Needlab: Housing for All
Designing houses for the visually impaired in Kenya

The Challenge:

How might we design houses for the visually impaired in Kenya?

    My Role:

    Team Members: Naylee Nagda and Sameera Chukkapalli (Needlab)
    • Lead Design Researcher
    • Creating interview guides
    • Recruiting for user research
    • Leading In-field user research sessions (Interviews and Co-creation)
    • Synthesizing research and creating insights
    • Leading Ideation sessions
    This project is currently in progress. If you are looking to learn about my design process, I would recommend you to check out either Chilimango: street vending in Los Angeles or CancerBase: a data input platform for Cancer patients. 

    Life for the visually impaired unsurprisingly poses many challenges. But in Kenya and many other African countries, the visually impaired lead a particularly difficult life. The haphazard city planning, impatient drivers crushing their white canes, unequal career opportunities, and stigma in society are just some of the obstacles they face on a daily basis.  

    For this project, I volunteered with Needlab, a not-for-profit impact design organization based in Spain. The focus of this project is on designing houses for the visually impaired in Kenya. I am currently working on this project as a design researcher uncovering the needs and adaptations made by the visually impaired community in their daily lives with a focus on their housing needs. 

    Through this research, I shall be creating the design guidelines for the prototype houses that Needlab will be building. My aim is to co-create with the visually impaired community to design an accessible space for them.
    Our approach

    Stage 1: Empathizing - Researching User Needs

    It was our first time designing for the visually impaired community. Therefore, our first steps were to familiarize ourselves with key terms, break-down our personal assumptions about blindness, and learn about what accessibility in physical and digital environments looked like. In this process, we found some great resources like Molly Burke, a Blind YouTuber, and Christophe Meyer; a blind designer. If you are ever designing in this space, feel free to reach out to me and I will recommend some resources!

    A lot of the resources we found online were about life for the visually impaired in the West. Whilst they were crucial in helping us gain a base understanding of what visual impairment looked like, we knew that we needed to gain a localized understanding of visual impairment in Kenya. We wanted to learn directly from the visually impaired in Kenya. We were curious about their lives:  How they crossed the road? What tools did they use on a daily basis? What career options were available for them? 

    Since we were pursuing this project during the pandemic, we carried out remote interviews via WhatsApp. Our first round of interviews focused on learning about the daily life of a visually impaired person in Kenya and the adjustments and adaptations they had made. The goal of these interviews was not only to familiarize ourselves with the community we were designing for but also to build a relationship of trust and comfort with these individuals so we could co-create with them.

    From the conversations we had heard, we created the following information clusters:

    Information clusters from our first round of interviews
    We then synthesized the clusters and listed the following observations:
    Takeaway from the first round of interviews
    After gaining a background understanding of visual impairment in Kenya, we are currently conducting a second round of empathetic interviews focused on learning about the housing landscape and needs for the visually impaired.