I have an older sister that was born with a mental disability. This 'accelerating digital world' is supposed to make things easier, but only gets more complex for her. She'd start blaming herself and her iPad for things that don't work she expected it to. I decided to improve a situation for people with a mental disability for my graduation project. While searching for what was already out there, I came across Netrex: the company that started ABCDate. It's a safe online (dating-)platform for people with a mental or physical disability. Netrex allowed me to do research and get in contact with their users in order to improve the usability of the platform.
How ABCDate works
Let's start by introducing 'Steffie', a digital companion that explains complex subjects and situations in a very easy way. Her lessons are about, for example: health insurance, visiting a doctor or how to use public transport. She is considered as a familiar character among people with a disability. Steffie is implemented in ABCDate and assists users as they connect with other people. To qualify for the platform one first needs to be approved and registered by a mentor. After registration users can create a profile, consisting of a first-name, photo, interests and what kind of person they wish to connect with.
The challenging part
It's important to take into account that people with a mental or physical disability can find it difficult to interact with a device or aren't able to read or write at all. In some cases people have limited vision or hearing capabilities. Facebook and Instagram have hidden privacy settings and certain functionalities that make the services unsafe and easily abused. ABCDate aims to maintain someone's identity and safety. ABCDate is a non-profit initiative. It's financed by Netrex and various healthcare organisations and runs on limited resources. Together they organize introduction meetups for their users and the platform needs constant maintenance. This leaves little room for research, testing and improvement.
ABCDate was build to use on desktop computers and laptops. Nowadays their users also carry a phone or tablet. Insights from the helpdesk showed multiple requests for an app, or simply said: mobile support. Restructuring the content to mobile helped me to better understand the key elements of the platform.
A visual language
Images work very well. The existing learning modules are accompanied by great illustrations. But the UI needed clarity. Every possible interaction should be marked by a fitting icon. One that everybody understands and uses. Emoji does just that and is extremely powerful. Since the design should feel friendly and safe, I used a kawaii styled emoji set by Streamline.
Steffie is communicating by voice and it makes sense to talk back in some way. One of the users suggested me to implement a speech-to-text functionality, since typing is so challenging. This is not to be confused with a voice memo. This would bypass the existing chat-filtering and make harrassment possible. Typing is mainly used in the chat environment. Most phones support speech-to-text through a button in their keyboards. Within ABCDate speech-to-text was added more prominent to the screen.
Promo video for ABCDate
Part of the project was to deliver a promotional video for ABCDate. Since I made new screens I thought it would be nice to refresh the existing promo.