Building Products for the Blind by Sidewalk Labs’ Engineer

Speaking to your target users is critical when building and developing a product. By doing user research, you get tons of valuable information about your users and their habits. When building products for the blind you need to know how easy they would find your product to use.

Neha Rathi from the Sidewalk Labs talked about her two projects building products for the blind.



Engineer at Sidewalk Labs

Neha Rathi is the primary front-end developer for Flow, Sidewalk Labs‘ mobility subsidiary. Before joining Flow, Neha worked on Google Maps in San Francisco. At Google, she was responsible for the “popular times” feature as well as keyboard exploration, a screen-reader-compatible tool that makes Maps more accessible for visually impaired users.

Neha holds a B.S. in Computer Science and M.S. in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University. In her free time, she enjoys running, cooking, and traveling.


How to Build Products for the Blind?

In this recent event, Neha talked about a few projects she worked on for the visually impaired. The first was in collaboration with TechBridgeWorld, an organization that facilitated the implementation of accessible technologies for developing communities. The second was during her time at Google Maps.

She discussed four key takeaways from these projects, centered around why accessibility is important and how to best implement it. Also, rethinking a core feature is normal because thoughtful iteration can lead to dramatically better experiences.

Building Products for the Blind by Sidewalk Labs' Engineer


Bullet points:

  • 1 in 5 Americans has a disability. 28 million Americans have vision or motor control skills disabilities that prevent them from traditionally using the keyboard or mouse.
  • Accessibility is not a niche. There is a considerable population you serve to gain by making your product accessible.
  • Three reasons why to make your product accessible.
    • Compliance: Accessibility is a right.
    • Competitive advantage: The community talks – if your product is the first of its kind you’ll have a very active and loyal user base.
    • Compassion: Because it’s the right thing to do.
  • Accessibility can be a differentiator for some customers.
  • To make your product accessible, you need to do lots of user testing.
  • While user testing, empathize with your users and their norms.
  • “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” -Google.
  • Four technical principles at Google.
    • Add labels/roles.
    • Handle key presses.
    • Enforce tab order.
    • Maintain focus.
  • Don’t be afraid to get creative. There is no fast way to make a map, for example, accessible.
  • When you put your product out there, you’ll have lots of people willing to help you. 

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