Accessible On-Body Interaction for People With Visual Impairments

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While mobile devices offer new opportunities to gain independence in everyday activities for people with disabilities, modern touchscreen-based interfaces can present accessibility challenges for low vision and blind users. Even with state-of-the-art screenreaders, it can be difficult or time-consuming to select specific items without visual feedback. The smooth surface of the touchscreen provides little tactile feedback compared to physical button-based phones. Furthermore, in a mobile context, hand-held devices present additional accessibility issues when both of the users’ hands are not available for interaction (e.g., on hand may be holding a cane or a dog leash).

To improve mobile accessibility for people with visual impairments, I investigate on-body interaction, which employs the user’s own skin surface as the input space. On-body interaction may offer an alternative or complementary means of mobile interaction for people with visual impairments by enabling non-visual interaction with extra tactile and proprioceptive feedback compared to a touchscreen. In addition, on-body input may free users’ hands and offer efficient interaction as it can eliminate the need to pull out or hold the device.

Despite this potential, little work has investigated the accessibility of on-body interaction for people with visual impairments. Thus, I begin by identifying needs and preferences of accessible on-body interaction. From there, I evaluate user performance in target acquisition and shape drawing tasks on the hand compared to on a touchscreen. Building on these studies, I focus on the design, implementation, and evaluation of an accessible on-body interaction system for visually impaired users.

The contributions of this dissertation are: (1) identification of perceived advantages and limitations of on-body input compared to a touchscreen phone, (2) empirical evidence of the performance benefits of on-body input over touchscreen input in terms of speed and accuracy, (3) implementation and evaluation of an on-body gesture recognizer using finger- and wrist-mounted sensors, and (4) design implications for accessible non-visual on-body interaction for people with visual impairments.