SeniorVUI: Utilizing Voice User Interfaces for visually impaired seniors
A research-based study of the practical use of Google Home Nest to read books aloud to people with blindness or visual impairments
Nota is an institution and knowledge center under the Ministry of Culture. It is a library for people with visual and reading disabilities. The SeniorVUI-project focuses on helping elderly citizens across Denmark, who live with blindness or a high degree of visual impairment to be able to listen to books and other information through Voice User Interfaces. People with blindness or visual impairments are still receiving CDs containing audiobooks even though current technological and digital developments offer new and improved possibilities for everyday activities. The solution containing CD-material will soon be outdated, and alternative media needs to be researched. Nota focuses on the possibility of developing aids compatible with natural language processing (NLP) technologies and in this project we explore the practical situations among the user group.
This research examines how the visually impaired elderly use the ‘Nota Library’ application in conjunction with Google Home Nest. The project is based on detailed video ethnographic methods, where natural occurring interactions with and in relation to a Google Home Nest device are closely observed. There are about 65,000 visually impaired people in Denmark. Their disability and other possible age-related sensory challenges, makes it more difficult for them to use technology, which is not designed to engage with visual impairments, since they, among other things, cannot see all the nonverbal communication signals. Based on the empirical study of the use of Nota’s application in conjunction with Google Home Nest, the aim is to develop a service compatible with the needs and to successfully integrate the solution into their everyday lives. In the project we focus on a) the larger ecology of the user situation from unpacking the device and setting it up, to placing it somewhere in the house and using it in context of other people and everyday activities, b) the different types of interactions with the device and its different applications and c) the specific issues of language, commands, sentence structure, pronunciation, and dialect.
The SeniorVUI-project is closely associated with BlindTech, which is the first research-based project to investigate the use of AI in spatial and social environments by studying visually impaired peoples naturally occurring everyday practices, which incorporate assistive technologies.
The project is situated within ethnomethodology (EM), multimodal conversation analysis (CA) and video ethnography. Focus is on participants’ accountable multimodal actions, and a detailed analysis of these. In relation to the users' disabilities and age, they might have a limited understanding of technology. In addition to blindness and visual impairments, phonetic aspects are also considered, to implement the use of Nota’s app with Google Home Nest. By looking closely into the practice surrounding the application in this context, we examine the linguistic, bodily, and material practices when communicating with the technology’s user interface.
Phase 1: Start-up and establishment of the project. Preparation of data collection, data management and data agreements. Recruitment of participants.
Phase 2: Video ethnographic data collection of participants in their home environment while applying Google Home Nest. The research is semi-experimental and focus on two different cases:
- Video data collected while participants set up and tests the technology by themselves.
- Video data collected while participants get instructions in the use of the technology by professional vision consultants.
Phase 3 and 4: Analyzing and establishing findings. Test of practice-orientated training material used by vision professionals in their counselling of elderly people. Publication of application-oriented research report for internal use of Nota.
Phase 5: Scientific publications.
The project’s success is defined by the ability to assess which user-groups, within the target group, that have the highest possibility of adopting this type of solution, as well as being able to provide feedback, recommendations, and inputs for further development of the service. This feedback should specifically benefit the citizen groups that have less probability of using the solution in its current form.
The project's results will be communicated via written reports to Nota, as well as via workshops that focus on application-oriented insights. Meetings will be held regularly with the Nota board, where the project's trajectory and implications are discussed. The project is research-based and carried out based on the traditions of free research, and time is allotted for methodological and scientific publications.
ICT consultant Birgit Christensen is employed in the project for 1 month. She has expertise in new technologies.