2. Try the technologies on yourself
If you’re interested in designing for people with blindness or low vision, put on a blindfold and try out screen readers like ChromeVox, TalkBack on Android, or Voice Over on Apple. See what it’s like to not use a mouse and have to rely only on your keyboard for browsing the web. If you’re working on a product for people with a hand tremor, try to emulate that experience by shaking your hand while eating with a weighted utensil or self-stabilizing Liftware, which is designed to assist people experiencing hand tremors. Your personal experience with these tools may give you a sliver of insight and set the stage for the next step: exercising your empathy.
3. Develop empathy by observing and being open-minded
While trying out an assistive technology is useful, you’ll likely use the assistive tech differently from the people it’s designed to help. Before coming up with a prototype based on your assumptions, observe how your target users go through their daily lives. See how they navigate around their homes, work environments, communities, and grocery stores—both with and without assistive technologies.
By watching people perform everyday tasks like answering the phone, browsing videos on the web, or writing an email, you’ll see which interfaces work or don’t work—and how. In order to understand those pain points, ask about what people do to get around situations that usually require the user to be able to see, hear, or operate something manually.
It’s also helpful to find a local NGO or community agency that works with the type of users you’re studying, such as an organization for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and ask for their help finding research participants. Explain that you’d like to do focus groups or follow volunteers around in their daily lives. Unless you’re doing a student project, the NGO might ask for a monetary or in-kind donation for their help in finding your research participants.