With the popularity of personal tracking devices like the Fitbit Flex and Nike Fuel Band, and the introduction of Google Glass, wearable devices are entering the mainstream. Once only the purview of academic research labs and niche products, this emerging technological era makes it critical to consider how wearable interaction can be designed to meet the needs of a broad range of users.
For people with visual impairments, in particular, wearable devices offer the potential to provide efficient mobile information access. And, there is need. While smartphones have become widely adopted by visually impaired users, interacting via the touchscreen and screen reader can still be cumbersome and inefficient—unsurprising given that these interfaces are designed for visual interaction and being adapted post hoc.
In this paper, we explore the potential impacts of wearable interaction for people with visual impairments. Key questions include: How are users with visual impairments currently using mobile phones and wearable devices compared to sighted users, and what challenges exist?
What are considered to be the benefits and drawbacks of wearable input as an alternative to mobile touchscreen interaction for people with visual impairments? How might an alternative wearable interface to a smartphone impact use, including behavior in social settings, sense of privacy, personal safety, and ability to use the phone on the go?
To address these questions, we first built a wristband that wirelessly controls the VoiceOver screenreading software on Apple iOS devices
Then, to explore the potential impacts of such technology, we conducted two studies. The first was an online survey that included 114 participants with visual impairments and 101 sighted participants; we compare the two groups in terms of current device use. The second was an interview and design probe study with 10 participants with visual impairments.
Our findings expand on past work to characterize a range of trends in smartphone use and accessibility issues therein. Participants with visual impairments responded positively to two eyes-free wearable device scenarios: a wristband or ring and a glasses-based device. Discussions on projected use of these devices suggest that small, easily accessible, and discreet wearable input could positively impact the ability of people with visual impairments to access information on the go and to participate in certain social interactions
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