Inclusive design is taking flight

in the aviation industry

my internship expereince at TEAGUE

The Challenge: Inclusive Travel

 

Passengers of Reduced Mobility (PRMs) cannot fly comfortably. 

My Role: Designer & Researcher

I provided solutions through a hybrid design and research-driven process.

Introduction

 

After graduation I packed up my Subaru, said goodbye to Arizona and typed Seattle into my Google Maps. I began my internship working with the aviation group at TEAGUE, and took every opportunity I could to learn the language of aerospace. From flight line tours to LOPAs, I began to understand this technical field, stocked full of rules and regulations. In an industry that generally values low cost and ease of manufacturing over space and comfort, it quickly became clear to me that user experience is not always a top priority...

By conducting field visits and performing ethnography studies at airports, I became more informed of the way in which people travel. One user group that particularly stood out to me throughout my research were Passengers of Reduced Mobility (PRMs).  A PRM, as defined by the EU, is a person whose mobility when using transport is reduced due to any physical disability, intellectual disability or impairment, age, or any other cause of disability and whose situation needs appropriate attention and the adaptation to his or her particular needs. PRMs became my focused user group for the rest of my internship, as I wanted to be a part of developing solutions that alleviate their travel challenges. 

Timeframe

During my time at TEAGUE I worked on three main projects focused on providing better travel solutions for PRMs. My independent project outcomes led to involvement in a seating solution for PRMs, as well as a project developing an assist handle within the lavatory space of an aircraft. 

JUN

JUL

SEP

AUG

NOV

OCT

1. Wheelchair Tracking

2. Seating Solution

3. Assist Handle

Main Projects

Market Res.

Ethnography

Storyboarding

ADA Research

Rhino Surfacing

Technical Design

Human Factors

Prototyping

User Testing

Interviews

UJ Mapping

Secondary Res. 

Financial Just.

Trend Forecast. 

Design Personas

Comparison Stud.

Use Cases

1. Wheelchair Tracking Project

 

Background: A PRM, as defined by the EU, is a person whose mobility when using transport is reduced due to any physical disability, intellectual disability or impairment, age, or any other cause of disability and whose situation needs appropriate attention and the adaptation to his or her particular needs. PRMs experience high anxiety while traveling due to being separated from their wheelchairs.

Goal: Working on this project individually, my goal was to develop a two-part physical and digital solution that enables PRMs to monitor the handling of their wheelchair during travel, helping to cut down on airline-inflicted wheelchair damages and reduce traveler's stress. 

Market Research:  This method provided me a better understanding of the landscape of existing tools that aide in PRM travel, one of my favorites being Be My Eyes because it facilitates agency from your fingertips.

Interviews: This research method helped me to empathize with different perspectives of stakeholders involved in the travel process. Click here to learn more about my interview process. 

Passengers with

Disabilities

Contracted Assistants 

Flight Attendants

Ethnography: One definition of ethnography is being immersed in a social setting for an extended period of time. I used this research method because it allowed me physical context to my problem. I was able to better understand the physical challenges and limitations of PRM travel in airport settings. 

UJ Mapping: User Journey Mapping provided me a visual sequence of events. I chose this method because it helped me lay out different stakeholder's narratives next to each other, to easily identify similarities and differences.

Storyboarding: Storyboarding allowed me to prototype different ways of showing my research finding in the form of a story. 

Outcome: My research, user flows, and storyboards became assets to other project teams and allowed me to work in teams across the TEAGUE, doing similar work.

2. Seating Solution Development

 

Background: A wheelchair transfer is the process of aiding a PRM into or out of a wheelchair. PRMs are not allowed to fly in their own wheelchairs. Instead, they are transferred into devices called aisle chairs. Aisle chairs are smaller, more uncomfortable versions of a typical wheelchair and come with many restraints to keep PRMs secured during transport. “They strap you down like you’re Hannibal Lecter!” a woman exclaimed with frustration during an interview. 

 

The aircraft bathroom experience is not designed for wheelchair users. When you factor in a single trip to the bathroom during a flight, there can be up to 8 wheelchair transfers for a passenger flying with mobility challenges. With each transfer, the risk of injury increases dramatically. This, along with the public shame that comes with a full plane of onlookers, can be such a deterrent that PRMs will choose to “hold it” instead of using the bathroom, or simply forgo plane travel altogether.

 

*Note: ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and is a law that prohibits discrimination, provides accessibility, and tries to achieve equity for People of Reduced Mobility. 

Goal: With help from Creative Direction, Design Research, Industrial Design, Mechanical Engineering, our team's goal was to develop seating solutions that cut down on the number of in-flight transfers and alleviate pain from DVT-body pain resulting from the inability to move limbs for long periods of time.

User Flow Recording: Ethnographic studies helped inform visuals like this one, that show the amount of transfers in a single flight. These visuals were a simple way to show the amount of transfers to anyone on my design team.

Product Comparison Study: By pairing usability studies and ethnographic research, I was able to communicate to my team that these products are an undignified solution in helping PRMs get to their seats.

Financial Justification: Having clients that prioritized the economic bottom line made it imperative to tie financial and technical requirements back into project proposals. By recognizing trends in elderly travel and tourism and factoring in populations of PRMs who don’t currently travel due to lack of accessibility, I was able to make financial justification for mobility-inclusive travel options.

Outcome: The research reports that I created helped my team empathize with users, find financial justification for airlines, and create a project proposal for a mobility-inclusive solution for travelers.

3.  Assist Handle Design

 

Background: Assist Handles are devices within a lavatory that help people sit and stand when using the restroom. ADA laws require bathrooms within the built environments to have assist handles. There are no laws put in place for plane lavatories to have similar standards

Goal: With assistance from Design Research, Industrial Design, and Technical Design I developed an assist handle that improves accessibility and usability inside a plane lavatory.

ADA Research: I took inspiration from design concepts that were based on ADA standards for the built environment. 

2x3 Factorial Design Test: For my user test, I used a Factorial Design User Test to test five different participants. I chose this user test design because I was easily able to measure multiple different independent variables (such as handle concepts, handle height, and handle orientation) in one study. Their feedback helped me to generate a report with outcomes that will inform the next design phase for this project.  

Outcome: I developed three concepts based on ADA standards and tested them with users in a life-size lavatory mockup, using a factorial design user test. It was from these user tests  that I was able to make validated design changes to my concepts, leading to higher usability test scores.

Takeaways

 

My time at TEAGUE was spent learning how to work in a highly specialized field using strategies that I can take into any workplace. At TEAGUE I was able to leverage my design skills to more effectively and convincingly advocated for varying user populations-which is a skill that can be applied to any type of work that I do, from flight experiences to digital experiences. 

THOUGHTS

Questions? Comments? Want to talk more about accessibility in transportation? Drop me a line below!

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