The MIT Student Disability Services (NQ8 Makeup)

December 3rd, 2018

The Student Disabilities Services (SDS) website highlights the importance of making MIT’s academic services equally accessible to all, while not compromising on any issues of academic integrity involved. This is achieved by incorporating the inputs of the student, SDS staff, academic advisors, faculty members etc to design the most appropriate accommodation for the situation at hand. Such accomodation is made available to any student who is able to produce documentation proving that their disability substantially limits a major life activity.

That being said, the Disability Services Staff, students and faculty members all have individual responsibilities in ensuring that such accommodation is attained in an appropriate manner. The Disability Service Staff oversees the entire process of delivering the accommodation, from the ideation stage, to the coordination stage, to reviewing the relevant documentation and more. Faculty members, on the other hand, have the responsibility of ensuring that the accommodations are reasonable and implemented. Finally, students are responsible for providing the services with all the relevant documentation.

The MIT SDS provides various kinds of accommodations based on the disability in question. This includes extended time, exams on tape, readers, scribes and more. Speaking from personal experience, these accommodations go a long way in helping MIT’s resources become more accessible to all students.

The B-Roll component of the project’s footage (NQ6 Make up)

November 19th, 2018

In the reading “B-Roll explained to photographers” by Jose Antunes, I learned about B-roll, a secondary, yet essential component in the video that we typically neglect. A video story contains two elements: an A-Roll, the main element, achieving your goal of the story and a B-Roll, the secondary element, enriching and fulfilling the main story. Jose’s example is that if we want a biography film, A-Roll captures interviewee answering questions, while B-Roll captures them doing activities or their workspace to supplement the content they mentioned during the interview.         

We follow this useful idea by planing the storyboard in advance, which helps us avoid missing B-Roll components. Since the goal of our footage is to represent our client and how our assistive tech helps her solve her problem, we recorded her interview and her testing our product. For the B-Roll component, we planned to record surrounding areas near where she lives to illustrate how this environment causes difficulty for her. Moreover, to prepare for the B-Roll record, we will go over an interview and list what she brought up that might require B-Roll pieces to make audiences, who don’t have the necessary background knowledge, understand.         

Another useful tip for this process is to shoot the video for at least 30 seconds. I totally agree when I consider my past experiences with editing videos. During the editing process, the transition animation, at the beginning and end, takes around 10 seconds. Moreover, I sometimes make mistakes at the beginning and end of the video, requiring more trimming to be done, so having 30 seconds minimum is a good criterion.        

In conclusion, my group learned about A-Roll and B-Roll for the first time from this reading. We find it helpful to plan how we will record A-Roll and B-Roll scenes ahead of time.

User-Centered Design for Sailors with Low-Vision (NQ4 Make Up)

October 22nd, 2018

Although many of the topics that were discussed in the reading on user-centered design are also currently being covered in 2.009, there were some key concepts that were worthy of further inspection in the context of my PPAT team.  The reading addresses that there is a lot of value in having designers who have varied levels of experience, as often generalists and specialists working together creates a very effective design process.  My PPAT team consists of two Course 6s, one Course 9, and one Course 2, and thus my diverse PPAT team is very well equipped to tackle our semester project.

The reading lists many different types of research that can be done to facilitate design, and our team has implemented some of these methods and found them extremely useful.  Because the activity related to our project, sailing, is a niche activity, observation to understand the activity and how our client interact with the activity has been crucial.  Today, we specifically completed direct observation.  Our entire team went to Community Boating, Inc. together to watch Pauline compete in a blind sailing regatta.  Although we weren’t directly in a boat with Pauline, we could observe the races from a motorboat and observe the actions Pauline went through to complete the race.  Additionally, we also observed those around Pauline—we could hear how the sighted guides were giving information and watch how other blind sailors sailed as Pauline’s competitors.  Participant observation can also accompany direct observation.  The reading points out that designers who already participate in the activity of the user may inflate the relevance of his/her particular experiences and preferences.  As a sailor myself, I must remember to remain objective and subject my own experience to scrutiny, as Pauline’s experience sailing is quite different.

A successful simulation of a person with a disability ( NanoQuiz 2 makeup )

October 9th, 2018

One particular PPAT class involved a disability simulation of a person in a wheelchair. The simulation was very insightful in a number of ways and I had a couple of interesting incidents:

  1. People are sometimes overly helpful towards people in wheelchairs, and this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. A man continued to push me in my wheelchair despite me telling him that I could manage on my own.
  2. Another unfortunate incident involved a person without a disability occupying the disabled stall in the washroom.
  3. I found slopes, in general, to be very scary. Upward slopes were painful to climb and downward slopes felt like I was losing control.

Three things that made this experience a ‘successful’ simulation were the week’s reading on ‘Disability-related Simulations: If, When, and How to Use Them in Professional Development’, the handout given before the simulation and the debriefing after the simulation.

Not only did the reading help me understand the difference between a good and bad simulation, but also did it stop me from learning a hidden curriculum. So every time I started thinking about how uncomfortable or painful using this wheelchair must be on a regular basis, I was able to force myself to think about the environment and the activities instead. Similarly, the hand-out given out at the beginning of the class helped me to clearly understand what the objectives of the simulation were and the greatest part about the debriefing after the simulation was that it felt just like a conversation- where everyone was sharing their experiences and there was no bias/contradiction.

Website Design for Various Audiences (NQ4 Make Up)

October 7th, 2018

This reading reminded me of a class I took in the past, 6.813, User Interface Design and Implementation (no longer offered). This class focused on how to design good user interfaces for the general audience, not just for people with disabilities. As a computer science major, this reading made me think about how to make websites more accessible for people with disabilities: how can we make websites safer (error-prone) and more efficient for everyone?

In the first couple classes, we used the Voice Over feature on iPhones to see the feature for people with visual impairments. Similarly, some desktop websites also have features similar to Voice Over. On some websites, clicking on an area tells the user what is at that point, and if the user wishes to continue, the user would click the same spot again. There are some apps that read the website content to the user. In order for the app to read the content, there has to be text; icons and pictures cannot be read, unless there are descriptions of the image, which is not guaranteed. If we were to reduce icons and pictures on a website, however, it might put illiterate or international users at disadvantage. In 6.813, we learned that icons actually facilitate website navigation for many users, especially illiterate and international users. This demonstrates how one design might benefit one group of users and put another at disadvantage.

Not all websites today are equipped for blind users. In order for a website to be friendly to blind users, while designing a website, it is important for the designer to include captions for images, since it would allow the Voice Over feature to read the content to users with visual impairments.

Disability Simulation (NQ2 Make Up)

October 7th, 2018

In class we were able to simulate the experience of a person who uses a wheelchair. The reading for this class helped us acknowledge appropriate behaviors before, during, and after the activity. I think that the reading was especially important for people about to let children simulate some disabilities; while allowing children to participate in disability simulations is important to let them understand their peers with disabilities, it is also important for them to know what to expect and to share their feelings after.

One thing I noticed during the activity was the use of elevator. Wheelchair users most likely have to use the elevator to travel between floors, except for the occasional use of ramps. I am a staircase enthusiast in general, and I don’t take elevators to ascend flights less than 6 flights (I am an extreme case though). I thought it was inconsiderate when I saw people taking the elevator up one or two floors and made it unable for another wheelchair to fit. There are people with hidden disabilities who are physically unable to take stairs, but for individuals with no mobility impairments—though we should not treat people with disabilities specially—I think it is important to use the stairs more, even for one’s health!

Day after experiencing the wheelchair, my thumbs hurt for being extended for too long. Because of the reading, I knew that one day of experience does not provide the muscle and strength needed to use a wheelchair daily, and I was able to conclude with a positive impression with new knowledge from experiencing it myself.

AT to Help Those with “Invisible Differences”

October 2nd, 2018

For class we all were given the opportunity to read material addressing etiquette when communicating with an individual with a disability, and were given the caveat that while these practices are widely accepted, it is crucial to recognize that each individual has personal preferences when it comes to how the interact with those around them. One topic that I think we have not addressed in depth is how to act in scenarios where an individual’s special circumstances are not immediately evident. For example, my younger teenage brother is one of the most genuinely thoughtful people that I have the privilege to call my sibling. He is also Autistic. When walking down the street with him, our fellow pedestrians typically do not note anything remarkable about either of us; insensitive people would probably say “he doesn’t LOOK any different than the rest of us”. As such, when in a restaurant a waiter may come to take our order, and speak to my brother just as they had spoken to me. My brother may or may not respond with an order that the waiter is satisfied with, after which point a member of my family (or often, multiple members) will order on his behalf.

My brother is fully capable of communication, depending on the situation that he is in, and how comfortable he is in that scenario. As a protective older sister, I wish that I could always be around to offer some familiarity in alien situations, but I feel as though there should be some form of assistive technology that can help him as he grows older, to advocate for himself and his needs independently. This begs the question: how can assistive technology protect and support those with “invisible differences” in a world that supports only uniformity? Naturally, I do not have an answer to this question, but I do have a few thoughts on how to approach it. One, we cannot simply identify these individuals as “different” as that label would attract vicious people to take advantage of them. Two, universal design principles may be able to help garner familiarity even in the upmost alien environments. For example, individuals with Autism benefit from highly regular approaches and speech patterns, thus finding a standardized manner to unfamiliar situations (opening line, interaction mechanism, etc.) may not only help these individuals, but also make public interactions far smoother and less awkward for all strangers.

Encounter with a Blind Woman (NQ1 Make Up)

September 25th, 2018

Reading about physical context in the first reading for this course reminded me of an encounter I had this summer near my apartment in Seattle. After getting off at the bus stop near my apartment one day after work, I saw a blind woman navigating near my apartment complex. It’s a Seattle suburb with not many pedestrians usually, and I was walking at some distance behind her. As I was walking, I realized how often she needs to stop since there are so many poles on the sidewalk. Until that day, I never paid attention to how there are so many utility poles on sidewalks in my neighborhood. In addition, it was trash day, and many people had not removed their giant green trash bins from the sidewalk.

I learned many years ago that when I help a blind person, you should ask for their permission first. As the blind woman was about to walk into another trash can that took up the entire sidewalk width, I called out from behind and said, “There’s a trash can in front of you, I can move it to the side!” She thanked me, and she asked me for additional directions, and the address was actually my apartment complex. She was considering moving here and she was here to see how easy and safe it was to get here with public transportation. She asked if she could take my arm, and I was able to show her around my apartment complex and walk her back to the bus stop. We had a genuinely nice conversation, and it made my week!

Though I had been excited about taking this course since the end of last semester when I heard about it, this encounter made me look forward to this course even more.

Building a Better World Through Universal Design (quiz make-up)

November 30th, 2017

The advancement of assistive technology requires the perceptive eye of someone who recognizes problems from the perspective of those with disabilities. Often times, we try to find problems and create solutions from our own lens, instead of exploring other facets of life that affect those unlike us. Using the principles of Universal Design, I have noticed problems within MIT’s community that could be solved to allow more accessibility for people with disabilities. For instance, size and space for approach and use would dictate that the buttons on building 3 elevators could be lower for little people or those in wheelchairs. There are some areas on campus that do not have ramps despite the high density of people traversing those places, an example of improving the equitable use on campus. In addition, to improve upon the principle of low physical effort, making doors that aren’t so heavy for people with physical disabilities could make their lives much easier.

In addition to improving my perception, the laws of Universal Design have also improved my ability to design our product for Jim. For example, the principle of flexibility in use, helped my team and I recognize that we needed to tailor the shape and opening of Jim’s cardholder to the differing abilities of each arm. More specifically, the cardholder’s orientation and position on his half-table is such that Jim can use his less dexterous arm to slide the card out toward his more dexterous arm (left), in order to grab the card. Moreover, the principle of low physical effort inspired us to make the coefficient of friction between card sleeves low, and make his cardholder short, so he could effortlessly reach his right arm over the cardholder and slide his cards out with ease.

Ultimately, understanding Universal Design not only makes one more perceptive of the issues people with disabilities face; it makes you a better engineer, able to effectively tackle problems that are not apparent at first glance.


The challenges of a restricted developer

November 27th, 2017

In Team Erica, we have been designing an iOS application that allows Erica to communicate with her desired audience in around three taps on her home screen. Our vision of the app and its layout has been simple to deploy within XCode, the only application that Apple authorizes for software developers to build applications across the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch product lines.

Nonetheless, in implementing the actual functionality of our application, we have encountered a few hurdles. Compared to other mobile platforms such as Google Android, Apple iOS places strict limits in certain freedoms apps developed by third parties exercise. One specific instance of this is in sending emails. We intended that our application be able to programmatically send emails in the background to certain contacts after a simple button press. However, Apple does not allow app developers to access the user’s email credentials and send an email message without an explicit preloaded message appearing for the user to confirm. Since the confirmation button is very small, we wanted to avoid having this screen. Thankfully, after some web searching, we were able to find a workaround by implementing the ‘MailCore’ API that is able to programmatically send emails by directly accessing email servers, bypassing Apple’s Mail framework.

For sending text messages, we encountered a similar challenge, solved by implementing the Twilio API text messaging service. As opposed to MailCore, Twilio, however, is not free. In an average case, it costs around 50 cents per month for a single person to use the service. As a team we have been debating who would assume this cost: Erica or someone else? Organizations place restrictions on the freedoms third party developers can exercise in their apps to conserver user’s privacy. Should assistive technology applications be the exception?