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Pathfindr - Designing an App for Safe Exploration by Paraplegic Individuals

This case study delves into the conception of Pathfindr, a navigational app designed to inspire individuals using wheelchairs to venture beyond their homes and discover the world around them.


  • Independent


  • UX Researcher. UX Designer, UI Designer, Brand Designer


  • Assistive Technology


  • May 2023

Case study is best optimized for desktop and laptop viewing!

Problem Overview

This project started with the goal of improving the lives of people with paraplegia. I had a hypothesis that creating an app to help them understand the terrain and surroundings while moving around could make their journeys safer. To investigate further, I researched scientific articles on Google Scholar, searching for a specific problem that could be addressed.

Problem Proposal: How might we design a solution that addresses the physical and emotional barriers faced by the paraplegic community when leaving the house, by overcoming physical barriers and providing emotional support to reduce anxiety and fear of the outdoors?


Research: Competitive


During my research, I conducted a thorough competitive analysis, specifically examining apps and companies that prioritize accessibility. This investigation aimed to uncover existing solutions designed to assist individuals with disabilities.

  • Apple 
  • Wheelmate
  • Google Maps
  • Be My Eyes


All accessibility apps are provided free of charge or at a low cost, ensuring affordability for users.
The strength of these apps lies in their diverse range of options that cater to specific circumstances encountered by users.
However, the limitations arise from relying on user responses, which can hinder the overall effectiveness of the product.

Research: Scientific Articles

and Forums

After conducting user interviews with a test group consisting of individuals who had relatives with paraplegia, I found that the findings were not as useful as expected. This was primarily due to the fact that the participants belonged to a secondary target demographic rather than the primary users we were designing for. Consequently, I made the decision to pursue additional research by exploring forums and articles on Google Scholar. This approach allowed me to gather insights directly from individuals with paraplegia, enabling me to identify their specific pain points and problems more accurately.

Reddit Threads

Identifiable pain points:

1) Not being able to find accessible-friendly bathrooms in the area
2) Coming across unsafe terrain
3) Having to rely on others to do certain tasks

Google Scholar

individuals that have suffered a stroke reported scoring higher on a happiness index after utilizing an outdoor electric wheelchair once a day in the summer

  • Ingvor Pettersson RegOT and PhD, Gerd Ahlström RN and PhD & Kristina Törnquist RegOT and PhD (2007) The Value of an Outdoor Powered Wheelchair With Regard to the Quality of Life of Persons With Stroke: A Follow-Up Study, Assistive Technology, 19:3, 143-153, DOI: 10.1080/10400435.2007.10131871

For PwMS, regardless of disability level, increased PA is related to better HRQOL in terms of energy, social functioning, mental and physical health

  • Marck, C.H., Hadgkiss, E.J., Weiland, T.J. et al. Physical activity and associated levels of disability and quality of life in people with multiple sclerosis: a large international survey. BMC Neurol 14, 143 (2014).

The implementation of an aerobic physical training programme or leisure structural activity programme for individuals with ID significantly and clinically reduced their level of anxiety

  • Carmeli, E., Barak, S., & Morad, M. (2009, January 1). Physical exercises can reduce anxiety and improve quality of life among adults with intellectual disability : original research article. Sabinet African Journals. 

Affinity Maps of Research


After putting the findings from the research through four rounds of affinity mapping, I came to the conclusion that I’d like to explore ways that allow the disabled population to independently explore the world around them and connect with people that are going through the same hardships as them, because the challenges they face can have a significant impact on their physical and mental well-being.

Link to Figjam file for better viewing

Main Takeaway

Research indicates that physical activity and outdoor engagement significantly improve the quality of life for disabled individuals. Users' challenges with leaving the house align with these findings. Recent research also shows that outdoor powered wheelchairs enhance the quality of life for stroke survivors, promoting competence, independence, and well-being.

Issue To Be Addressed

Prolonged sedentary behavior has a pronounced adverse effect on the mental and physical well-being of disabled individuals. It impacts feelings of incapability and burdensomeness, impacting their overall state and perception.


Who are the users?

After developing two user personas that represent the target demographic, it became apparent that the target users encompass a wide range of individuals as the goal was to create a product that aids anyone using a wheelchair. However, it was determined that the primary user we are designing for is someone who values independence and may not possess or prefer to utilize the necessary resources to make short commutes with a wheelchair safe and easy.

User personas.

How might we?

How can we create a solution that helps people with paraplegia overcome physical obstacles and emotional challenges when venturing outside their homes?


Our solution is a mobile navigation app that empowers people with paraplegia to explore the world. It provides real-time information on physical barriers and potential hazards, enabling a safer and more accessible outdoor experience.

Key Features and Product Road


To plan the app's design within my given timeframe, I utilized a product roadmap to brainstorm the pages and features. Following a Now-Next-Later format, I prioritized the elements that should be focused on initially and identified those that could be saved for future iterations. This approach allowed me to make strategic decisions about feature prioritization and resource allocation.

Link to Figjam file for better viewing!

Now-Next-Later Roadmap

I carefully selected features that I believed showcased the enhanced security and safety provided by the app. These chosen features were designed to ensure a heightened sense of protection while using the application.

The app utilizes user-generated ratings to highlight accessible establishments and hidden gems with easy wheelchair access.
A check-in/out feature and location sharing with close relatives to ensure a feeling of security for both parties. 
A reporting feature that warns other users of potential hazards in the area

Task Flows

To conceptualize the app's functionality, I devised three tasks that effectively showcase its features and capabilities.

  • 1) User uses app to navigate to a coffee shop in town and picks the safest route utilizing the user-generated reports
  • 2) Upon arriving to the coffee shop, the user checks-in to notify their family members of their whereabouts
  • 3) User notices that there is construction on the sidewalk on the way back home from the coffee shop, so they report the encounter to warn others and reroute with a safer path in the process.

Link to Figjam file for better viewing

The 3 task flows that the key screens to be designed would be based on.


Evolution of Wireframes:


To visualize the mobile screens, I sketched quick drafts drawing inspiration from popular navigation apps such as Waze, Apple Maps, and Google Maps. This approach helped me determine button placements and gain a clearer understanding of the feasible features that could be implemented.

Sample screens of the sketches made before going into the wireframes.

Evolution of Wireframes: Low


While drawing inspiration from the sketches I drew, I then converted them to low fidelity wireframes in Figma.

Sample screens of low fidelity wireframes.

Design choices

At this stage, I ventured into exploring various options for routing and establishing accessibility feasibility. After careful consideration, I made the decision to implement a single path deemed the safest by the app, prioritizing user journey simplification and safety. Additionally, I chose to assign each establishment an accessibility score and an overall rating, similar to Yelp. However, unlike Yelp, these ratings are generated solely from feedback provided by users within the same demographic, ensuring relevance and reliability.

Evolutions of Wireframes:

Style and Branding

In designing the logo, I chose a light blue and green color palette to evoke calmness and trust. The goal is to make users feel safe and secure while using the app, and to extend this sense of security to their loved ones as well. The logo features two circles, one blending into the other with a single opening, symbolizing the idea that Pathfindr can help users find their way even when they feel lost. The minimalist design and modern typeface further enhance the overall message of reassurance and reliability.

Style guide made after creating the low fidelity wireframes.

Evolution of Wireframes: High


Following a thorough review of the low-fidelity wireframes with my mentor, I elevated the wireframes to a higher fidelity level. This involved incorporating visual enhancements such as a chosen color palette, a polished and user-friendly map interface, and the integration of meaningful icons. Moreover, during the high-fidelity wireframing process, I seized the opportunity to refine and adjust certain features, which are outlined below in the design choices section.

Sample Screens of high fidelity wireframes.

Design Choices

During the exploration of map view options for navigation, I integrated an augmented reality (AR) camera view as the primary routing method. Recognizing that many wheelchairs are equipped with phone mounts, this approach enables users to have a direct visual representation of their path ahead while traveling. Additionally, I revamped the rating system for establishment accessibility. Instead of a simple binary choice, I implemented a percentage-based rating system. Users can now rank each accessibility feature of an establishment, providing a more nuanced assessment of its accessibility level.


Usability Testing

I conducted prototype testing using Figma with a group of five participants. While I couldn't find individuals from the target demographic, those bound to wheelchairs, I chose to include individuals who had close relatives belonging to the target demographic. This allowed me to gather insights from a secondary group of users who could empathize with the needs and experiences of the primary target audience.

Research Goals

  • We hope to determine whether or not users are able to successfully navigate through the flows in which the app provides. 
  • We want to determine whether some of the aspects of the screens may need reiteration before moving forward in the design process. 
  • We hope to determine whether or not the app can improve the overall QOL of its users
  • We hope to learn whether or not users can see themselves recommending this app to a loved one or using it themselves

Success Metrics

  • Time (How long did it take to complete the tasks?)
  • Number of errors (How many errors occurred while completing tasks?)
  • Ease of use (Was there any confusion while completing the tasks?)
  • Completion (Was the user able to complete the given tasks?)
  • Viability (Can the user see themselves using the app or recommending it to a loved one if developed?)

Priority Revisions


The estimated completion time for all three tasks was initially projected to be 70 seconds, with 20 seconds allocated to task 1, 15 seconds to task 2, and 35 seconds to task 3. However, after factoring in outliers using an IQR formula, the average completion time turned out to be 109.5 seconds. This prompted me to revise the design with a focus on improving navigability and reducing task completion time.

The majority of participants provided positive ratings for the app's effectiveness in benefiting its target demographic, except for one tester. This particular tester rated the app's viability in a more neutral manner, expressing concerns about the number of steps involved in the check-in and hazard reporting process, which they found to be cumbersome for users.

Main Revisions

Edit 1: I made the text input optional on the reporting page

  • After receiving feedback from testers who found the reporting page to be cumbersome, I made the decision to make this step optional. By doing so, I aimed to reduce user effort and minimize the time required to complete the task.

Change marked in green indicator.

Edit 2: I changed the terming of “Accessibility Rating” to “Accessibility Score”

  • One tester was confused on the differences between the “Accessibility Rating” and the overall store rating, so this change was made to better distinguish the two. 

Change marked in green indicator.

Edit 3: When dragging the pin to a hazard in the reporting process, I changed it so that it initially fixated on the users’ current location

  • This change was implemented to provide users with a predefined starting point when reporting a specific location. Instead of requiring them to determine their location on the map and then pin it, this modification streamlines the process by offering a reference point to begin reporting accurately and efficiently.

Changes made before and after usability testing.

Final Synthesis

Link to Figma Prototype


Moving forward, I am eager to explore how this app could seamlessly integrate with other accessibility-enhancing devices, ultimately enhancing the user experience. The recent announcement of Apple's Vision Pro device, combined with the augmented reality features of the routing view, presents an opportunity to synergize and eliminate the need for users to rely solely on the small phone screen while utilizing the app.

Moreover, I envision incorporating additional features such as enabling significant others or loved ones to stream into a user's trip during the AR camera view, thus ensuring heightened security for both parties.

Reflecting on the project, if I were to revisit it, I would prioritize conducting comprehensive testing and initiating research interviews specifically with individuals from the wheelchair community. This direct engagement would provide invaluable insights and a deeper understanding of the app's design from the perspective of the target demographic. As the main challenge thus far has been comprehending the target demographic solely through articles and discussion forums, receiving feedback directly from the wheelchair community would streamline the research process.

Thank you for your attention and having read thus far.

GMMRDL Barber - Brand and Website Design for a Local Business

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