Accessible Emergency Calls
UX Research & Product Design
Time: 2022 Fall
Team Size: 4
Role: Product Designer, UX Researcher
Tools: Figma, Card Sorting, Interviews & Storytelling
This is a UX research and design project with AccesSOS, a nonprofit organization that connects those who cannot call for help themselves (deaf, hard of hearing, speech disability, language barrier, etc.) with emergency services in areas that may not have options to text 911 available.
What did I do?
I led our team to develop a new feature within the current mobile application for deaf people to contact the mental emergency crisis helpline 988, which will be launched on the U.S. mainland in 2023.
We interviewed 7 emergency call dispatchers, recruited over 15 deaf users to A/B test the user flow, and iteratively design the logic tree to help the engineering team direct the requests in the backend. This feature will expand the target customer base by 450%.
I also worked with the CEO to propose future iterations and with the legal team to patent our designs.
Accessible emergency calls are largely overlooked and not enough resources were put into resolving it.
Currently, only 24% of 911 call centers in the U.S. provide text-to-911 services, making it extremely hard for certain groups of people to get help in emergency situations, such as deaf, hard of hearing, speech disability, language barrier, etc. So my client AccesSOS made a free mobile web app that connects those people with emergency services when they need it. AccesSOS, is a startup tech nonprofit on a big mission to make emergency help accessible. The app is available via contact911.org and is launched in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The scope of my project within the company: the implementation of mental emergency crisis helpline 988.
Help direct users with accessibility needs to the appropriate helpline (911/988/both) through the AccessSOS web app and native app.
What will be better once the project is finished
Both the native app and web app could direct the users to the help they need. In the least steps possible, give the users the help they need, being dispatching police, offering mental health resources, or other relevant needs.
What’s the situation we want to improve
Better understand how the 988 line responds to inquiries and how to best incorporate mental health services into the current app, which defaults to calling emergency services for all situations. Turn users' input information into detailed & efficient calling-for-help reports and send them to the dispatchers
Context & Constraints
Constraints involved user research and user testing, as we had limited access to the main target user demographic of deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals yet we still did complete 1 interview with a hard-of-hearing individual. We instead chose to validate our logic tree and designs through interviews with hotline responders and supervisors as well as built on previous card sorting results. We also were constrained in testing methods as we had to consider how to carefully word hypothetical test situations in order to not unintentionally trigger or offend users given the AccesSOS categories involve sensitive topics (i.e. domestic violence, hate crimes).
Interviews with 988 dispatchers, Card Sorting, Logic Tree renovation, and comparative research.
We need to recruit 911/988 dispatchers, and our target audience (deaf people) to get more insights on the use case on both ends. So we mainly recruited our participants through the channels below (approximately 2 weeks).
Attend deaf people gatherings, 988 Crisis Jam, and send our interests survey (see right)
Snowball from one contact within our company who is a deaf text dispatcher for 911
2. Research Questions & Interview Guides
After recruiting a couple of participants, we drafted our interview guides for a) dispatchers; b) deaf users (see down).
Our main research questions are:
Figure out how 988 responders take emergency/non-emergency calls;
Identify the pain points 988 responders face when helping others;
Get more contacts that we can reach out to for more user testing/ interviews.
3. Carrying out the interviews
Given the demographics of our participants, we carried out our interviews through different modes of communication methods, such as talking to the interpreter, texting, zoom calls, or phone calls.
4. Card Sorting
We invited the dispatchers to participate in our card sorting activity, which will help us direct the requests better within our application (see right).
1. Affinity Diagram
We conducted 7 interviews with dispatchers and 911 supervisors in total. In order to synthesize our findings to find the common pain points and tell user stories, we used affinity diagrams and whiteboarding to discover patterns from our interviews (see down).
2. Logic Tree Renovation
The original logic tree (in "Defining" section) overlooks certain factors such as the duality of calling 911 and the difference between Mental health crisis vs Mental Emergency. Typically, 988 responders have the right to make 911 calls legally, normally they would tell them, but if it backfires and escalates the situation, they will not inform them.
After integrating our card-sorting results, we iteratively renovated the original logic tree, introducing more situation elements and simplifying the workflow for our engineering team (see down and right).
Prototyping & Testing
Rapid prototyping, hi-fi prototypes, iterative design and testing.
Sketches & Low-fi Prototype
Iterative Design & Hi-Fi Prototype
After communicating with another designer on my team, we started iteratively designing the hi-fi prototype of our product. I inherited the aesthetical choices from the current application: brand color, fonts and sizes, and icon choices. In order to better represent our user flow, I introduced another color purple (see right) to our prototype and got positive feedback from the CEO. Hence we decided to keep the color in our prototype.
We presented our designs to the CEO and the stakeholders on a bi-weekly basis and got feedback from there to iteratively improve our designs.
“The red call button is confusing, seems like it’s going to call only 911 and not both”
~ Berkeley student
We tested our prototypes during every stage of development. We recruited both our target audience (deaf users) and fringe case users to perform user testing. A few methods were deployed, such as situational testing, observing users interacting with our prototype independently, and inviting them to think out loud during the process.
Important feedback from user testing sessions includes (see left):
The text on the buttons is confusing
Explanations for what 911 and 988 are, are needed (onboarding information)
The vertical design of the flow does not capture all the possible stages of the process
The two colors to separate 911 and 988 make sense
The consent mechanism works effectively
Based on these results, I made design choices such as changing the vertical progress bar to a horizontal progress bar, and including onboarding information on the consent page (see down).
Presenting & Reflecting
We presented our final iteration and the developing process to our CEO and stakeholders during the company meeting. This iteration will be integrated into the final product that will be launched in the US mainland in 2023. I also synthesized our research findings and development process into a master document so future designers and engineers could refer to it. Our project is expected to expand the user base by 450%.
I grew a lot as a UX researcher and product designer from this project. I learned to deal with sensitive user needs with utmost attention to detail and conduct situational user testing without putting users in the use scenarios (in our case, we cannot actually perform user tests on people who need to call 911 for help). My skills in the following areas were greatly improved from this project:
Work Division within teams
Stakeholder Engagement and Presentation
I reached out to a lot of non-profit organizations and 911/988 respondents, and realized that problems like this lie everywhere in our society, but not a lot of capital and resources were deployed into solving them. Hence I inspire to develop products with every user group in mind in my future works and always think of and pitch solutions to these problems to relevant parties.