A Call for Action: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Naz Karnasevych
May 8, 2018 · 5 min read

Team Omnimodum: Naz Karnasevych, Stephanie Cen, Nick Zimmerman, Carissa Phong, Eric Modzelewski, Jason Jiang.

Our UX group, Team Omnimodum, was recently challenged by Microsoft with designing a solution for exclusion in a deskless workspace. We decided to create an app that can be used as a workplace support tool by employees and employers that are either on or off the spectrum. Throughout the process, we realized how much of a need there is for support and our intent is to provide a solution to some of the issues, and to create further development in designing for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

ASD is a very broad disability that encompasses many different traits; a person with ASD is not the same as another person on the spectrum. Rebecca Burgess breaks down the spectrum so that it is easier to understand and represents ASD in a more accurate way. The spectrum is broken down into five different traits: language, motor skills, sensory filter, perception, and executive function. A person with ASD has varying degrees of functionality within the five traits. For instance, someone that is good at conversing may not be so good at being in loud and crowded spaces. ASD is not a linear spectrum and should not be treated as such; it is not as simple as judging how “autistic” someone is, it is instead very complex as to understand what strengths and weaknesses a person with ASD has.

Due to the misinterpretation of ASD as something linear, people with ASD have a lot of trouble getting and staying employed. There are many barriers that pose issues to a person with ASD: finding a job that fits his or her strengths, going through the interview process, filling out job applications, and even social interactions in the workplace. With this in mind, we wanted to focus on three key issues: organization, connectivity, and employment.

Solution Brainstorm

Team Omnimodum early brainstorming.

For organization, we wanted to include features that will help the user be more organized in remembering important events and due dates. By implementing a calendar and to-do list, we wanted to empower users to keep track of and set reminders of crucial events taking place a day, week, or months ahead. We also planned to incorporate the use of icons to represent events, and the ability to sync an existing calendar.

For connectivity, we decided to incorporate a feature that connects users with fellow employees directly and confidentially so that users are comfortable with reaching out regarding important issues. We wanted to make sure that this function is easily accessible and seen, therefore messages from employees and alerts are displayed on the top of the screen.

Mind map of proposed solution.

The space below the messages and alerts can be customized using a variety of modules that we provide. The modules would offer a variety of functions such as job listings and articles of interest. We wanted all of these elements to be on the homepage in order to keep the user up to date at a glance.

For employment, we wanted users to be able to keep track of their job applications through a progress tracker, with the intent to let them know what they were missing. This tracker would allow the user to instantly know their progress by swiping to the specific application they want to see. In order to know about opportunities related to the user, we decided to implement customizable modules regarding industry updates, articles, and job listings. There would also be a function that allows the user to connect to LinkedIn, but still navigate it through the app. Additionally, we wanted the user to be able to store and edit application assets in the app, and so we planned to allow the user to upload and/or create a résumé, portfolio and cover letter. The AI assistant can also guide the user when creating a résumé or cover letter.

Usability Testing

Our lo-fi prototype was made to test out the initial features of the calendar, direct messaging, and job portal.

Screens from lo-fi prototype.

After finishing up the lo-fi version, we decided to test the prototype with students from Tech Kids Unlimited, an educational organization that uses technology to help kids with disabilities. From this, we received valuable feedback and positive reinforcement that this is something that people with ASD need.

Key Insights:

  • Make tutorial skippable.
  • Change sizing of icons and buttons.
  • Remove language like “Machine Learning”
  • Add more customization with colors and avatars.
  • Add more LinkedIn integration.

After implementing the feedback, we created a more finalized prototype that fully incorporated all of the functions we wanted.

Screens from hi-fi prototype.

From testing this prototype, we received the following feedback:

  • More customization.
  • Differentiate between messages and alerts.
  • Check up on user more.
  • Make AI Assistant less prevalent.
  • Add more social media integration.

Due to time constraints we implemented some of these features. For example, we split the alerts and messages into two separate areas, and added a heart rate checker inside the “Panic Mode” feature. We also allocated less real estate on the screen to the AI Assistant, and it only acts if the user asks it for assistance. The other feedback can be revisited in the future when we iterate more on the prototype.

Our final solution looks like this:

Demo of the final “Omni” prototype.

Results/Final Insights

Although there were many challenges along the way, we ultimately learned that this app is something that is needed in the ASD community. Besides helping people with job related tasks, it can also be used by people without ASD as a way of understanding and connecting more with people on the spectrum. This is one of the insights we gained from making this app: designing with a disability in mind is not a limit; this mode of thinking leads to a better product for everyone and not just users with the disability. We noticed that this is true throughout the iteration of the solution. We first experienced this when we were getting feedback from Dana, and she was telling us how an app like this would be useful for her when asking for a raise or applying to new jobs. We then saw this principle in our third round of user testing, when we decided to test the app with a mix of people with and without ASD. We received multiple comments on how we need to make this an actual app because it is useful for anyone who is either already employed or seeking a new job. Although our app is a step in the direction of helping people with ASD, we understand that it does not fix the issues they face in the workplace. We believe that there is a greater need for support in the workforce for people with ASD and hope that our project helps instigate a new approach to helping provide the needed support.

Naz Karnasevych

Written by

UX and Web Designer. Check out my work at nazkarnasevych.com

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