Andrew Heiskell Library
Perform a service innovation of an existing service. My teammates and I chose the Andrew Heiskell library that serves the blind and visually impaired community in New York City.
Design Strategist & User Experience Researcher
Field, user and desk research, interviews, customer journey maps, personas, analysis, service design, strategic design and graphic design.
About the library
The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library is the only branch of the New York Public Library that serves people who are blind, visually impaired, or are otherwise physically unable to read standard print. The Library serves residents who live in New York City and Long Island. It provides reading rooms, large collections of specially-formatted materials, audio playblack equipment for listening to recorded books and magazines, and a variety of other electronic reading aids. The Library also operates the Braille and Talking Book Program, a free library service administered by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress. In addition, the Library offers educational and individual assistive technology training, as well as, local community events for patrons.
User & field research
The team visited the library and conducted interviews with library staff members as well as on-site observations. In addition, the team interviewed important stakeholders including current teaching volunteering staff, inactive users, and a staff member from the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB).
“It is not easy to reach folks that are blind, and just fine, and employed, and they may not know that we are doing things with 3D printers, maps, or programming and coding at the library.
(...) It’s also super hard to reach people that are newly blind seniors, or might not identify as legally blind. We don’t care if they are legally blind, if they have significant difficulty reading the printed word, they are eligible for us. They don’t know that.”
—Quote from a staff member of the Andrew Heiskell Library
The majority of visually impaired and blind people in New York City don’t know about the library’s workshops and training services.
“I am planning to learn braille at the library because people seem to be satisfied with their classes. They are a little more accessible because you don’t have to go through somebody like the counselor from the Commision for the Blind.”
—Quote from a visually impaired person from our user research
“I recognize that we have a technology that talk all the time and voices in our head, and whether it’s a reader, or a recorded book, or an iphone with text and speech, you don’t get to see the word. How do you spell ‘there’ and ‘their’? When you touch the word in braille, you can visualize that under your finger and see the difference. If I don’t have those right, I wouldn’t know how to spell text messages.”
—Quote from a blind person from our user research
Learning assistive technology is one of the main incentives that draws people into the library.
User research shows that unemployment is one of the top concerns among participants.
The team also gathered and analyzed online and offline data from existing agencies and organizations for the visually impaired and people people, including government agencies, non-profit organizations and educational institutions. Based on user research, we decided to further research on unemployment and top employment skills among the visually impaired and blind people.
According to the National Federation of the Blind, it is estimated that 10 million Americans are blind or visually impaired and 70 percent of working-age blind adults are unemployed.
Top 3 employment skills
These are the top three employment skills that the employed visually impaired and blind people have: Braille literacy, mobility and orientation and keyboard touching.
Mobility and orientation are only possible if a blind or visually impaired person knows braille, since there are braille signs that assist on orientation in public spaces, bathrooms, buildings, elevators, airports, and so on. In addition, keyboard touching is only attainable with braille knowledge. For instance, the refreshable braille displays allows a visually impaired and blind person to work on a computer by listening to the words that are being typed.
Braille literacy is the most valuable of all of these three skills.
But only 1 in 10 blind people can read Braille.
Bring awareness about the library workshops and training services through existing channels for the visually impaired and blind people.
There is a big market opportunity that the library is not currently reaching. The workshop services are being underused, and there are thousands of blind and visually impaired users that could benefit from this service.
This proposal design focuses on the visually impaired and blind people that are seeking employment and want to develop fundamental skills. These are the type of users that need this service the most, and the library offers the top employment skills they need to compete in the job market.
Personas and customer journey maps
We created two main personas, one who is blind since college and an existing user of the library, and another who recently became visually impaired. We analyzed their current journey map, point out the problems with their journey and found a gap where we can introduce their knowledge about the library workshops sooner.
38 Years Old
Legally blind since college.
Recently lost her job.
Wants to be a school counselor.
Needs to learn braille.
Ana's existing customer journey map
Ana's ideal customer journey map
29 Years Old
Visually impaired from glaucoma.
Not registered as legally blind.
He needs help self-navigating and using
Tom's existing customer journey map
Tom's ideal customer journey map
Organizations, such as the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB) and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), that provide assistance to visually impaired and blind people, offer information about the library’s braille and talking books’ services, but there is no knowledge of the library braille and assistive technology trainings and workshops.
By using NYSCB and MOPD as channels to spread the word, the idea is to create a brochure to be distributed at the NYSCB and improve the information about the library in the MOPD’s website. The brochure will also be distributed at local non-profits and organizations that provide services for the visually impaired and blind people.In addition, the Andrew Heiskell library’s website will be updated to provide a faster and easier user experience for users to obtain information about the trainings and workshops.
New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB)’s welcome packet
The NYSCB provides vocational rehabilitation and other direct services to legally blind New York State residents. The brochure will be included inside of welcome packet of the NYSCB. The existing package includes information about the NYSCB and other organizations that assist the blind, including the Andrew Heiskell Library. The existing library information does not mention the training and workshops. This brochure will allow users to find out about the trainings and workshops sooner in their journeys.
The brochure will be colorful to stand out because some visually impaired people are able to distinct contrast. It is written on both regular text and braille. In regular text so visually impaired and blind people’s family members and friends can also know about the information and read to them. It is also in braille to assist the visually impaired and blind that already know braille and may benefit from more advanced trainings and workshops provided by the library. Finally, there is a QR code for the ones that don’t know braille so they can scam the code on their phones that will take them to a website where they can listen to the information on audio with the assistance of a care giver or a NYSCB counselor.
Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD)’s website
MOPD provides information on accessible programs, accessible transportation, employment, health services and activities. Its website also provides information about the Andrew Heiskell Library. The current website shows the library services, but there is no information about the trainings and workshops. The new design will include information about trainings and workshops. The left menu of the page will be removed because the items do not offer any useful information to the visually impaired and blind people. The reason is to simplify the user experience of a visually impaired and blind person because they listen to a website as opposed of reading, so minimizing the words to be listened will allow them to obtain information a lot faster.
Finally, the existing page contains a link that directs people to the about page of the Andrew Heiskell’s website, instead the proposed design will direct users to the library’s home page, in which the services are listed.
The existing home page that provides information about the services will be redesigned. Currently, the trainings and workshops are listed with the events, which is confusing and difficult to find. In the new page design workshops are moved up and are listed with other services in a more efficient way. All the services will be highlighted with a different design treatment.
Trainings and Workshops page
When users click the “Trainings and workshops” on the homepage they will be directed to a page specially dedicated for trainings and workshops. It will allow users to search for classes, and easily apply for a class by calling or booking online. They can also see the classes by level of difficulty or by the calendar view, which will show classes by date.
Based on the user research of this study, schedule and level of skills are important factors when booking classes. Some visually impaired and blind people just want to learn basic skills, such as navigating and Braille 101, while others want to learn to more advanced skills, such as keyboard touching and 3D printing.
Here are some non-profits offering similar services directly or intermediately. Baruch College provides high quality braille and assistive technology classes in New York City. However it charges $50 to $150 per session.
The Andrew Heiskell Library is completely free. The user research shows that the library have established a good reputation over the years. Most patrons who visited the library felt welcomed at the library.
Inconsistent teaching quality
In the current structure of the workshops and trainings program, Chancey, the Assistive Technology Coordinator, manages 5 volunteers that teach up to 85 visually impaired and blind patrons per month. Our new proposal will bring more patrons into the program and the library will need more volunteers. As the volunteer team grows, it will be more difficult for Chancey to keep all volunteers teaching towards a designated goal. The risk can be mitigated by bringing staff members into the program and get their help on training the volunteers.
Lack of physical space
On the left is the floor plan of the 2nd floor of the Andrew Heiskell Library. Current workshops take place in the two rooms located at the northwest side of the library. This floor also contains the library’s collection of braille books. However, based on our field research, not many users frequent these spaces. The northeast (top-left) part of this floor feels cold and deserted.
In the proposed design, the workshop area will extend to these shelving areas. By rotating the shelves 90 degrees, natural sunlight will come in through the aisles. Secondly, the distance between shelves can be reduced by 10 inches. The total amount of saved space from six rows of shelves will create a large empty space where it can be placed tables and chairs. Thirdly, we will use a partition wall to divide this floor into two separate zones. The left side will become an active, multipurpose zone for workshops and group meetings. It will encourage patrons to easily interact with the braille books as they are learning in the same space. The right side will continue to be a quiet zone of the library. When changing the existing space, there is a concern of disorientation for the blind, but the main pedestrian flow from the entrance to the classroom will remain the same.
From the user research, we learned that the library is on a tight budget. Therefore in this proposal, rearranging book shelves and tables won’t create any material cost. While the high end glass partition wall can cost more than $14,000, the library has the option to choose dry wall, which only cost about $3,000.
Continue researching on blind people’s learning curve by interviewing more users to understand their learning difficulties. Study how other schools are teaching their students by attending vocational training related assistive technology classes.
A robust course offering is crucial because many patrons will come into the library and expecting the library to be the central hub for learning and gaining vocational skills. In order to serve large amount of people, the service design team and the library staff will work together to design an effective and sustainable syllabus for the library.
Outreach to other organizations to promote the library’s workshops. Work with tech companies, interior designers and architects to design a modern space for accessibility.