Team Lead: Yee Jek Khaw
University: National University of Singapore
Echo is a wireless, audio wayfinding kit that helps people who’ve recently become visually impaired to develop awareness of their surroundings. This was a challenge lead designer Yee Jek Khaw experienced first-hand in 2012.
“I experienced recurrent episodes of impaired vision due to a severe case of cornea abrasion,” explains Yee. “This unexpected change kept me homebound initially, as I struggled to find a way to go about once familiar-routines, mentally and physically.”
He found further inspiration from Dialogue in the Dark, in which blind guides lead sighted people through darkened locations. Speaking with the sight-impaired seniors who acted as guides, he learned that “most of the problems they faced during the initial period of blindness were often a result of the impaired mobility that vision loss had brought them.” Many had little or no resources to help them during this crucial time, causing some to just give up on living an independent life at all.
“Through these experiences, I was encouraged to delve deeper into the issue that newly visually impaired faced, with wayfinding.”
“I started on this project about a year ago, with half the time spent on user research and the remaining half spend on prototype iterations and testing. Interaction with the various stakeholders was important at each stage of the design process. Through interviews, observations, and simulation exercises, I was able to narrow down on key areas of unmet needs and opportunities. After that, I worked towards concept generation and evaluation, with user feedback and reviews to improve on the interaction and use processes.
“From this list of ideas, an audio simulation kit was selected and I went through two iterations and quick user testings of prototypes before finalizing on the medium and method of audio projections.”
Takeaways from Designing Echo
“Changes are inevitable as we grow and age. Changes can become obstacles if we fail to adapt and improvise. Many seniors succumb to these changes because they feel that they are natural processes of ageing which are unavoidable. How can we redesign that process of change?
“In my project, acquiring independent mobility for the newly visually impaired is significant, as it shapes one’s subsequent attitude towards their disability. Narrowing the learning curve and difficulty experienced when dealing with this change goes a long way to improving their quality of life.”
Future Plans for Echo
“There’s interest in developing Echo as a supplement for current mobility rehabilitation training programs, and as a home-based kit for those who need it. I will be glad if I can get more resources to develop Echo for longer trial period needs, so I can further refine its use processes and technical components. There is also opportunity for Echo to be scaled to include other audio cues, including location cues, or timed cues that provide pertinent information when positioned in specific locations.”