Improving sidewalk accessibility for people with physical impairments using Design Thinking

50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050, this is expected to increase to 80%. Therefore, it is crucial that people, regardless of their disability (permanent or temporary), are able to get from one place to another autonomously and without challenges.

A woman walks along a sidewalk overrun by cars in the Puerta del Ángel neighbourhood, Madrid © Olmo Calvo

When planned properly, cities have the potential to create opportunities for a better life. Sidewalks provide a safe space for pedestrians, but accessibility for all users remains a challenge.

‘Physical barriers are not the most important ones— it’s the social barriers: the lack of understanding and awareness that exists with regard to people with disabilities.’ Madrid Sin Barreras Association

The challenge

Improve user experience in urban public areas. Contribute to the promotion of pedestrian-friendly spaces and services.

My role: UX designer in a team of five

Duration: two weeks (April 2022)

Methodology: We used Design Thinking for the development of this project, so our approach consisted of empathising, defining and ideating using different UX tools such as: desk research, research questions, safari, benchmarking, surveys, interviews, user personas, journey maps, empathy maps, brainstorming, in&out, affinity map, Business Model Canvas, Value Proposition Model, MoSCow, a sitemap, a user flow, low- and high-fidelity prototypes, a moodboard, brand attributes and a style tile.

The Research (Empathize & define)

To meet the needs of pedestrian users, we decided to create a survey and carry out several interviews in order to gain a clear understanding of what types of impediments they were facing on a daily basis. We were especially interested in knowing more about the experiences of: older people, visually impaired people, wheelchair users, and parents with strollers.

One of the questions from the survey: What are the most common factors contributing to inaccessible sidewalks?

Responses to the survey indicated a number of temporary problems, such as: poorly maintained sidewalks, inappropriately parked cars and bikeshares, and garbage cans blocking access; as well as other more permanent, infrastructural issues, such as: electricity poles, trees and narrow sidewalks.

However, we were able to gather a greater amount of qualitative information from personal interviews, for example some people don’t even leave their homes because they are fearful of navigating the city on their own. For visually impaired people, cities are a hostile environment fraught with dangers such as stepping in dog poo, colliding with rear-view mirrors or being unable to hear noise signals at pedestrian crossings due to noise pollution.

Building on the discoveries and insights gained from our research, we decided to create two user personas and follow each one of them on a user journey from their home to a pharmacy.

Problem statement & Hypothesis

People with disabilities face numerous challenges when navigating urban areas. Many users develop a fear of leaving their homes because they don’t know how they will handle unexpected events. People who develop these fears tend to limit their outdoor activities.

Users lack the appropriate tools to be self-sufficient and feel safe when going on errands through the city. What’s more, people with disabilities require more opportunities to spend time outdoors in order to improve their quality of life.

The ideation process

In order to turn this research into something actionable, we started brainstorming ideas and then later dot-voted on them. After brainstorming, we discussed which ideas could potentially satisfy the insights and provide greater benefits for the user. We needed to find an idea that would both reduce feelings of unsafety and give greater independence to people with reduced mobility. We prioritized several ideas using an in&out diagram, and carried out research to see if our ideas already existed in the marketplace.

Indeed, most of our ideas already existed, but one did not: a social/services app that provides opportunities for people with physical impediments and temporary companions or helpers to engage and help each other. Similar initiatives appeared during lockdown, but they were only temporary networks which lacked a business model and soon disappeared.

The idea

Helping Hands is an application for people with physical impediments (temporary or permanent) who require assistance to get around the city in order to run errands or even just for leisure purposes. The app allows users to book a companion from a list of verified, peer-reviewed candidates who are near the user’s location and are available during a given timeframe. Users pay a fee for availing of the service. The app gives people who are not professional caregivers the opportunity to earn an additional income.

The business model

To better develop the service and get a better understanding of its target audience, how to market it and how its revenue streams function, we developed a business model. We concluded that our product would obtain revenue through an annual/monthly subscription and a commission on top of each individual service purchased. We also used the Value Proposition Model to identify the main features of our product and what makes it stand out from the competition: an app with high social value, which is simple to use, safe and reliable. To ensure user safety, companions must verify their identity by uploading their passport or national ID card to the platform. Companions are also peer-reviewed and rated.


We started putting some wireframes together. While doing this, we decided where we wanted all the features to go and how they would work. We decided to focus on the main interaction of the app: finding the right candidate by selecting a time and a location.

Creating the wireframes was the last piece of work we did as a group as this task was focused on learning about methodology and following processes. The branding and final prototypes are part of my own design explorations.


The next step was creating the look and feel of Helping hands, including a logo, fonts and colours.

I chose a dark blue and a strong yellow with low brightness as primary colours, and I decided to stay within the complementary colour realm of blues — evocative of depth and stability — for the other components.

In terms of typography, I used SF Pro Display for titles and Inter Typeface for smaller texts, both being fonts families with excellent readability.

The creation of components and a style tile for the app was the next step, including final colours, font sizes, icons and button types.


The onboarding is the first introduction a user has to an app. Therefore, I decided to go for a family of illustrations by xopolin that represented the values and main features of the product.

If the user skips the second or third screens, they are led to the last screen, where it is possible to either sign up as a new user or log in as an existing user. When signing up as a new user, there are two user options to choose from: users looking for assistance or users offering help.

I then built the high-fidelity version of the first set of wireframes, applying the style tile to the final design.

Personal conclusion

It was a very intense couple of weeks during which I learned how to apply new methodologies to my design process and I had the opportunity to work with others in teams. I believe that we developed each phase coherently and took the time to understand the deliverables in order to move forward.
Overall, I was pleased with the final idea, as it covered all the insights well. I also enjoyed making aesthetic decisions on my own for the final prototype.



UX/UI designer and cultural programmer 🚀

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