Readful_U aims at helping low vision people read easily through cost-effective reading assistant solutions. Moreover, this solution also makes “reading” as a bridge to connect users with families, friends, and the society through widely engaging people to care.
6 weeks, 2015-2016
UX design lead
Ann Arbor, MI | San Jose, CA
Low vision is a condition characterized by a level of vision that is 20/70 or worse (while perfect vision is 20/20, and legally blind is 20/200), and that cannot be fully corrected with medical treatment, surgery, or conventional glasses. Low vision can occur at any stage of life, but it primarily affects the elderly. Nearly 14 million Americans suffer from low vision, but they gain much less social awareness than the blind. As vision deteriorates, those affected often find it difficult to accomplish the tasks of everyday life, such as reading, recognizing faces, cooking and driving. Among those challenges, reading is the most common complaint. Adults with low vision that cannot read, lose a primary connection to the world.
Our goal is to help low vision users read easily through cost-effective reading assistant solutions. Moreover, we also make “reading” a bridge to connect users with families, friends, and the society through widely engaging people to care.
To learn more about our target users, we attended support groups at Kellogg Eye Center, University of Michigan. We listened to the discussions of 20 low vision patients aged 50 to 85. We mingled with 8 patients to ask questions concerning the problems they face and the assistive devices they use. To understand patients thoroughly, we also talked to the coordinator of the low vision support group, and one social worker assisting the support group.
It is uncovered that, although suffering from various levels of vision loss, patients are facing common difficulties such as reading, mobility, and color differentiation. High-end assistive technologies are often unaffordable, but surprisingly, most of the patients are proficient in using smartphones. Mental status has a prominent impact on adaption to life with low vision. Family and friends can motivate them to stay strong.
We conducted video-recorded interviews with four patients. Based on our interviews, we built an affinity wall to identify the needs and expectations of users. We got the following insights:
1. The most mentioned problem is reading;
2. The current reading assistant devices used provides three major functions: Magnifying, Switching to higher color contrast and Transferring text into audio;
3. Users prefer portable devices. As elders, all four patients use smartphones routinely;
4. People with low vision often feel frustrated when they fail to perform simple tasks;
5. Most of these elder patients live independently. They have strong emotional and social needs.
"How Might We" Question
How might we develop a cost-effective reading assistant solutions to help low vision users read easily and make reading a "bridge" to connect users with families, friends, and the society through widely engaging people to care.
Persona & User Story
Conceptualization & Prototyping
There are three main functions of our application:
Magnification, color-contrast switch and machine generated audio: The smartphone serves as an electronic magnifier. Users use multi- touch gestures to control the level of magnification; they can also change color combinations. In a dim environment, the flashlight is employed to illuminate the paper. If audio is demanded, users only need to take a picture of the page. Then our application will generate an audio output of the contents through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology.
Users are provided a mobile application with an attachable stand. When the stand is attached through USB port of the smartphone, the application automatically launches, saving users from finding the small app icon on the home screen. With the supporting stand attached, the application automatically adjusts the image perspective to align with the screen.
“Read for me” social interaction: It enables users to send reading requests to friends and family asking them to read contents. The request receiver could respond by sending back voice messages without downloading the App. This function could address urgent needs or objects that are hard to be processed by OCR. Users always have the audio option. They are free to select the App generated audio, or request other people to read. All received voice messages will be stored in the Readful- U library that can be easily accessed both through the App and the physical buttons on the attachable stand. The “read for me” function exhibits the core value of our design, which is caring for the emotional and social needs of users. Research shows that people with low vision have a higher probability of feeling sad and tearful, having less hope, and wishing for death. By designing “read for me” function, we aim to bring users closer to their family and friends, and boost wide social interactions.
How it works?
To meet the expectation of accessing the “read for me” function more quickly, we upgraded the attachable stand with two physical buttons - one could instantly trigger the reading requesting to friends and family, and the other gives direct access to Readful-U library collection. During the user testing sessions with 3 low vision patients and 2 family members, we focused more on the following aspects:
1. Design of the user interface and interactions;
2. Ease of use of the supporting stand;
3. Feedback on the expanded “read for me” function.
The overall feedback was very positive, all of the users mentioned that by using the stand, their hands were freed and necks relaxed. They felt less tired and could read for a longer time; When the supporting stand was attached, automatically triggered application were easier to access.
But there were two things should be improved. One was we should prioritize visibility of elements much higher than aesthetics. For example, the text font, color we used should consider the accessibility of our end users first. The other thing was, “read for me” and audio library, as the most frequrely used functions, should be accessed more conveniently.
In the following iteration phase, through using enlarged buttons and simple high-contrast colors, the elements on the user interface are presented in the best way to help users locate them; To meet the expectation of accessing the “read for me” function more quickly, we upgraded the attachable stand with two physical buttons - one could instantly trigger the reading requesting to friends and family, and the other gives direct access to Readful-U library collection.
Integrated with widely embraced smartphone, Readful-U brings convenience to people with low vision. While current devices that provide similar functions usually cost thousands of dollars, our application and the supporting stand is absolutely affordable. More importantly, Readful-U is featured with “read for me” function, encouraging low vision group to stay close to family, friends, and the society. Most vision loss is irreversible.
We cannot cure their vision, but we help them maximize the user experience on what they can do. On the other side, the application reminds family and friends of the user’s emotional needs, and offer them an effective way to express care by reading for the user. We believe our application will give low vision patients strength to face the vision deterioration and willingness to cope with new situations.
Reading Assistant Request The left button on the smart stand is the shortcut enabling users to send reading requests instantly. They can choose whom they want to ask for help and send the picture (content) they want to transfer into audio. People who receive the request can directly response by recording voice messages.
Audio book collection in Library The right button on the smart stand is the shortcut enabling direct access to Library. Users can listen to existing audio books, view the profile of "reading angles" and invite more people to read for them via private request messages or even post to social media.
This project attended CHI 2016 student design competition and was selected as one of the top 10 teams all over the world to present on the conference in San Jose, CA.
The article entitled, "Readful-U: Improving Reading Experience and Social Interaction for Low Vision Elders" was published in the CHI EA '16: Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems.