An interdisciplinary project for and with visually impaired persons

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

This paper represents a reflection on the process of designing an inclusive and accessible user interface for people with visual impairments. As a multimedia designer, I am involved in an on- going site-specific digital literature project, known as Byderhand (At hand). In 2017, a school for learners with visual barriers in the Western Cape Province of South Africa approached me and my project co-managers about the possibility of incorporating digital literature as part of a multi- sensory garden project at the school. This specific context implied that we had to reconsider the interface design of existing phases of our project. Interfaces for mobile screens are generally based on visual communication. Information is simplified and represented in the form of graphical icons, to improve navigation. However, such an approach fails when a user is unable to see what is displayed on screen. It is therefore imperative for designers to gain an understanding of blind and visually impaired users’ needs and requirements regarding their interaction with mobile technology.

The development of this project required collaboration with various people who are visually impaired and/or provide a service to people with visual impairment. Such a participatory approach proved to be especially relevant during the user research and evaluation phases of the interface designing process. The latter included experimentation with both braille signification and digital interface usage. We had to overcome two main obstacles to ensure the practicality of the Byderhand platform in this regard. The first was to enable users with visual impairments to gain access to the digital interface via QR codes. This required a unique solution, as the scanning of QR codes mainly relies on the user’s visual capabilities. The second goal was to design an inclusive navigational interface, in order to enable users with different visual capabilities to experience the texts published multi-modally on the platform.

The development period, which lasted twelve months, entailed extensive user research, prototyping, evaluation and improvement of the physical and digital interfaces. The multi- sensory garden was unveiled on 30 August 2018. Learners can now interact and experience themulti-modally mediated, site-specific digital literature on their school grounds. Extended facets of the project were made available to the general public, namely in the local coffee shop at the Innovation for the Blind Centre and in the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden as part of a Braille Trail development. The most recent Byderhand project phase was well received and is also used as an educative tool to stimulate learners at the said school, exposing them to new experiences of literary presentation. With more exploration, the design solutions developed in this project phase could offer new possibilities of literature publication for people with visual impairments in accessible spaces.

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Jorge Sáez Jimé...