Tuesday, November 10, 2015

First Exposures to Assistive Software Technologies

Note: This is the first blog post I contributed for the class blog compiled for my Assistive Technologies class at MIT, in Fall 2014. Read here for more posts.

Being a Course 6-2 (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science) senior, I'm constantly thinking about how technology, and especially software products, can be improved. This summer, I took an Accessibilities workshop to see how my company's products were being designed to be more accessible for people with disabilities. One of the first activities in the workshop was to open one of the company's software products on our smartphones with either VoiceOver or TalkBack enabled, close our eyes, and try to go through a basic user activity on the application. We were each paired with one other person. The second person would remain sighted and  hint to us what we were seeing if we were super lost. 
...there were many struggles. 
I chose to to open a Travel application and try to book a flight from my current city to London.

Here are some observations I made:
  1. The woman's voice in VoiceOver gets annoying really quickly. 
  2. On the travel app itself, there was no way to tell what the overall UI layout was. I wanted to scan through the interface with my finger and know what options there were.
    (ex. I wanted to pick my destination. So I clicked a few spots on my screen randomly to see if I achieved anything. Tap tap tap. "Well? Did I pick a city?" "Um.. no you just returned to the home page and then went back to the travel page and then picked a month." Oh jeez... this is gonna be painful.)
  3. It'd be really simple to add VoiceOver extensions unto the app so that a visually impaired user could hear verbal feedback of what they were doing, just like in the normal VoiceOver feature.
  4. Even better: What if the flight app could have a separate card-style user flow?
    Every step of the flight-booking process could be a separate "card," and you swipe through each step. That way, each step can be easily outlined through voice to a visually-impaired person. It would break down the page into a quick swipe+click selection flow so that there's not too many things to describe on each page to a user.
It's hard to make software applications accessible in big companies (or at least this particular one), because most teams just aren't thinking about accessibility in their first iterations of a product, and once they go in one direction, adding "accessibility features" just seems like an extra step. Also, in order to achieve a significant amount of accessibility among users, more personalization of features is usually needed. I think this is a shame; if they can think about accessibility earlier on in their product life cycle, they could easily create a different form of the product that doesn't lose features, but whose design can make it much easier for all users to use, even those who do not have disabilities.

These flaws in accessibility among software applications don't go unnoticed by users. For example, there seems to be a consensus (well, among the three visually-impaired people I've met and spoken to - I'll try to increase this sample size...) that VoiceOver is way better than TalkBack.

That's not to say that all software applications aren't great for people with disabilities. While I was at the Boston Abilities Expo, I met a very tech-savvy woman who was blind who shared with me all her favorite iPhone apps. TapTapSee is an app that allows a blind user to have a photo she took of something in front of her described to her in 5-10 seconds. She also speeds up VoiceOver to navigate her phone faster. Another app she recommends is BlindSquare, which describes the environment including POIs. She likes knowing the information that's around her and not missing out on things.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 11.10.16 PMAlbeit slowly, I think the mobile app space is doing some great things for people with disabilities. (I know I mainly covered features addressing visual impairments though.) These are vast improvements to just a decade ago, when a blind person had to pay hundreds of dollars in premiums and carry clunky devices along that served a few purposes. Now, everything can be on their iPhone, just like everybody else :) (Well, that's the goal at least!)

Exciting Things (Maybe?)

---------------------------This one is from 12/22/13, while I was in Cambridge----------------------------

Just got a project match to intern in Google Zurich for the summer!

I got the match when I least expected it. I was getting kind of nervous about my summer plans. I wanted to have a PM-type internship but things just weren´t going my way. I got rejected from one position, never got a response to an interview invitation from another, passed the interviews for another company but they told me they ran out of spots (wat.), and so things were getting a bit discouraging.

I didn't think I really wanted to take on another SWE position for the summer after doing one last year. But I warmed up to the possibility as I thought about it more. I wanted to have more experience in coding and software development before working towards being a PM. There´s a lot of PM skills that can be worked on in a SWE position as well.

The project is right up my alley. It´s in data visualisation and front end at YouTube Analytics.

Retrospective Note:
That summer was EPIC. No regrets.
I got to a lot of PM-y things by designing my own graph types and getting buy-in from various stakeholders on the team, like the UX designer, PM, and engineers, who each prefer to communicate in a different way.

And Switzerland, swoon.

My Mom

I feel like it's cathartic to put out the unpublished drafts that have been sitting in my dashboard for the last 2 years.

--------------------------So here's another one from 11/13/2013-----------------------
-------------------------(btw I still believe everything this says.)----------------------

My mom has a sixth sense, a person a sense. A story sense.

She makes things right. She makes things work.

She never leaves words unsaid.


A little over 2 years since my last published post, I've decided to revive this blog.

I think it's healthy for people to write down our thoughts. It's healthy to ramble.

-----------------So here's a drafted post from 9/11/13. What a time warp.------------------

I believe in...

the setup.
   because my environment greatly influences my mood and my next moments. clear the table of all the little things and play some good music before I start action.

having a plan.
   it's good to be preparing for something and having a plan, knowing full well that the plan will be ditched for something better.

music and warm food.
   Two things that I have seen bring people together effectively and bring comfort at a time of distress.
   I say "warm food" because heat can add so much to food. And who comes together over cold salad? Not me, that's best enjoyed on your own.

keeping record.
   your life is part of a history of humans. and your life is filled with memories and time where memories will soon be created. keep them close, to learn from them, to laugh at them.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Now Is (Almost) The Start

Last 3 days in the U.S. 

Which begs the question, what have I been up to this past month?
Since Cambridge doesn't start classes until October 8, I've been free of most responsibilities since the end of my summer internship. So naturally, that means a lot of TV watching and eating (and an occasional run to make sure I still knew how to run). 

Nah, I still did stuff. 
I took two trips to MIT. The first was to be a PRC in August [photo #4* - yay red cats] and help out with recruitment as an excuse to see people. I got to go to an Emeli Sande concert at the House of Blues, which was amazing. Emeli Sande's voice is so strong yet sweet and hits some crazy octaves. I also saw Wicked near the Commons at the Boston Opera House! (Watching Wicked has been a long-time goal of mine so I was smiling widely (or tearing up, naturally because of the storyline) the whole time. The next trip to Boston was over the weekend of the Career Fair, where I tried to get a job (still in progress...) and said goodbye to everyone on campus.
I also visited the Grounds for Sculptures in New Jersey with the family [photo #1]. Most of the sculptures were made by artists to create a human-scale version of some of the greatest art masterpieces (especially the Impressionist pieces like Monet's bridge and Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party").

Ok ok there were a lot of smaller trips here and there, but if I were to sum up the month more honestly, there was a lot of TV-watching and eating. (Scandal is an addicting show.) I found a few episodes ION channel marathons of Criminal Minds that occupied my time as well.
My mom also whipped up some incredible recipes while I was home. She never fails to impress me and my palette. This time I had mentioned a green tea tiramisu I had eaten in California, and so one day she casually made one on her own [photo #6], which I have to admit was way better than the original one I had eaten.
*photos are numbered 1~6 counter-clockwise starting from the upper left

Wednesday, September 4, 2013



Don't think I don't have anything to say.
I have a shit ton to say about the summer,
                                    about California, and Google...
                                    about the couple of weeks I've been at MIT before going home,
                                    about being a PRC,
                                    about realizations,
                                    about my next goals.

Mind blown. That's how I feel so far. And infinitely elated.

Breakdown of Google:
1. My team is awesome. I lucked out.
2. Google. Holy crap.
- all the perks
3. Everything works out.
- hockey
4. Random cool happenings
- high school, MIT, alum
5. I'm bad at keeping in touch with people
6. All the adventures
7. Misconceptions
8. Things I worried about that worked out fine
- marathon, people, coding, hosts, performance so far
I like company coding (!)
9. The Future
10. What I've learned so far

Breakdown of California:
1. The Weather.
2. The Food.
3. The People.
4. The Places.
5. The Mood/Music.

Breakdown of Leaving MIT soon:
1. How I'm homeless
2. How fun it is to be a PRC and the lessons I've learned
3. How worried I am of the things I'll miss
4. How weird it feels coming back

I'll touch on these things in the next few days while I have time to process and record them :)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

That's a Wrap, Folks.

Sophomore spring flew by so fast. March and April, in particular, felt like three weeks. I wish it would slow down, because I know the summer will fly by and England will happen so quickly and then before you know it, I'll be a senior. In my mind, the future is a vortex and I'll on the edge of a slippery slope that leads me into it. Once you're in the future, there's no turning back.
What's normal today can be extraordinary tomorrow, so I hope I remember everything from today.

Here's a playlist I put together (in lieu of studying, of course - the only way of life) to accompany me as I pull the traditional all-nighter to pack after my finals:

Top 10 Moments of Sophomore Year:
10. My autobiography class second semester -- learned some great life lessons and it had a lot of insight
9. Studying my ass off for the 6.003 final and feeling great after walking out of the exam
8. That crazy snow day.
7. Presenting a poster at MIT Energy Night
6. Finding out I was accepted to the CME Program for next year!
and finding out some of my friends would also be participating.
5. Getting my little :)
she's cray in a good way.
4. Can't believe I'm saying this, but 6.005*
3b. My technical interview with Google - both my interviewers were so encouraging and interesting. I left the interview thinking that even if I didn't get the internship, Google is a really neat place to work and I did all I could to prepare for that interview.
3a. ...getting my internship with Google!
2. Impromptu singing sessions in my room with my roommate
-- we sang all the good ones: fun, P!nk, Coldplay, Lana del Rey...
1. Knowing that everything's going to be great. Really.

*I'll speak more on that in another post :)