Sep. 2019- May. 2020
Sep. 2019- May. 2020
︎Access For All is a virtual reality platform that helps architects learn ADA standards in architectural design.
The traditional way of reading and learning the ADA architecture design standards manual is inefficient and time-consuming, and it is even harder when it comes to putting the rules into an application. It is mainly because most architects don't have any experience of using accessible devices like a wheelchair, which helps them establish an actual and correct feeling and judgment of whether the space is appropriate for wheelchair users before construction
I followed UCD design process to define the problem, research, ideate, and devise a solution.
How might we design a virtual reality platform to help architects learn ADA standards in architectural design?
- WHY:- Most young architects don’t have any experience of using accessible devices like a wheelchair. It’s too difficult for them to have an actual and correct feeling of whether the space is appropriate for wheelchair users before construction.
- Lines of standards are difficult and tedious to read.
I started with a secondary research study to learn the knowledge of accessibility, whether there are any existing cases regarding ADA Standards for Accessibility Design, Accessibility in virtual reality( Wheelchair Experience, Education, and Psychophysical Rehabilitation), Human Factors in Virtual Reality, Virtual Reality & Empathy, and Architecture in Virtual Reality, etc.
- It is blank in the field of testing and learning accessible architecture design in immersive design platforms(virtual reality).
- Virtual reality is widely used in powering wheelchair training.
- Currently, the main application of virtual reality in architecture is using it to show clients their design projects.
- It is dangerous to think virtual reality is an empathy machine.
To get more sense about accessibility and obtain some first-hand information, I interviewed several people. They are related to the project and can give suggestions for improvement, including wheelchair users, architects, accessibility experts, UX designers, and some students.
Besides, I participated in the activity of " Design Jam on Accessibility in Urban Contexts" organized by DFA( Design for America) in September 2019. I interviewed three disabled people who can only move through wheelchairs. I asked them several questions about their experiences in disability travel and observed how they travel in wheelchairs.
- Architecture accessible design is based on ADA standards. But most of the young architects are not familiar with the standards.
- The traditional way of learning ADA standards is boring and easy to misunderstand some key points such as clear width at the turn and passing spaces.
- Some architecture companies have virtual reality devices.
- In architecture accessibility design, the most likely mistakes happen in the parts of the entrance(ramp and door), toilet room, and elevator.
- Architects' superior spatial imagination ability let them be more willing to experience virtual reality.
Besides, I did some research about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for accessibility architecture design. I used the Google Survey to try to find out whether people care about accessibility.
- 46.7% of respondents haven't heard of ADA standards.
- 88.9% of respondents have seen wheelchair users encounter barriers to accessing accessible facilities or buildings. For example, the ramp is too steep to move, the time for the door to open is too long, and there is no accessible elevator in some subway stations.
- 90.1% of respondents feel the wheelchair virtual reality experience is helpful and hope to experience it.
- To better understand wheelchair users, it would be interesting to have some parts that might be frustrating to the virtual reality user.
From the primary research and secondary research, I got a better understanding of how people view virtual reality in architecture accessibility design. From the results, I distilled articles and case reviews and interviewers' behaviors into personas that represent different types of users.
After I completed my secondary and primary research, I set up my mind to build a virtual reality platform to help people learning ADA standards. Besides the pain points, architects' superior spatial imagination ability lets them be more willing to experience virtual reality.
︎Model Creation and Export
I built the 3D model in Sketch-Up, a low-fidelity modeling software. The model was made based on the guideline from the ADA Standards. I chose a more comfortable size to create the model rather than just following the minimum rule. Then I imported the model into Unity.
To minimize the impact of software factors on testing, I did a low-fidelity testing without materials
- Welcome Table
After deciding to focus on creating an ADA learning platform, I hope the user can go through every key point where design mistakes are likely to occur. Thus, I designed four different scenarios: Entrance, Exhibition Hall, Bathroom, and Elevator. Users can choose any of them on the menu.
- Scene One: Entrance
- Scene Two: Exhibition Hall
- Scene Three: Accessible Bathroom
- Scene Four: Accessible Elevator
In the model, I set up 21 checkpoints(more will be added in the future iteration). Each wheelchair symbol represents each checkpoint in the scene. When users move to the wheelchair symbol, an ADA checklist window will pop up. Users can learn ADA standards by reading(voice explanation will be introduced in the future iteration) text descriptions and Autodesk CAD drawings. The specifications and illustrations are related to the scene.
- ADA Checklists
Pilot User TestingWhen I finished building my first learning platform version 1.0, I did three pilot user testings. The testers are all young architects in New York.
Some of the feedback I got from them are:
- Although there is a mini-map, it is still easy to get lost in the scene.
- A voice assistant would be helpful.
- The interaction windows always disappear automatically.
- It is better to have both the text description and image on the ADA checklist.
- Adding interactive audio will enhance authenticity.
- I hope for more frustration design.
Another finding in the testing is that although I used some recommended methods to avoid motion sickness, like "Play seated" and adding motion platforms and haptics to match the physical body movement with visual movement. There was still one tester feeling uncomfortable after playing VR for about three minutes. For the next step, I plan to reduce the virtual wheelchair rotations and angular velocity and create experiences that let users rest between moving scenes.
Version 2.0(COVID-19 Pivot)
When I was working on version 2.0 of my project, the unforeseen COVID-19 broke out. To let users better experence the platform, I exported the unity models to the Unity WebGL to let users play on the internet.
WebGl Demo(Using WASD+mouse to control; Pressing ESC to show your cursor):
Version 2.0 User Testing Results:
- Adding more ADA checkpoints in the scene.
- Creating real models of buildings around us like the MTA subway station or Queens Library.
- Can we import our design models to the scene?
- Experiencers should be able to select different types(sizes) of wheelchairs, such as Manual Wheelchairs, Motorized Wheelchairs, and Transportable Wheelchairs, etc.
- Adding some negative examples to the scene so that we can avoid them to the design so that we can prevent them in our design.
- Optimizing the ADA Checklist
- Voice Assist
- From Learning Platform to Testing Platform
Future studies may be done to let the virtual reality technology be a testing tool during the whole-life architecture accessibility design cycle. The platform can help architects find out the design errors as early as possible and correct them in time, to avoid construction problems in the future.