Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

RNIB Technology Support Squad

Last year I joined the RNIB Technology Support Squad. I do not have any particular association with the RNIB, do not have any vision problems (yet) or know anyone with any, but when I saw what the Technology Support Squad do, I thought ‘I can do that!’

It is pretty straight forward. Someone who has a visual impairment and an issue with some technology contacts the RNIB with their problem. The RNIB then send out the request to volunteers in that area to see if someone can help.

If you accept the request you contact the person who has the issue, arrange a time to see them, then go help them.

So far my visits have been pretty quick, but they have given me an insight into a very different world to mine.

The people I visit are just like you and me. They use their computers, tablets and phones to read their emails, read books or go shopping. They have varying levels of computer literacy and varying levels of vision but it does not stop them, and I admire them for that. In fact this technology makes their lives much better, giving them access to stuff they would not have access to otherwise and giving them an independence the rest of us take for granted.

But sometimes they need a sighted helper to get them past a hurdle which would seem inconsequential to a sighted user and probably whoever made the software.

For instance I helped a chap who had bought a new laptop. All he needed me to do was enter the Wi-Fi code (which he knew by heart) so it would talk to the internet. Such a small thing, but his screen reader could not help here and without the internet what use is the laptop!

Then there was a lady who needed help setting up her magnification software. It wanted a serial number but she did not know what this was, probably because it was typed on the CD case in tiny numbers under the bar code. If you sell magnification software would you not think to provide the serial number in a magnified view too?

It is experiences like this that remind me that when designing the user journey we have to think of every part of it, not just the tiny part I am looking at right now but how my user got to this point too.

Although I love my job, because I know I am making a difference, I also love volunteering with the RNIB because I can see the difference I am making straight away. No one has ever given me a hug for designing a good user flow, but I got one for helping a lady get to a point where she could read her emails again.

So if you have any free time maybe see what volunteering opportunities are near you. Who knows what you might gain.

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