Consulting with end users: the AEGIS local workshops

In  the  context  of  the  AEGIS activities  for  end user and stakeholder involvement,   each  of  the  project  pilot  sites  organised   a  local workshop, aimed at presenting the project, to all potential users, as well as gathering feedback from end-users and other stakeholders on core use cases that will be used as the basis for designing the main project tools.
As a result of this activity, 4 workshops were organised within the period April-May 2009 in Belgium, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, with over 143  participants, among which were developers of software applications,   people   with   disabilities,  personal  assistants,  user  representatives, vendors of assistive technology and other relevant stakeholders.

While the target groups were quite diversified per site, and not always the same across sites, the workshops did follow a more or less similar agenda structure. During these events, the project was introduced to all participants.  Every   AEGIS   application  area  presented  was  also   accompanied by a persona, thus ensuring end-users could identify themselves in the application scenario that was presented.

The national workshops provided an ideal “tool” to collect first hand feedback from AEGIS' target groups, while also identifying a number of recurring issues which are present in all pilot sites, and thus must also be considered in the final user requirements consolidation. Some of the most prominent challenges put forward were the following:

  • The development community that participated in the workshops expressed that they are keen on embracing AEGIS, albeit  that  they  indicated  the project should be an “open project” from  the  beginning.  This  consists of   involving  the  development  communities  and  (user)  organisations that promote  open  software, offering  access  to  the generated source code and publishing  and  divulging information about the project.  Doing  so, the  project will benefit from acquiring the knowledge from these communities.
  • In order for the project to be successful, especially participating end-users indicated the need for  a  helpdesk  throughout  the  entire project piloting/testing  duration. This  concern  is understandable since the current support for (commercially available) AT is often cumbersome and  not  of the expected quality level.
  • Related to the above issue, the project will also have to implement a well organised training framework, and most important, adjusted to the needs of each target user group (be it end-users or experts).

Regarding the specific application areas, following challenges arose in all sites:

Desktop applications:

  • Any new software developed in the context of the project  should be compatible with  AT  hardware already in usage, such as the Braille tablet and printer. AT present, this is a main hurdle for end-users to switch to new software.
  • Any windows and pop-ups generated by AEGIS developed applications should be adequately captured and translated through the provided screen reader software.
  • While not planned by the  project, end-users with hearing  impairments expressed a  huge  interest in automatic translation of text and speech to sign language, while those with vision impairments were mostly interested in text to speech and speech to text translations.

Mobile applications:

  • The need for self-explanatory icons supported by voice commands, and the possibility of voice feedback for confirmation of actions was a much raised concern by end-users.
  • Related to the above, end-users were also concerned about a good integration between any text-to-speech applications and graphical symbol support.
  • Applications developed by AEGIS should include a configuration option for changing the font size and contrast in the mobile applications/environments.

Rich Internet Applications (RIA):

  • While these applications are not yet used extensively, the concern for the RIA accessibility is identifiable among all pilot sites.
  • Accessible  RIA  development  tools  should  also  be  as  much as possible accessible for  developers with disabilities.