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Development and Evaluation of Two Prototypes for Providing Weather Map Data to Blind Users Through Sonification

Jonathan Lazar, Suranjan Chakraborty, Dustin Carroll, Robert Weir, Bryan Sizemore, and Haley Henderson

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 8, Issue 4, August 2013, pp. 93 - 110

Article Contents

Requirements Gathering

To modify iSonic for blind users to access new weather data, we needed to understand how blind users access that information.

We were motivated to answer the following questions (the first three questions relate to general aspects of map design and technology, and the fourth and fifth questions are specific to the requirements of blind users):

Our data collection was greatly facilitated by our access to a diverse set of users within the blindness community; this is due to a number of factors. Our original user, who contacted our group about developing weather maps that they could understand, suggested the names of people that we could contact. Also, one of the co-authors (Lazar) of this article has long-standing collaborations in place with the organized blind community in Maryland. Our sample of respondents included some individuals who had (a) expertise about the domain of interest (meteorology), (b) a high level of motivation in helping develop and using sonified weather maps,(c) expertise on contextually appropriate assistive technology, and (d) an interest in gaining weather related information but moderate to low technological and domain related expertise. Table 1 below provides details about our participants and the data collection approach. Our data collection was done using a combination of interviews and a survey questionnaire. Respondents for the interviews were identified both using contacts of one of the authors and also through a snowballing technique. For example, the meteorologist and the blind user with interests in development of accessible maps were already known to one of the authors. The other two blind individuals with expertise or interest in meteorology and technology were suggested by our first blind interviewee. The survey was developed after the interviews. The survey was sent to a National Federation of the Blind mailing list. We employed face-to-face interviews for all preliminary interviews, with some follow-up interviews done over the phone. Our interviews and surveys were focused on obtaining an understanding about the features that would be considered useful in weather maps, the nature of weather data that would be considered useful, and the modes of interaction that would enhance a user interaction with the interface. The Appendix has the survey questions used to gather the requirements.

Table 1. Respondent Profile

Table 1

The interviews with the expert blind users and the survey responses of the non-expert blind users provided valuable input for the development of our prototype weather map, including the nature of weather related information expected by blind users, the most useful representations of such information, and the modes of interaction that would be considered helpful. In addition to the interactions with blind users, our data collection also involved an interview with a meteorologist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who is not blind. That interview provided valuable directions with regards to obtaining continuous live weather data feed for the application from NOAA websites.

After the collection and analysis of interview and survey data, we created a series of user scenarios to obtain a clearer understanding of what the proposed application could be expected to do. The scenarios proved to be helpful in narrowing down and creating a focus for what the prototype should do and how it should do it. We created these scenarios to explicitly map out how a user would go through the prototype for related tasks, what these tasks would show, and what types of outputs they would have. An example scenario is included below.

Scenario: Checking Maryland Temperatures in iSonic

A user opens iSonic from their desktop application. The Maryland map opens with a drop-down menu to choose a type of weather information. A user then chooses the temperature selection. Once this is chosen, the Maryland map refreshes with the temperature data downloaded within the last hour from the NOAA weather server. Once this information is available on the map, a user can hear temperature sweeps of the map or drill-down to specific data points for Maryland temperatures using either a touchscreen or keyboard. A high-pitched tone indicates a high temperature, and a lower pitched tone indicates a lower temperature. This allows users to determine weather trends across the state.

Based on the requirements gathering and user scenarios, we identified the following initial set of specifications for what the sonified weather map should provide:

The above list of specifications provided the basis for the design of the prototype. In addition, we decided to develop the initial prototype only for the state of Maryland and the 24 counties within Maryland (Baltimore City is not in a county; however, it is usually counted demographically as the 24th county of Maryland even though it is technically not a county). Important distinctions that exist in other portions of the US, such as township, are of little importance in Maryland, where most governmental services (schools, police) are at a county level. We chose to focus on Maryland primarily because we thought that since all of our usability testing would be taking place involving Baltimore-area residents, they would be most likely familiar with the geography of Maryland, and that would allow us to focus more on the interface and interaction, rather than the level of geographical knowledge of an area that users are not familiar with. The specifics of our design are described in the next section.


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