Designing an app for alternative access assessments: new publication!

Happy to announce that our new article just came out in the Assistive Technology journal! Read on to learn how we involved users when designing our Access Navigator app for alternative access assessments.

Masthead of publication

Masthead of publication

I’ve spent the last couple of years designing and building an app called Access Navigator, to help AT professionals conduct alternative access assessments. This has been a fun and challenging project, with a great team within the RERC on AAC, including co-authors Susan Fager, Tabatha Sorenson, and Erik Jakobs. (Here’s a basic intro to the Access Navigator project.)

A big emphasis in the project is following a user-centered design process, to help us build an app that actually addresses user needs. We just published an article in Assistive Technology on the first stage of that process, where we conducted user interviews to uncover and define user needs. You can read the fulltext article, available for a limited time).

What we did

We individually interviewed 8 assistive technology practitioners and 3 clients who use alternative access methods, to learn what practitioners were currently doing in their access assessments, identify opportunities for improving current practice, and understand what the assessment process was like for clients. If you read the paper, you’ll learn all about how we analyzed the interviews to identify key themes. (And feel free to contact me for more details if you’d like.)

These form the foundation for the Access Navigator app, and yielded a few big surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the amount of worry and stress that AT professionals experience, particularly when faced with a challenging situation.

There were *many* mentions of this during our interviews. Here are a couple of examples:

The assessments take a long time and families want answers. People want answers right away, and sometimes it’s really hard to give them those answers because it takes a while to practice everything.

Not knowing. Just feeling like I’m going in blind and just like Imposter Syndrome a little bit, feeling like okay, I should know this, but I don’t.

We hope that Access Navigator can help take some of the worry out of alternative access assessments, by providing a straightforward structure and workflow with tips along the way.

Where we’re headed

These interviews were conducted at the end of 2020 (it takes a while to get an article published!). Since then we’ve designed a wireframe prototype and revised it iteratively based on feedback from 12 practitioners (more on that in our RESNA 2022 short paper).

We’ve also implemented an early version of the Access Navigator software, and run 5 practitioners through a think-aloud evaluation protocol.

So far, user feedback has been very positive. Our next step will be to conduct a clinical evaluation of the app to determine its usability and effectiveness in real-world use. We’re in the early stages of that and will be recruiting participants over the next few months. We’ll try to keep you posted as the project progresses.

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