course, before the planning process can even take place, first you have to have an idea for a new product. So with that in mind, Jerry, you’re up first. This first question I want to ask you is, how do you even determine if there’s a challenge for someone who is blind that actually needs to be addressed?
JERRY BERRIER: OK. Hi, everybody. Although it may seem obvious to you that your idea addresses a significant need for people who are blind, bear in mind that you may be wrong. It’s difficult, unless you’re very familiar with issues faced by people who are blind, to know what are challenges and what are not. If you know a blind person, it might be a good idea to present your idea to that person and just chat about it and see what their response is.
But again, that person may give you some answers from their perspective, but they don’t represent all blind people. So it’s not enough just to talk to one blind person. I certainly always think I represent everybody who is blind, as many of us do. But in reality, none of us do. We all come from our own particular backgrounds and have our own particular skill sets and so on. So you can’t rely just on what one person says.
The next thing you might want to consider doing is reach out to a local agency that serves people who are blind and see if you can talk to someone there about your idea. And perhaps they can put you in contact with some other people.
And another really good thing to do, I think, is to try to find a group of blind people who are interested in technology. And there are a number of them around the country. We have one here in Boston called VIBUG, which has been around for many years. It started out as a computer group and now deals with all types of adaptive technology.
So try to find a group of people who are blind. It might be through one of the major advocacy groups, or it could be a smaller group. But present your idea to them and see what they have to say about it. And bear in mind that you’re going to hear a lot of negativity sometimes. And don’t let that necessarily dissuade you, but listen to everything people say. Don’t be easily talked out of your good idea, but hear what people are saying and take it into consideration.
The next thing might be to peruse the literature. Has this idea already surfaced somewhere else? Has somebody done it? Has somebody failed at it? If so, why did they fail? If they succeeded, maybe you need to find a new idea to work with.
And if your research indicates that your idea truly does seem to be a good one, the next step might be to get help from a college engineering class or some similar group that might be interested in fleshing out your idea as a project for one of their courses. So that’s, I think, a way to get started. Thank you.
GEOFF FREED: I’ve got a follow-up question for you. And any of the other panelists, if you have any questions about anything Jerry just said, we have time for that as well. But Jerry, you mentioned something about, expect a lot of negativity. Can you talk a little bit more about that? Is that just cynicism, or is there something else going on here?
JERRY BERRIER: No, I’ll be happy to talk about that. People don’t like change. And a lot of times when somebody hears something brand new, their immediate reaction is, that’s a dumb idea, that’s not a very good idea. But that doesn’t make it so.
So that’s the kind of negativity I was referring to, not that we’re any more negative than the general population. But we hear a lot of things from people. And I’ve heard people give a hands down response to something that turned out to be a terrific idea. I’ve done it myself. I won’t go into detail, but I could tell you things that I thought were just ridiculous that have turned out to be absolutely wonderful.
GEOFF FREED: Yeah. So as a designer or an inventor, if I bring my idea to a group of people who are blind or vision impaired, I will expect negativity. I hope I can expect some positive reactions as well. But do you find that– is it easy to bring the negativity around, either with showing them a new product or with more discussion?
JERRY BERRIER: I think it is if people get the sense that it’s a good product or a good concept. You really have to listen to what everybody says to you and really take what they say seriously. But also, keep your own perspective in mind. If you’re convinced that it’s a great idea but five or 10 people say to you, well, it’s not something we have a problem with. We don’t really need a product to enable us to do that particular thing.
GEOFF FREED: Sure.
JERRY BERRIER: Then take that seriously also.
GEOFF FREED: Yeah, I see. I see. OK, good. Gary, Tom, Karyn, any follow-up questions from you?
GARY AUSSANT: No. If I can just add to Jerry’s point, on the flip side, I mean, I do think it’s very important to listen to what people say and their opinions of things. But at the same time, you have to be very careful of people saying things, that they like your idea because they don’t want to offend you.
So there’s such a thing as researcher bias or moderator bias, where people that are part of that research might just say, yeah, I think that’s a good idea, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. So you do have to, on the flip side, sort of try to judge body language and interest in the idea as well, and be wary of that.
KARYN GEORGILIS: And something I’d add to that as well, not that we’re trying to create reasons for you to have a clouded positive view of your idea, but a simple verbal description is sometimes not enough for people to understand the value of a concept. So of course, like Jerry is saying, just have a conversation. But also if some sort of– I wouldn’t even call it a prototype– just embodiment of what you’re talking about helps facilitate that conversation, it can give a better, a more accurate– it’ll elicit more accurate responses, which may be yes or no.
GEOFF FREED: OK. All right. Jerry, thanks very much.
JERRY BERRIER: You’re welcome.
GEOFF FREED: I want to move on now to the next question. And Karyn and Gary, this one is for you. I’m a designer and I’m looking to gather and integrate feedback about my new product from users who are blind or who have low vision. But I have no idea what my options are. How can I possibly put together a group that represents people with all types of visual disabilities? That’s one thing. And the other thing is, what do I do once I’ve gathered my group together? How do I begin?
GARY AUSSANT: Great question. Karyn, you want to take off on that one?
KARYN GEORGILIS: Sure. There’s three things I’d recommend. And the first is, if you’re fortunate enough to have a research budget, I highly recommend using a professional recruiter if you’re familiar with them. You may not know that some firms have robust databases, lists upon lists, of users of any specific qualification that you are looking for, including blind and visually impaired users.
And the great thing about reaching out to them is it creates this really virtuous cycle. You asking for these particular users is sending them a demand signal, which encourages them to make these databases even more robust. So the next time you reach out, you have an even broader set of users to pick from.
But if you’re not quite at that stage in terms of research, regardless of what I’m testing, the first participant/victim usually just ends up being whoever is an arm’s reach, the coworker that happens to share a desk cluster with you. And so ideally, if you’re an organization that’s working towards a holistically diverse workforce, you can start with someone in your building or your floor. And this is just another unintended benefit of including these users as employees of your company. And it’s another thing to add in initiatives that are trying to work towards a more holistically diverse workforce.
And then finally, adding color to what Jerry said about reaching out to specific advocacy groups, I would also just suggest, even if it’s something much less formal than an advocacy group, just going to where these users are– so public meetups, conferences that would attract the specific type of users you’re looking for. I’ve had a lot of success with public meetups with very specific diagnosis groups.
And of course, reach out ahead of time to whoever is organizing in your group at large to explain your intent and get a little goodwill first. But every time I’ve tried this with a specific user set group, they’ve been excited that someone is specifically looking to talk to them and genuinely get their input.
GARY AUSSANT: Yeah. And to add to what Karyn was saying about finding people, I think social media is a great platform to recruit research participants. We already talked about some other ways– meetups and recruiting firms. But also, for example, to Perkins we’ve designed a research community of users who are blind and visually impaired. And we recruited those individuals through our social media platform, which is called the Blind New World, which has about 83,000 followers across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And so just reaching out and finding members of those communities to participate in research is a great way to find people.
And then I would also stress the importance of making sure that you have a diverse set of people in your research sample. You want to not just listen to one person, as Jerry mentioned, but make sure that you have, depending on the research, at least 5 to 10 people. And look for a variety of perspectives. So you want to try to find people who have, for example, been blind since birth, or perhaps people who developed blindness later in life. Those perspectives might be very different. And so just trying to get as many different perspectives, I think, is really critical when you’re doing research on your product.
GEOFF FREED: I’ve got a follow-up question, actually, for Karyn to start with. You mentioned sometimes the best place to start is, if you have co-workers with disabilities, to get some immediate feedback. I just want to be clear, I guess. Doing that shouldn’t replace anybody’s feeling for the need of gathering a larger group together. But you’re talking more like using that as a sort of quick concept test, right? Not as, like Jerry said, this co-worker speaking for a larger group.
KARYN GEORGILIS: Of course. And what I mentioned earlier in response to Jerry’s comments about how it’s useful to have something in addition to a verbal description, I feel like the co-worker threshold is best for that, hey, I want to take this rough thing out to people. Can you give me a quick 30-second view of it, just so that when I do get the gift of other people’s time and attention, I’m presenting something or a description that’s worthy of their time?
GEOFF FREED: Sure. Yeah. Great. And for both of you, I think we’ve all run into this before. Sometimes the people who are, say, the most sophisticated users, or the software designers, or people who are super duper with assistive technology, are they always the best people to have in the group? I mean, do you want to have some super users like that and some less experienced users, less sophisticated users? Is that a good thing to do?
GARY AUSSANT: Yeah. I think when you’re trying to find people to give you that feedback on your product, really think of it as, who’s going to be using my product? And if it’s a set of people who are very familiar with technology, then that might be the right audience to bring in. But typically, you want to be very wary of including people that are too close to understanding technology if the individuals that will be using your product do not fit that segment.
So you might want to have a mix of people who are technology-savvy and some who are not. I mean, it really depends on the product and the type of product that you’re building.
GEOFF FREED: Great.
KARYN GEORGILIS: Yeah. And I would add that sometimes having that test with the user that isn’t as savvy is actually the most productive thing you can do. Because if you present a concept to a very tech-savvy person and they go through it flawlessly, either your product is perfect, which–
KARYN GEORGILIS: That is a possibility. I don’t think it’s likely. So either your product is perfect, or they’re just so good at figuring these flavors of things out that they were able to navigate it. And that’s, frankly, a waste of your time. You need it to be kind of a disastrous thing for you to figure out what are to-dos to move to a better version.
GEOFF FREED: OK. All right. Great. Thank you both. I’m going to move on to Tom. Saving this question for you, Tom. We often talk about making things accessible to all users. But as we’re finding out, in some cases that’s not necessarily the goal. Right? This conference, for example, it’s focused specifically on new products and technology for users who are blind or low vision. So in this particular context, we’re not necessarily thinking about a product’s wider usability.
But you know me. I like to ask questions. So this [AUDIO OUT]. My question for you is, should designers of targeted products, like the ones we’re going to be seeing over the next couple of days, should designers of targeted products like these nonetheless still be thinking about or considering how these products can be usable or a benefit to a wider audience?
TOM WLODKOWSKI: I would say yes, because you always want your broader audience. You want your product to be usable by the widest possible audience. And so I think we’re in an age in technology of personalization. You have your experience. I have my experience. But we’re consuming the same content, maybe arriving at it from a different means. And so I think you do want to consider, because you’re going to find a broader value.
I mean, if we think about features, Geoff, that I know that you’ve been involved with, or we together in our time in this field– closed captioning was set up for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. But look at where closed captioning has gone now. It’s a mainstay within media, whether it’s online. When we were traveling back in the day when things were normal, in airports, in bars, in gyms and just about anywhere in a public venue where, maybe, you couldn’t hear the audio of the show.
So I think it’s to the designer’s advantage, to the product owner’s advantage to, of course, start from the primary use case that you’re looking at. If we’re going to build, which we have done, a talking guide for our X1 platform– we call it voice guidance. Think about it as a screen reader inside of a set-top box for people who are blind or visually impaired. Of course we’re going to start from that primary use case, because that’s the main intent of why we would develop this feature. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not interested in individuals who are dual learners, visual and oral learners, who could benefit from this guide and other folks who might just want the screen read to them versus having to read the screen themselves.
I think we hear a lot about multiple users. We hear a lot about disability being the mismatch between the person and the environment in which they’re operating. So you’re trying to read your email in a sun-splashed sky on a beach. Why you’re checking email while you’re on the beach, I don’t know. But that doesn’t work. So if you could have that that’s spoken to you, there you go. Or better yet, if you’re driving, we don’t want you looking down at the screen trying to send a text message. And so maybe audio is better there.
So I would say yes, because you’re going to find other uses for that product. But you always start from the primary use case. That gets the majority of your time and investment. And then you look to move and push out beyond that.
GEOFF FREED: OK. I got a couple of follow-up questions. But first, Jerry, Gary, Karyn, do you have anything?
GARY AUSSANT: Yeah, I do, Tom, particularly with the voice remote. To me, I think it’s so critical to think of like multimodal experiences, so multimodal input. So through the voice remote, you can use your voice to look up a program that you want to watch. But for example, my son has a speech impediment. And he sometimes cannot use that voice remote to search for something. So there’s all sorts of other really great ways that Comcast has created a way for him to find the shows that he wants to watch.
So just wondering if you could speak to a little bit of that and the research that you did as far as supporting those use cases for all users.
TOM WLODKOWSKI: Sure. So voice came about because it’s just an easier way for the mainstream audience to get at content. You don’t have to navigate that program grid of 1,000 channels to try and find something you want to watch. And for somebody who’s blind, you don’t have to remember channel numbers, those types of things. You just say, watch NBC, or, show me movies about baseball. Or even give it a quote like, we’re gonna need a bigger boat, and all of a sudden, Jaws appears on the screen. So I think those are the types of things.
But you’re right. Being able to use an on-screen keyboard besides voice is right. What we have in our web remote that we built is the ability to text a voice command. So somebody who’s deaf, voice isn’t going to work, people with speech impediments, other disabilities.
So we’ve looked at this in ways of, what’s the end game? The end game is to search for content to find the content you want to watch or perform some sort of action. Now, what are the multiple inputs that are available to us to enable that experience to be inclusive to the widest possible audience? And with voice, we do about a billion voice commands a month. But these other searches are equally popular as well.
GEOFF FREED: Yeah. You know, Tom one of the things you said early on when you were talking about closed captioning– one of the great benefits of captions is that if you’re in a family or in a group where you’ve got a mixed audience of viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing, you’ve got viewers who can hear, captions benefit them all.
And you’re talking about the same thing here in the designs that you’re describing where you’ve got a set-top box or some other device that provides a benefit for users who are blind or visually impaired. But obviously, that also enables group participation, which I think is sometimes overlooked when we talk about these kinds of design aspects. We always say accessible design benefits everybody, but it also enables participation in the group, in society, to look more broadly. Talk a little bit about that for a minute or so.
TOM WLODKOWSKI: Sure. So I think there is a great example of that, mixed use households. So in my case, my wife and son, as you know, are sighted. And the first thing they learned was the short cut key that we added to turn on and off the talking guide. They don’t even let me get out of the room before they turn the darn thing off. But then when I come back in, I turn it on, and I can use it.
We see that in mobile devices, Android devices, iOS devices, where a blind person and a sighted person could share the same phone. My wife could be driving, and somebody could text her. And she’d be like, hey, could you read this text? She hands me her phone. I turn on Voice Over, which is the screen reader for iOS, and I’m off and running.
And so I think you really want to look at this multimodal experience that Gary mentioned. And that’s really what you get in these mixed use scenarios, where that same device is usable by all sorts of individuals. And I think what we’re getting to right now in this technology age is sometimes these devices can have this kind of mixed use built in.
But leveraging the cloud, where, for example, X1 is a cloud-based platform, we don’t have to build everything into the box itself. It’s not something you have to install. We can update this multimodal experience. We can introduce new experiences directly into the cloud. And so what you might launch as a minimal viable product– hate that term, but it’s used a lot– within weeks, months, can be iterated upon and updated. And you can introduce these new modalities of interaction as you go forward.
So I think that’s something to keep in mind as well, is that there’s just so much more power by having a network connected device that you can introduce some of these technologies or some of these experiences that, prior to that, would be very difficult to onboard everything into the device itself.
GEOFF FREED: Excellent. Thank you. And certainly, thank you to all the panelists. We’re just about out of time, but I want to just thank you all once again. Gary Aussant, Director of Consulting at Perkins Access, and Jerry Berrier, Director of Education Technology here’s the Perkins School for the Blind, Karyn Georgilis, MBA candidate and design strategist, and finally, Tom, VP of Accessibility at Comcast. I want to thank you all for participating.
And certainly, thank you to everybody who is attending this session right now. We had a good number of attendees, and I hope you all took away something from the session.
I want to just remind you that the new Perkins Access Inclusive Design Guide is available for download. And you can access this by going to pages.perkins.org/inclusive-design-guide. I think one of my colleagues is going to put that in the chat window as well. But this will be part of the permanent video record, so you’ll have access to it that way. And I believe we’ll be emailing all the attendees and participants as well with that information.
I think we had a really good discussion today. And I think we’ve sort of covered all of the big, broad points that designers need to consider when they even just start thinking about designing a new product for somebody specifically who’s blind or visually impaired. But one of the great takeaways, of course, is that those designs, being targeted, will be beneficial to that audience. They can be expanded to be beneficial for everybody.
But being able to keep that target in mind when you’re putting a group together for initial discussion and development, when you’re just trying to gather users together and test out your ideas, like Jerry was talking about, and then when you’re actually putting something on the market, like Tom’s talking about. The benefits of that the benefits of obvious cloud connection to keep everybody updated, to keep the product updated.
I think this was a really good discussion, and I am glad everyone here was able to attend. And with that, I’ll bid you all goodbye and hope you all enjoy the rest of the sessions over the next two days. The URL is in the chat. The URL now is part of the video. And you can always just learn more about Perkins Access by going to perkinsaccess.org. Thank you all for coming. Enjoy the rest of the sessions.