UCAN GO January Blog Post

In December 2013 UCAN Productions secured funding through the first round of the Digital Research and Development Fund for the Arts in Wales. We introduced the project here, however to recap, UCAN has been awarded funding to work in collaboration with our technology partner Calvium and co-create an accessible indoor navigation app called UCAN GO. This user-led project will explore the process of verbally mapping a building to support reduced or non-visual navigation around arts venues and to test and pilot this proposition, we will be working in partnership with the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff and the Torch Theatre, Milford Haven.

Over the next year Project Assistants Megan John and Mared Jarman will be keeping a monthly blog here on the UCAN website. Please find their first post below.

Blog Post 1: January 2014

This has been our first month of working on the UCAN GO project. We’ve been busy arranging meetings, collecting research, developing ideas and generally getting a bit over excited about the whole thing. Today was a great day, it felt a bit like Christmas in the office as Jo arrived with our very first pilot of the app.­­­­­­ My (Megan’s) debut performance as voice over artist was a great success. Can’t wait to trial it in the upcoming user testing workshops. Lets fill you in on what we’ve been up to….

We’re thrilled to say that we are working closely with the Torch Theatre, Milford Haven and the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. We visited both venues this month and we began to consider accessibility, navigation, layout, obstacles, markers, waypoints and how to find your seat from a designated ‘safe zone’. We created our first sound walks, for which we verbalised directions of specific journeys, e.g. from the safe zone to the theatre. We had great fun pretending to be the app and realised just how difficult it is to dehumanise the commands. Luckily, we’ve had great support from our partners and today, for instance, Peter from the Wales Millennium Centre happily acted as the app as he guided us to our seat in row A of the Donald Gordon Theatre. We’re keen to explore the differences and similarities between someone who is visually impaired guiding you, to someone who is sighted. Do they use different markers, language or a different level of detail? We’ll keep you posted.

To discover and collect the research that is already out there, we’ve been meeting with lots of different people in the sector.

We’ve met with Rod Woodhouse and Ceri Goodman from Cardiff University, School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, which helped to kick start our research into the most common Visual Impairments and how we could collect data. We had a meeting with Hannah Rowlatt and her colleague Darren; Digital Inclusion Officers from RNIB Cymru. Here we discussed technology, accessibility and helping the VI community to engage with modern technology. We also have plans to meet mobility officer Elen Owen at the beginning of February to discuss our findings and gather more professional knowledge about this area of research and Adrian from Guide Dogs Cymru to discuss similar points.

The use of language is an important consideration for this project and we’re beginning to think about the following questions: What language are we (the VI’s) used to? What language do we get taught in our mobility training? Do we use mobility language or create our own? We’ve also been watching YouTube tutorials on how to guide a visually impaired person and on long cane training.

Along with language, Megan and I are also researching audio ques and sound effects we’re already familiar with and thinking about why they might be successful. For example, the sounds you hear when using Apple products, sending emails or playing video games. We want to find out why we like them and what we associate them with. We hope to use similar sound effects in our app. Subconsciously people recognize these sound effects and respond to them. This is what we would like to explore.

Going back to our research around visual impairments, Rod Woodhouse kindly lent us a set of Sim Specs. For those who don’t know, Sim Specs are plastic glasses, which have been adapted to simulate certain Visual Impairments. They are often used for visual awareness training. We were interested to find out what variety of eye conditions they choose to represent.

Through our research it became apparent that finding the most prevalent visual impairments alone, was not the most effective method of research to collect the information that we need. Although we will still collect this data, we have decided it would be far more effective to focus our research on the symptoms that are linked to the eye conditions. Symptoms between eye conditions overlap. For example, I (Mared) have photophobia and so does Megan, yet we both have very different eye conditions. We think that this information will help to make our app more accessible, as the accessibility needs may be similar across different symptoms.

Part of our research is also to review apps that we use regularly and to find new apps that are loved by the VI community. We’ve been Tweeting and Facebooking and are continuing to do so. If you’re reading this and know of any, what are you waiting for? Tweet us @ucanproduction.

Both Mared and I are really excited to be working with our technology partner Calvium. We recently met with the team in Bristol and we’ve been working closely with Jo Reid at the UCAN office in Cardiff.

Our conversations with Jo have covered many different topics and avenues. We’ve discussed the basic structure of the app, navigational tools, markers and paths; the possibility of using images to confirm location and audio cues to create a sound pattern; interfaces, language and testing basic app principles.

One of our first priorities was to create a persona for the app. Based on our research we have decided on the following persona: female, age 20’s, a native user of technology, theatre lover, conscious of their appearance, someone who wants to stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons… not the wrong reasons, who doesn’t want to feel vulnerable and be singled out because they’re Visually Impaired, a confident person who strives for independence. If we can create a solid foundation based on this persona, as we build, our app can only get stronger.

We recently marked out a route in Cardiff University, the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences from our designated ‘safe zone’ to the ‘theatre’. We then recorded verbal directions for Jo to programme into our first app prototype. UCAN members will soon test this pilot app at our upcoming user testing workshops in February. We tested it today and it was really exciting to experience our first prototype!