As earlier mentioned there are over 285 million people that perceive the world with a visual impairment (Fulton, 2016). In 2016 3,2 percent of the Dutch population of 12 years or older said that they had a visual impairment (CBSa, 2017). Over eighty percent of all people that are blind or have a visual impairment are over 50 years old. Due to the increasing amount of elderly in our communities we will see more and more visually impaired around us (World Health Organisation, 2017).
The definition of visual impairment is found all over the internet; a severe reduction in vision that can not be helped with the help of standard glasses or contact lenses. It reduces the ability to function properly. Blindness is defined as the inability to see or to tell light from dark (medical-dictionary.freedictionary.com, 2017). However while this is a clear way of telling someone what a visual impairment or blindness does to the life of a person, there are different types of visual impairment. This is also one of the main reasons why this guidebook is in existence. Different kind of visual impairments need different kinds of design. The kind of feedback, the usage of color and other parts need to be considered when designing.
The world health organisation defines four categories of visual impairment:.
We can look at these levels of impairment and think of the kinds of feedback we need to provide our users in our designs. Where we can go around the normal vision like ‘business as usual’ we need to rely on tactile and audio feedback when someone is in category 4. Still, in the grand scheme of things these categories are still very broad and to create a better understanding we will talk about some of the most common visual impairments.
Retinitis Pigmentosa is a visual condition that is passed down in a family line. This condition causes a loss of peripheral cision and ends with a severe visual impairment.
Often retinopathy of prematurity is found with children who were premature babies and needed a high concentration of oxygen at birth. This could have caused a scarring of the retina.
Someone who has this impairment is unable to focus both eyes on one point at the same time. This condition is caused by an imbalance in the muscles.
Cortical visual impairment is not an impairment that originates within the eye but in the brain. The problem lies in the visual context of the brain; the vision may change throughout the day. It depends on the health of the person, the environment or the mood the person is in (Gabbert, 2012).
There are many aids for the visually impaired that they can use to be more independent or to make their lives easier. The one that comes to mind at first with most people is probably the white cane. These white, red and white (or sometimes green which is used for the visually impaired and not completely blind in some countries) help the visually impaired to navigate. Modern white canes are made of aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber, making them lightweight (Winter, 2015). Next to using the white cane to navigate it is also a signal to people around the visually impaired that they are VIP. This is also important because many countries have traffic laws that use the white cane as a signal.
An example of this is the Dutch traffic law (article 49 from the RVV) that when one drives their car in The Netherlands the driver has to give someone with a white cane priority in traffic (wetten.overheid.nl, 2017).
A second way people often recognize a VIP are their guide dogs, these canines are especially trained to help the VIP in finding their way. When one designs they should keep in mind that some VIPs have one hand or even two occupied by the leash of the guide dog and the guide cane. A smartphone in the hand might not always be an option while traveling for example (this is very important when developing applications for when one is travelling; wayfinding applications or applications for public transportation for example).
While the completely blind use braille (or the lesser known moon type) or audio, the visually impaired might use magnifying glasses or bigger print to read texts. When looking at traditional printed media the needs of the VIPs demanded to be considered in a seperate way, however in the digital era we can build in ways to offer an optimal user experience to both VIPs and people without visual impairments.
There are new technical aids and research coming out every year to aid the visually impaired. The 'smart guide cane' for example or special glasses that transform surroundings into a high contrast version of itself. However these technical aids are often expensive and often get stuck in the 'prototype' state.
The persona’s described are based on research by the Digital life center. The results from this research were narrowed down into four personas that can help when designing for VIPS. During the process one should ask themselves whether a project is beneficial to these persona’s. This can be used as an extra check of your design. It can also be used as a way to gain a better understanding of the target audience.
Age: 30 Gender: male Visual Acuity: <5% Symptoms: blurred vision, light sensitive
Adam is a thirty year old man who was born visually impaired. He is aware of his limitations but these does not stop him to do what he wants. As a child he received Orientation & mobility training, and as an adult a specialized guide dog training. He is extrovert, curious and positive. He enjoys music and wine. When commuting, he is aware that he sometimes needs help, but he is OK if he needs to ask for it as he know is the most efficient way to arrive where he wants to. He has a polite and patient attitude when he asks for assistance. Nevertheless, he would appreciate if a device could provide him with more independence while travelling.
Adam uses a guide dog and guide cane. He can see only blurs and shadows, but when it is too bright outside he wears sunglasses. When Adam is visiting a friend at home he sometimes uses an infrared obstacle sensor to detect obstacles that will break when he uses his cane. His iPhone with VoiceOver and Bluetooth braille reader are his go to devices for everything.
Day to day navigation can be stressful, and Adam always travels with his dog and has accepted he often needs help to reach his goal. For public transport he often contacts the transport provider to assist him. Other times he travels with friends or family. When he is alone he is not shy to ask a fellow commuter to assist. Nevertheless, he would like to have more independence while he commutes alone.
To get from A to B, Adam uses wayfinding apps specially designed for visually impaired people. Besides Google Maps, Blindsquare and ViaoptaNav are his favorite. Both are able to give extra information like where the supermarket is, or how many intersections he has passed in an understandable language (e.g. clock orientation). Further he can customize type what type of messages he gets. He also appreciates the feedback via vibration accompanied with the messages.
Besides the default transport apps as NS Reisplanner and 9292OV, Adam found Moovit and OV Delay good apps to use. Moovit sticks with you during the commute, can tell you the different stops and notifies you when it is time to exit. When exiting a train or bus, orientation is most of the times difficult.
Age: 32 Gender: female Visual Acuity: <10% Symptoms: light sensitive, night blindness, color blindness, tunnel vision
Britte is a thirty-two year old woman from the Netherlands. When she was in her twenties she became visually impaired. She has a hard time adjusting because she was used to be able to rely on her eyes and this drastically changed her life. Luckily, she’s not afraid to ask for help of her friends and family, and when she has trouble finding the way she can usually find someone around that is able to help her. Apart from that, she relies mostly on her guide dog and iPhone.
Britte navigates to work with her guide dog every day. She has a small cane to be recognized as visually impaired. With her iPhone she can do almost everything using VoiceOver and headphones. She has a computer at home, but only uses it for work.
Britte became visually impaired in her twenties. Ever since she notices that she has become less and less flexible and mobile. Asking for directions every time is a burden and she occasionally feels disoriented. Even previously familiar areas can now feel disorienting and stressful because of her visual impairment. Therefore, when she travels she fully prepares her journey and never travels alone on new routes. She has tried out many gadgets like the iCane, but has yet to find something that really aids her on her journey.
For wayfinding, Britte uses different apps: Google Maps, Ariadne GPS and TOMTOM. Together they provide a lot of information, but she still would like to know if crossings have clickers, where on her route she can find obstacles and how to avoid crowded areas. Squares and train stations are often chaotic and she avoids them during rush hour. Something else that she avoids is traveling when it’s dark outside. Especially in places she’s never been before, she doesn’t feel comfortable enough to find her way.
Britte often travels by train and bus, but is also fond of the (region) taxi. Train stations are often disorientating, trains never seem to stop at exactly the same place at a station. Also finding the right bus stop is difficult at big stations because of their dynamic changing stops. One of the main problems with traveling by public transport is that it takes her so much time to successfully travel to a certain place. Because the departure times tend to fluctuate for public transport, Britte has to make sure she’ll be at the station at least fifteen minutes early to make sure she’s at the right platform and that she will be in the right bus or train. Apart from getting to the station early it takes some time to plan the trip upfront and if she’s traveling someplace new, she has to make sure to find someone that can join her.
Age: 34 Gender: female Visual Acuity: <30% Symptoms: light sensitive, night blindness, limited contrast, sensitivity
Cecile is a thirty-four year old woman, mother of a twelve year old daughter. She lives with her husband who helps her with everything at home. The impairment made raising the children harder, but with but the family stepping in when it was needed it was doable. She doesn’t think the impairment made her a worse parent. From a young age Cecile was a very proud person and she doesn’t like asking help from strangers. However she does ask the help of friends and family when needed.
Cecile travels with her guide cane and often wears sunglasses to filter out intense light. She mostly uses her iPhone with voice over and headphones, to keep her hands free. At home she has a computer with magnification and Text To Speech software.
Cecile likes to do everything herself. When she is lost she only asks for help when she has exhausted all her options. Still traveling on new routes gives a lot of stress.
With her iPhone and Siri, Cecile finds her way. Talking to your phone in public is a little bit awkward, but it beats touch screen interaction. Google Maps is most of the times sufficient, except for entrances of buildings and on which side of road your destination is. During travel she often is afraid that she has taken a wrong turn and checking on her app is a hassle.
Bus and tram are her daily transport options. But when she can she likes to walk and cycle with friends. When she travels to a new location she often uses the (region)taxi or relies on family to drive. She uses the usual apps, NS Reisplanner, 9292OV and OVinfo.
Age: 60 Gender: male Visual Acuity: 30% Symptoms: light sensitive, night blindness, no central vision
Dennis is a sixty year old man who values his independence, he has been visually impaired from birth. Traveling is easier when he has company. However when he does need help he doesn’t like asking for it and this stubborn character trait can make his life harder. However he is a VIP that uses a guiding cane but he enjoys walking around without one when he can. To navigate he also uses an iPhone and switches between turning the voice over on and off. He uses applications like Google Maps and Navigation to find his way. However Dennis is always prepared for trouble with the applications: he calculates extra time for his travels so he has some time left if he gets confused by the directions from his iPhone.
Dennis uses a guide cane, but also likes to walk without a cane when he can. He uses an iPhone and switches between turning voice over on and off. At home he likes to use his tablet. He doesn’t like to use special adapted software, it is often expensive and quickly outdated.
Dennis likes to go everywhere he wants. He travels mostly alone, but it is easier if he has company. He doesn’t ask for help and he mostly doesn’t really need it.
Dennis uses Google Maps and Navigation for wayfinding. Sometimes it interface is difficult to read and directions can be a bit confusing, but he always calculates in extra travel time for those situations.
Dennis walks, uses public transport, but also cycles for his daily commute. He uses the default apps NS Reisplanner and 9292OV, they work ok most of the times. He also downloads MP3’s from the NS website to navigate new train stations.