Theoretical introduction to 'the challenge'
The user group we will be designed for consists of congenitally blind (CB) individuals, who were born without vision or lost vision shortly after birth. This is important to note, since these individuals also have no memory of any visual experiences (Thinus-Blanc & Gauntlet, 1997). Our co-designer in particular experienced loss of vision shortly after birth, after receiving too much oxygen while in neonatal intensive care. This form of vision loss is also called Retinopathy of Prematurity (RoP) and has five different levels of severeness, where our co-designer sits in the most severe category; total retinal detachment (Ophthalmol, 2005).
Loss of vision implies an adapted and dependent way of living, accompanied by a wide array of aids available to the CB community. This is because CB individuals miss visual cues, where the world we live in revolves around visual information catered towards non-CB individuals. The aids that are most commonly used for mobility are the white cane and guide dogs, where our co-designer uses neither of those. This implies that our co-designer relies heavily on caregivers when leaving the house, such as his wife and personal trainer. He rarely leaves his home alone, but can navigate easily through his home because of a mental map of the environment based on information retrieved through his memory, sense of hearing and touch (Jacobsen, 1993).
The impact on running
Since our participant has been blind since birth he is unfamiliar with the concepts of depth and direction as sighted individuals are. Therefore, it is a challenge for our participant to run in a straight line. Besides, research showed that the vestibular system is dependent on vision (.Duffy, 2013) Now, balance and direction are not exactly the same but they are related. Since the vestibular system determines your orientation and if you are confused about your orientation it will be more difficult to maintain a certain direction.
Initially, our participant and his trainer ran with a tether between them. If our participant was to deviate his trainer would correct him by pulling the tether or pushing with his shoulder. This pushing and pulling is very tiresome to both, taking away energy they could put in running. The trainer also indicated that it was a challenge to maintain the same pace when running. After exploring the hurdle in depth a design challenge was established.
"Allow visually impaired people to easily run coordinated and in parallel or collinear with a buddy, in a comfortable and assured manner, without requiring extensive training before use."
At the start of the project we stated in our design challenge that the product should “allow visually impaired people to easily run coordinated with a buddy, helping them run in straight lines without interfering with their natural running movement or requiring extensive training before use.” The problem with this challenge was the focus on straight lines. Since our participant runs with a buddy it is more important to run in parallel than straight lines. This will allow the runners to run in a comfortable manner when going around corners as well and improve the running experience in multiple situations. For this same reasons the design challenge was rephrased to "Allow visually impaired people to easily run coordinated and in parallel with a buddy, without interfering with their natural running movement or requiring extensive training before use." It was known from interviews that an equal cadans and tempo influence the running experience of our participant. Therefore, the product should have attributes to help the users to sync their rhythm. The runner should get feedback about their pace with respect to the pace of the buddy .It was thought that the natural running movement had to be preserved as much as possible to avoid injuries and irritation caused by an unnatural walk. Via the Google Guidelines project we found that some runners highly value the ability to run as if they run independent (Panek, 2020). On top of that, the product had to be low-entry and easy to use. Therefore, the product may not require extensive training before being able to use it. However, during testing it became clear that our participant still had the tendency to hold onto the prototypes while he ran. Having something in his hands made him feel more confident and secure. Besides, this way of guidance felt most natural to him. This could be a bias because our participant was used to run with a tether in his hand. However, as this project is centered around our specific user we decided to change the design challenge to: "Allow visually impaired people to run coordinated and in parallel or collinear with a buddy, in a comfortable and assured manner, without requiring extensive training before use". The focus of the design challenge shifted towards the feeling we aim for users to have, instead of creating a strict goal of moving freely, as that does not suit our specific user. From the context mapping (see page 'Process') it also became clear that many blind feel insecure without their cane or known guidance method. We think the preference of our participant, concerning the method of wearing/holding the product might therefore be generalizable to the larger audience.
The main problem our participant indicated are the inability to run in parallel en in sync with his trainer
Another problem indicated by our participant was the 1,5 meter rule due to the corona pandemic. Because our participant cannot see he does not know when he is at a correct distance. This problem was not chosen since it is (hopefully) a temporary problem.
Lastly, our participant also experiences trouble when calling customer services. Often they ask for identification numbers on products, which causes a problem because our participant cannot read those. This problem does not occur often. Due to its higher frequency the running blind issue was chosen.