UCAN GO February Blog Post

We’ve been working on the UCAN GO project with Calvium for almost two months now and it feels like we are well on our way to achieving our goal.  It’s been a busy month with our first user testing workshops at Cardiff University, School of Optometry and Vision Sciences; meetings with mobility officers, and lectures as we continue to research Visual Impairments and symptoms.  We also began to distribute information about our project to businesses and organisations in the sight loss sector along with several organizations in the technology sector.

The first meeting of the month was with Tom Margrain; Director of Innovation and Engagement at Cardiff University, School of Optometry and Vision Sciences.  We were given some very useful information about how to conduct our research and collect data around the 10 most prevalent Visual Impairments and symptoms.  It was made clear to us that although finding the most useful and correct information was important, not all of the literature available around Visual Impairments would be useful to us.   Tom encouraged the use of Bigger, Bolder, Brighter as a way to change the accessibility options within the app to suit a personal preference.

Our next meeting was with Elaine Kelleher, a Mobility Officer from Bridgend, to discuss the use of language in the app.  We discussed how important detail is in the description, but also the necessity to be concise so that the user receives information quickly.  A lot of the research we’ve done has led us to the language taught around long cane training, which Elaine explained to us may not work in the context of the app.  I think the most interesting language we discussed was about angles and the possibility of using a clock face, which could be used to position yourself for orientation.  We also talked about staircases and creating step ratings to give the user an idea of how difficult they might be.  Extending from this, Elaine explained to us that it is usually the handrail which is important, and not the steps themselves.   Elaine’s immediate reaction to the app for the user testering workshops, was that the photos as visual clues are very useful and that using these along with an audio description of distance will work well.

Our most recent meetings were with Elen Owen, a mobility officer from Cardiff, and Adrian Linney from Guide Dogs, who both came in to support our research into mobility language.  We met with Elen in particular because she does mobility training through the medium of Welsh and we were interested in find out whether the mobility language translated or not.  What we eventually uncovered was that a lot of the language that’s used in Britain originates from the United States.  We discussed the difference between landmarks and clues, and how these should be above waist height, the potential to indicate where members of staff might be along routes and the use of quarter and half turns to orientate yourself by using your feet.

The second meeting with Adrian was also very positive and we were praised for creating a basic app with as little technology as possible and without tracking devices so that it can be used easily within a phone; a mobile phone that won’t make self conscious young people stand out for the wrong reasons.  We talked about how the app could work well alongside someone who uses a cane or a dog, how it could empower people by giving them forward knowledge about a building before they arrive.  When we discussed mobility language, Adrian suggested that it wasn’t worth trying to use this type of language, as the majority of the people he works with, once they’ve used the language to learn, do not use it in day to day life.

The first two user testing workshops of the project took place on the 7th and 21st of February.  Thirteen Visually Impaired users and five fully sighted users (wearing simspecs) attended the workshops to test the app and we are pleased to say that the initial reaction to the app was positive.  Participants first answered questions about their Visual Impairment and symptoms, how they find navigating a building independently, personal preference about how they get around buildings and if they think this app could be useful and why.  This information will be crucial in helping us to develop a persona for the app that will best suit everyone.  Participants then went on to navigate a route using the first pilot of the UCAN GO app, and gave feedback on language, navigation, audio instructions and design.  We’re processing this now and will post responses here in our next blog post.  We’re pleased to say that the majority were very positive!  Using the information we collected from our meetings with mobility officers, we also put together a few games to test people’s knowledge and ability to use mobility language and perception of distance.  Finally, participants also tested and gave feedback on a selection of our favourite apps that we have chosen as part of our research.  We would like to thank all those who took part and thank project partner representatives Leonie Wallace from the Wales Millennium Centre and Marcus Lewis from the Torch Theatre for joining us.

As we mentioned in our last blog post, we have decided to research the symptoms connected to eye conditions as opposed to the conditions themselves.  We have read a few research papers given to us by Tom Margrain (title) which discuss the most prevalent eye conditions across the age spectrum and they have clarified our preconceived thoughts. For example, we believed that a high percentage of people with a visual impairment would be elderly people living with Age Related Macula Degeneration (AMD) and these papers proved our thoughts were correct.  Once we had a better understanding of the statistics we began to collect symptoms. We started by visiting the VI Scotland website and trawling through every listed eye condition and picking out any key information. I found this so interesting especially as it confirmed my belief that we all can, and do, share similar symptoms despite the different visual impairments we have. I found out that Nystagmus is commonly found as a side effect of another eye condition, rather than existing independently. This would explain why I know so many people who have it.  Facts such as this kept appearing and reappearing and I got more and more excited about what we were discovering. We weren’t the only ones excited by the prospect of researching symptoms, so was Tom Margrain.  He told us that this had never been done before and I’m so pleased to say that the people to consider it are visually impaired themselves.