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Getting Smartphones to TalkBack: Understanding the Smartphone Adoption Process of Blind Users

André Rodrigues, Kyle Montague, Hugo Nicolau and Tiago Guerreiro

The 17th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS 2015)
Lisbon, Portugal, October 26-28, 2015


The advent of system-wide accessibility services on mainstream touch-based smartphones has been a major point of inclusion for blind and visually impaired people. Ever since then there has been a body of research work to improve the accessibility of specific tasks, e.g. text-entry and gestures, but little to no effort to understand, question and improve the overall accessibility of such services in the real world. The word is that smartphones are now accessible to blind and visually impaired people. One can easily find a blind person mastering a smartphone; on the other hand, the authors are also aware of more than one blind person owning several instances of the same feature phone model, in case one breaks, such is the fear of a keyless future. What is lacking is knowledge on the barriers that the proficient user had to overcome, and the effort applied in doing so. In this paper, we present an 8-week long study with five novice blind participants where we seek to understand their concerns, expectations, challenges and experiences with a smartphone, from the day they started using it. This study featured pre-adoption and weekly interviews, weekly controlled task assessments, and in-the wild system-wide usage data collection. Results show that mastering these devices is an arduous and long task, proving the users’ initial concerns to be right, and calling out for better adoption support tools. Also, by exposing the devices to novice users enabled us to identify accessibility issues that could not be encountered otherwise, and that go beyond the research performed, mainly focused on gestures and text-entry.

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