Universal Access NY

This is a Masters Thesis research project to promote discussions about universal design and the importance of access for people in the disability community.

Role: UX/UI Designer & Researcher
New York University, Tandon School of Engineering
Spring 2020

Problem Statement

In 2017 there are 930,100 people with disabilities living in New York City and are representing 11% of the total population. Since the city was not built with accessibility in mind it is difficult for people who use wheelchairs to navigate the city to do simple tasks. How can we bring awareness to people about the microaggressions of urban living on individuals who use wheelchairs and how can we start discussions about universal design in this urban landscape?

Project Goals

The goal was to develop a social awareness campaign that brings public recognition on the difficulties of accessibility in urban areas for wheelchair users. The campaign is used to address these issues through storytelling with an interactive game.

Key Insights

Secondary Research


About 1 in 4 people with a disability will face at least one incident of discrimination every day.


New York is Still A Disaster for the Disabled an article by the New York Intelligencer and What’s it like to navigate NYC when you have a disability by the Brick Underground were insightful articles about the microaggressions that come with living in NYC with a disability. It’s also an overall critique about the lack of accessibility in spaces such as public transit, building, and workplace discrimination.


I wanted to know more about successful social awareness campaigns that are empathy-driven. Check Your Blind Spots Unconscious Bias Tour is designed to give people the opportunity to learn about and explore ways to mitigate unconscious bias in their everyday lives. Through a series of immersive and interactive elements, participants are exposed to the nuances of unconscious bias, and also have the chance to address personal biases and drive inclusive behaviors.


Another successful social awareness campaign by ESPN & Do Something, who collaborated on a anti-bullying campaign. They wanted to equip young people with the tools to combat bullying, but also maintain the fun and competitive spirit of the event. Using a 120-foot screen, they developed an interactive video game where visitors could Shred Hate by using their body to shred life-sized negative words and phrases similar to the popular Fruit Ninja video game.

Primary Research

People Interviewed

Wheelchair Users Interviewed

Stakeholders Interviewed

  • Wheelchair Users
  • Adaptive Designers
  • Family Nurses
  • Lawyers
  • NY Mayor's Office Employees
  • NYU Disability Organizations
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Instructional Aides
  • ER Pediatric Nurses
  • NY MTA Employees
“You’re very isolated when you have a disability, especially when things aren’t accessible.”
A male with black hair in a wheelchair smiling with his arms resting above his legs crossed.

Wheelchair User Participant

Data Analysis


I used the coding method to synthesize the data I collected. This method gave me the ability to identify trends and key terms that consistently came up within my topic. This process helped narrow the scope of my social awareness campaign to focus on bringing awareness to a wheelchair user's experience with microaggressions that come with doing even the most simplest task, such as going out in NYC.


Codebook with key terms that are relevant to my topic.


Store data and transcripts, meaning who was interviewed, the stakeholder group, and links to the transcripts/citations.


Began coding my data based on my interview questions to identify common themes and trends that appeared in my research and interviews.


The fourth sheet is the theme sheet where I could start to identify key terms and associate them with a theme.

Google Excel sheet of terms related to disability
Google Excel sheet of data that is being collected for interviews. This sheet holds the title of the participant, what stakeholder group they belong to, and dates.
Google Excel sheet of my analysis of my data. This sheet is sectioned by questions that I asked participants and their responses that are anonymous. On the side columns I tagged keywords that were in their responses to keep track of how many times it was used.
Google Excel sheet of themes that were found within my data. These themes were formulated based on the keywords that were commonly used in my research.

Trends & Themes

After my analysis of my data I came up with a list of the top 11 key terms and 4 common themes related to my thesis topic.

Key Terms

Universal Design
General Education
Social Challenges
Transportation Challenges
Access to information
Assistive Technology 


General Education

This theme refers to educating the general public about disability. Interviewed individuals and secondary research noted discrimination towards the disabled population. The root cause mentioned was a general lack of awareness about the challenges the disabled community faces.

Self Advocacy/Communication

In the process of conducting interviews and gathering secondary research - communication and self advocacy were common themes that emerged. In particular individuals with disabilities would frequently have to advocate for certain services and accommodations.


Transportation, especially in urban areas was a major point of contention in my research. Both written material and first-hand experiences from interviewed individuals provided insight on the issues faced by the disability community in regards to various methods of transportation.

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology is equipment that help people with various disabilities. Interviews with the disabled community allowed me to gain a better understanding on the importance of assistive technology in giving individuals the independence they seek.

Ideation & Prototyping

The End Product


The end product that I developed was a social awareness campaign with a focus on the theme of general education. My research showed this theme would have a deeper impact with my audience and thus generating empathy and awareness around the disabled community. The campaign has two major components: an interactive narrative game and a companion website.

Website Sitemap

Creating the sitemap allowed me to plan for usability and provide a full overview of the content to be featured. This process gave insight on how to simplify, trim off unnecessary pages, and keep what’s important for the resource website.

Website Design

Narrative Game User Testing

User Flow

For the game, I created a user flow that would help describe the steps that users take as they begin to play the game.

Graphic of user flow for the narrative game

Prototype #1

User testing was a vital for each round of initial prototypes as it allowed users to simply focus on the narrative rather than design or interaction. Below are some users testing my initial prototypes. Doing this exercise I was able to take notes on the user's experience and how they interacted with the narrative. For the first prototype, the narrative had a linear experience where the user for each question would select answers and would either immediately lose or move forward to the next question.

Below is a live low-fidelity prototype that you may test. This was designed in Adobe XD.

User Feedback

The feedback that I received on my initial prototype were both positive and insightful. One user in particular had mentioned that I should gamify the narrative experience more by giving explanations as to why you would loose on certain answers rather than having a linear experience. This feedback gave me the idea for my next prototype to include transition slides for each question that was answered right to further establish the educational component of the narrative.

I also got feedback from two wheelchair users on this narrative, and as they were going through my quiz they had mentioned that I should include more “Select all that apply“ questions. This is because they are multiple answers for some of the questions in the narrative. These users were able to relate to the narrative to their own experiences with microaggressions and really liked how the user was able to become aware about those issues.

Prototype #2

For the second iteration, I worked on the design and functionality of the game. For the aesthetic I created flat design graphics to set the scene and narrative. I designed background graphics for each question so that it is tailored to the contents of the questions and/or answers. I created each graphic using Adobe Illustrator and to build my game I used HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Functionality Feedback

Overall I had positive feedback on the design of the game. Many users really enjoyed the look and feel. The users liked that each questions had its own background design. Some users had some trouble with the navigation of the game. On the bottom right there is a “Next” button where after the user would select their choices they can continue on. Some of the initial feedback I received was that if a user selected an answer it should then trigger the next question. This was not something I could implement for the game because there are questions that call for multiple answers. I believe that having the button was essential to allow the user to select multiple answers and/or deselect their answers before moving on to the next question.

User 1

“Move the next button underneath the choices.”

This is something that multiple users have mentioned, this change was implemented in the final design. The next button is now placed underneath the choices rather than being in the corner of the browser.

User 2

“I got stuck on the question of what to do now that the restaurant isn’t accessible, I tried 3 more times but couldn’t get past that level - do you think you could make it so if you get it wrong you either have 3 tries on the same question(strikes maybe?) or if you get it wrong you don’t have to start from the beginning you could just start at that question again?”

The purpose of the game is to help educate people. I believe that the learning experience is valuable and it is important to have everyone be able to go through the learning experience. Instances like what this user encountered can deter someone from the experience and would lose the educational value. To help resolve this issue I programmed hints and chances that would encourage the user to keep playing. This allowed the user to try 3 times to get the right answers to move forward with the narrative.

User 3

“I think a transition video or a quick summary of what the correct answer would be really useful! I wasn’t sure if I was getting them right since I had already completed the quiz before, but it would’ve been good to confirm.”

In the final design, I designed animated transitions that confirm why the user answered correctly on a question to further the educating experience. The goal of the transition screen is to provide encouraging phrases and in-depth reasons as to why the answers selected were correct.


COVID-19 and Future Directions

Because of COVID-19 I had limited resources to user test my project and website. I would’ve liked to interview and user test the project with more individuals to gain a plethora of feedback. The ideal scenario would have been to launch this campaign in a highly trafficked area outside of a university campus.  The campaign would include large banners, as well as a podium where individuals could play the narrative game. I would use this opportunity to collect valuable feedback about their experience and answer any questions.

Another concept I would add to the campaign would be an interactive installation with stickers and having someone place the sticker on a graphic regarding microaggressions to visually see what people consider as a microaggression living in a urban environment. This would be used as a physical data visualization of microaggresions that people encounter. This idea was inspired by the pledge that people would sign on the Check Your Blind Spot Tours from my secondary research.