A service concept to make public transport accessible for the Visually Impaired in the Helsinki Region.

I had been involved in a 6-week long service design project at Aalto University on the broad topic of 'urban travel'. Our team firmly believed that everyone should be able to access public transport independently and spontaneously. Using this approach, we identified users who would use public transport and defined the user group which might find travelling difficult by public transport. Hence, we decided to begin making public transport accessible for visually impaired people in Helsinki Region.

Post-its used to identify the user groups using public transport

While conducting user studies, we applied different ethnographic research methods to gain information from our users, and to understand them better. We began with interviewing representatives from organizations supporting visually impaired people in Helsinki (NKL and Iiris), the Helsinki regional transport department (HSL) and visually impaired people from different age groups. Along with that, we conducted a focus group and also shadowed and assisted 3 users during their journey while they used public transport.

Focus group session

From these studies, we found that visually impaired persons were unable to use all modes of public transport easily and independently. Following this, we created five user personas to draw a clear picture of our users and their needs, which would represent the entire user group.

User persona in detail (Partially sighted 44 yrs. old woman

While travelling with our users using public transport, we found that they were comfortable using metros and trains; yet found buses and trams very challenging. They mentioned that the single most challenging aspect of using buses and trams was ‘how to find and get onto the right bus/ tram’. The public transport usage share is maximum for buses in Helsinki Region (amounting to 179.8 million passengers out of a total of 355.5 million passengers every year - HSL Annual Report 2013. Therefore, we decided to find a solution to help visually impaired people ‘find and board the correct bus’.

Mapping the user journey and key moments

Why is this service essential?

Currently, since the public transport system is inaccessible, the municipality spends 1 billion euros annually to provide subsidized taxi service to the visually impaired in Finland. This expenditure is only likely to increase because by 2030, every 4th person will be above 65 years of age. With increasing age, the ability to see well decreases. So, the municipality would have to increasingly spend more money on taxi rides. It is possible to divert this expenditure to improve the public transport system for the visually impaired and elderly by our solution – KAIKKI.

How did we create our service?

KAIKKI is a concept, which builds on the current public transportation service in Helsinki region. It makes it possible for visually impaired people to find the right bus; and allows them to travel independently. The key of our concept is a small hand-held device that every visually impaired person would carry. We designed it keeping in mind our user group whose median age is 79 years. Hence, it is not a smartphone app but an actual tangible device. It reads out the bus lines approaching a bus stop for the visually impaired people and informs the bus driver of the bus they want to take about their travel wish. We made a colourful cardboard prototype which our users could test to understand how the device worked; and if they found the concept easy to understand.

Take a look at how kaikki works; and see what our users have to say about the concept on the kaikki website; and you can also check out the presentation below.

The current generation of our users are well acquainted with using smart phones. Therefore, as the first proof of concept, we decided to test the solution using iPhones’ and buses enabled with GPS technology. We decided to work with iPhones because our users had mentioned that they find it easy to use iPhones as compared to any other smartphones because of its accessibility features. I created the first prototype of the mobile application for Iphone; and a few of the screens can be seen below. I also created an interactive prototype of how the application would work.

Keywords: city, accessibility, visually impaired people, ethnography, interviews, focus groups, shadowing, collaborative, user personas, user journey, public transport, Helsinki Region, Service design, problem solving, interactive prototype, UX design