Designing UX For People With Disabilities — Case Study

In a recent project, we had the opportunity to work on a product that really makes a difference. Route4U is an app for people with disabilities which aims to make transportation easy for everyone. It posed plenty of challenges. We also had a very tight deadline to have a positive impact on the product. This case study walks you through the process of how we managed to successfully close the project.

How the product started Route4U

A wheelchair really complicates a social life. Consider stairs for the underground, curbs, entrances to shops with a “small” incline…and so on. Many cities have not built their infrastructure for strollers or wheelchair users.

Enter the Route4U — this app for people with disabilities aims to make a city wheelchair-friendlier with user data, specifically data users supply or directly upload to the platform. They can track obstacles, and evaluate places so that users of wheelchairs, strollers, or other equipment will know if they can access them or not.

“With a handbike, a simple curb can block me from my target, and I have to make big circles around the target to find a point which I can get through.” — handbike user.

App For People With Disabilities_Founders

“With the power of community and technology, we can make the lives of wheelchair users easier,” reads the vision of the Route4U founders – 4 social entrepreneurs working together for a fantastic goal.

Using this app, people with different issues can plan a journey and find places suitable for their needs. Because even today, wheelchair users still face many difficulties getting from A to B due to several obstacles.

The three main features of the Route4U app can:

  • Measure road information (curbs, slopes, inclines, surface quality) using information acquired from users actively moving around with the app on;
  • Show different obstacles (surface defects, road construction); and
  • Show the accessibility of places (Can an electric wheelchair user access the entrance?)

The app personalizes this information to the user’s needs, supported by the user-supplied data.

Route4U wanted to elaborate on their disability application and increase user engagement. During the project, we faced many challenges, which we will now show you how we solved.

Challenge 1: How might we discover which things need research?

We had a very short time to work on the app. The Route4U team came to us with many ideas, questions, problems, and assumptions. We had to prioritize tasks to work on in the limited time available.

Solution: Using the Assumption Canvas

We used the Assumption Canvas to explore and evaluate our assumptions. During our kick-off workshop, we drew out all the assumptions we (our and the Route4U teams) had. This easy and extremely useful method shows priorities and research requirements at the beginning of a project.


How does an assumption board/canvas work?

  1. Assumption: Each person tells their own assumption, fear or hope about the project. We always go one by one. One person tells one assumption and we evaluate it.  👉Pro tip: Questions like “How might we fail?” “After we finish our project, what can cause failure?” can help the participants form assumptions.
  2. High risk — Low risk: Together, we discuss this assumption’s importance from the project point of view. Is this really important?
  3. Known — Unknown: Do we have any evidence of our assumption’s validity? Do we have any research data, analytics, previous experience with it, or just a hunch?
  4. Evaluate:
    • Design issues: Assumptions ending up in the top left corner become important when we start the sketching or prototyping.
    • Research issues: We pay special attention to these during research (field studies and interviews).

Challenge 2: Distant, unknown stakeholders & target audience

Our UX company did interviews with the target audience in Hungary, but the project had a larger scope. Route4U started a collaboration with the City of Dublin. This placed one part of the target audience (future users), important influencers and stakeholders, there.

We could have done a few interviews with them remotely, but we knew a better solution for the scope of the application.

Solution: Travel to do stakeholder interviews and field studies


We travelled to Dublin and did stakeholder interviews and field studies. During the field study, we observed the difficulties people who have to travel with different types of wheelchairs or strollers in Dublin face.

App For People With Disabilities_Dublin Street
Usage of different types of equipment users in Dublin
App For People With Disabilities_Dublin Bus
Buses in Dublin have only one dedicated place, which users of strollers and wheelchairs have to share.

What we found out: This app, for people with disabilities, meets a real need, but engaging people without them will prove difficult. On the other hand, it will provide more value if they contribute as well, entering their observations on accessibility and road quality.

(We also found that users in Dublin face the same challenges as those in Hungary.)

App For People With Disabilities_city road
Street in Dublin

Want to read more about field research? I recommend you take a look at Tamás’ article.

Challenge 3: How can we motivate app usage and fill it with valid data?

People involved with the issue (who travel with a disability) will probably use the app because it provides them great value. But they represent a small audience. Filling a map with data needs many more.

The big questions:

  • What about possible future users who don’t have any disability?
  • How can we motivate people who won’t gain direct value (who don’t need a map to get from point A to point B) to use the application?

Solution: Find out motivations through interviews and build in gamification best practices.

Focusing on the possible motivations of future users, we collected gamification best practices from competitors. Then we grouped the feature ideas so we knew what made which features the most important.

Features solve problems or fill needs. To make the decision which features to implement easier, we labeled them so the whole team knew why we had built each one.

App For People With Disabilities_Feature Table
This table indicates how we showed which feature belongs to which motivation

Of course, the number of features has an inherent problem: loss of focus. So we had many features, and little time again.

Want to read more about gamification? Check out Dan’s article on gamification in UX.

Challenge 4: Little time with lots to do. How do we help the client prioritize?

After the discovery period, and once we had done the field studies, interviews and competitor research, we had to decide which features to work on. We only had a little time left in the project, so we had to choose features of the highest priority and technical feasibility.

Solution: Priority canvas, strategy meeting.

In our strategy meeting, we went through the interviews together with the Route4U team. We focused on user needs and motivations, and the feature ideas as each related to one motivation.

After we defined the value proposition for different target audiences, we started to examine and evaluate each feature from three points of view:

  • Business goals
  • User needs
  • Technical viability

We used this impact—effort matrix to prioritize the features:

App For People With Disabilities_Impact Effort Matrix With Postits

With this canvas, we managed to feature prioritization with the focus of user motivations. At the end of our strategy meeting, we had identified what we would focus on before our tight deadline.

App For People With Disabilities_Cover

Want to read more about workshops? Timi wrote a great article about her favorite 3 UX workshops.

After we had defined the task, we started building a prototype and testing it with wheelchair users and possible data collectors (those not involved with any disability issue).

App For People With Disabilities_Accessible Street
Our researcher conducting a user test on the prototype

In total, we had:

  • Three stakeholder interviews
  • Twelve user interviews
  • Six user tests
  • Two iterations

Features of the app for people with disabilities:

Among the features we suggested the Route4U team build in:

  1. Introduce the issue — Sensitization of users without any disability
  2. Onboarding — Knowing how to track an obstacle
  3. Gain points — Personalized profile page with points

Route4U is a true social enterprise that helps in making the world a better place through the power of community and technology. The app will help people with disabilities lead safe and independent lives. We can’t wait for the Route4U app to spread around the world.

App For People With Disabilities_Happy Person In Wheelchair

Main takeaways:

  • Think explicitly. Revisit how much evidence your assumptions have.
  • Think it through! Even if you have an assumption, it won’t necessarily have a serious effect on your product.
  • Fear nothing. Talk about how your product might fail. Talking about it at the right time (at the kick-off 😉 ) could end up saving the product.
  • Act consciously. Don’t include features just because “users want it”. Look at their needs and motivations, and build features that will satisfy them.

We hope you found this article useful, and that it will inspire you in some way. I wrote another article in the subject of UX for social good – check that out, too! If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below.

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Alexandra Kovács

Discover users, see the real problem, uncover motivations & needs, cut out bullshit, share the truth, find a solution, create a vision.
If you want me on your side, just give me a great coffee. ;)

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