Update the Yelp app so it better serves the disabled community, enabling everyone to have the information they need before going out to a restaurant.
Information needs to be clear and detailed, and verified by members of the disabled community themselves.
A suite of accessibility features added to the existing Yelp app that provides detailed information and verification systems to ensure accuracy. Prototype available here.
Despite a vast number of users, Yelp is falling short of serving the disabled community with their app and website. According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. have some type of disability, including mobility, cognition, hearing and seeing. Currently, Yelp provides only one indicator of accessibility for a restaurant or other establishment: whether the restaurant is wheelchair accessible. Not only do those with mobility issues not trust this indicator to be accurate, this falls extremely short in providing the kind of information that would be helpful to people with other disabilities trying to navigate going to the businesses listed on Yelp.
Multiple separate apps have popped up to fill this gap. These apps provide crowdsourced data and maps that people can use to search accessible places nearby or see if the places they want to go will be accessible. Because Yelp is so widely used already, it is important for Yelp to provide this information themselves. It is already set up to collect a lot of data and reviews from users. People with disabilities shouldn’t have to go to a separate app to get the information they need.
For this project, I wanted to learn more about accessibility needs as well as disability justice as a whole, in order to add better accessibility features to the Yelp iOS app. I started with the following high-level design goals for this project:
I had to bring myself up to speed on the landscape of accessibility apps, previous advocacy work on accessibility, especially as it related to restaurants, and the field of disability justice as a whole, to better understand what was needed for the added Yelp features.
I decided to focus on restaurants as a starting point because the restaurant category has the largest number of reviews on Yelp, and to keep the scope of the project manageable.
I conducted a landscape analysis of other apps that provide accessibility information and reviews to help people with disabilities navigate public spaces and businesses. I researched four apps or websites dedicated specifically to accessibility, and Airbnb, which has added robust accessibility features to help users find accessible homes. The screenshots in order below are: AXS Map, AccessNow, iAccess, Ability App and Airbnb.
I conducted a robust secondary research study to find blogs and interviews from people with disabilities sharing their experience in restaurants, the history and current status of the ADA, and the field of disability justice.
In reading, watching and listening to people with disabilities share their stories, it became clear that the field of design does not have a good track record when it comes to including and hiring disabled people as partners in design. In conducting this project, I wanted to be mindful of that history as I sought out user interviews, especially because this is a concept project and I wasn’t going to take my end result to Yelp to be able to make any of these changes into reality (perhaps someday!). Because of this history, I limited my user interviews and included information from already-conducted interviews I accessed online.
I interviewed a well-respected accessibility consultant who is disabled as well as one other person with a disability to get their perspective and insights on this project and navigating accessibility in restaurants.
Combining information from my interviews and the online interviews, I created an affinity map to organize my research into themes.
There are many facets to accessibility and as you can see from the affinity map, certainly can’t be summed up by a yes/no question about whether a place is “wheelchair accessible.” I turned these themes into insights and “how might we” questions to guide my design going forward. Here are a few of the main insights and opportunities:
Restaurant physical spaces are not designed with people with disabilities in mind. For people with mobility devices, problems occur with navigating small spaces being relegated to side or back sections of the space.
It is difficult to enter a space and not know what to expect with regards to the sensory experience. It requires extra work for a person with a disability to manage these situations.
How might we make sure disabled people know whether they will be able to navigate and feel comfortable in a space before arriving?
How might we help restaurants understand accessibility requirements to better serve disabled customers?
People with disabilities cannot trust that information provided about accessibility will be accurate. They assume that non-disabled people won’t be knowledgeable enough about access needs.
Single yes/no answers on accessibility do not provide the nuance nor the trustworthiness that people with disabilities feel they need to know before going to a restaurant.
The lack of accessibility detail provided leads to distrust of the accuracy of that information.
How might we provide detailed and accurate information about accessibility so that disabled people can trust the information presented.
How might we verify accessibility information on restaurants?
As I was creating how might we statements, I also developed design principles to keep in mind as I moved forward to create the prototype. These helped me stay on track and sum up the how might we statements to be used in the design.
I wanted these new features to be well-integrated into Yelp’s existing framework and design patterns. Because Yelp already has systems for listing features and amenities, as well as user reviews, it is well set up to add these new features. I also wanted to make sure to add a way for users to independently review the features.
Based on my research, I found that one of the problems people with disabilities have with accessibility information is that they cannot trust non-disabled people to accurately report on accessibility features due to a lack of understanding or negligence. This review piece would be integral to the success of the new feature.
I created a site map to map out where the features would be integrated and what new pages I needed.
Instead of traditional wireframes, I annotated screenshots of the existing Yelp app to sketch out exactly where the new features would fit into the existing UI.
After mocking up these screens, I went ahead and added the new features to screenshots of the Yelp app, matching fonts, colors and design patterns from the existing Yelp iOS app.
I integrated accessibility information into the restaurant highlights that show up on search results, the filtering options when searching, and the individual restaurant listing page. I added new screens to show all accessibility features for a given restaurant, whether the restaurant had those features or not. Just like Yelp lists all amenities, with a “No” in front of the list item to show if a restaurant has that amenity, I wanted to make sure that all the accessibility features were listed so a user could see whether or not the restaurant had it and whether it was confirmed by other users.
I also mocked up how this feature would work on the business side. I wanted businesses to be able to add features themselves and use the feature description to be sure whether they were meeting the standards. I would also make sure to include in the development a way for user verifications to override the business information. I learned in the interviews that disabled people do not feel they can trust the information that a business provides.
Because I don’t have a business on Yelp, I didn’t have access to most of the screens in the business flow. I was able to mock up the business information section.
In order to test the new features and flow, I conducted a two-pronged usability test, using both Maze and live remote usability tests over Zoom. I wanted to do both of these to build out a better picture of the prototype.
I created an affinity map to organize my results:
From the testing, it was clear that I needed to clarify a few aspects of the design. I added and renamed a few of the features on the accessibility list based on feedback from the accessibility consultant I had interviewed earlier in the project. This perspective was very valuable in making sure I had the right terminology and was inclusive in my list.
I also updated the icon that I used to indicate user verifications, as it was confusing and didn’t convey “user verification”.
A persistent theme throughout the testing was that users didn’t realize they would be able to verify the accessibility features, since Yelp doesn’t currently have that functionality. Because of this, I decided to create an in-app tutorial to guide users through the new features. Because this would, in theory, be an important and larger update for Yelp, it would make sense that they would properly introduce users to the new features.
The final mobile prototype for this project is available here.
Beyond my added accessibility features, Yelp is in need of some updates to the current design of the app to increase accessibility in general. I redesigned one of the pages to show what updates I would make.
This project was a great opportunity to learn about accessibility as a whole and the ins and outs of adding features to existing products.
However, because this was a concept project, I did things a little differently than I would have if this were a real project with Yelp as my client.
Overall, I am glad to have the experience with this project and will be able to carry forward my knowledge of accessibility into future design projects.