Accessibility, UI design


A web app to reserve vision accessibility services at the zoo

In its efforts to accommodate guests of all abilities, ZooAtlanta sought to improve the guest experience for Blind and low-vision visitors to the new zoo exhibit, African Savanna. We designed a reservation web application that offers services to counter physical and perceptual challenges Blind people might encounter.

Vicky Chen
Nandita Gupta
Jill Niland

Concept generation
UI Designer

August - December 2019
(14 weeks)


The emphasis on the visual experience of an animal exhibit and the challenges surrounding navigation and learning objectives pose significant access barriers at the zoo for visitors with vision loss.


ZooServations, a web application that guides a user through a number of envisioned disability services to reassure visitors that their unique needs will be accommodated and prioritized.

Know what to expect.

Reserving accommodations in advance gives user peace of mind of what to expect and increases their buy-in.

Choose from a variety of accessibility services.

The options presented brings comfort to the user that their needs are acknowledged and accounted for.


I led the efforts in survey design, conceptual ideation, and the design of the mobile UI. I also supported research and synthesis activities, conducting some of the field studies, interviews, and user testing.

The client: Zoo Atlanta

Zoo Atlanta is the premier zoological park in Atlanta that serves to build awareness around conservation. In August 2019, Zoo Atlanta opened a new exhibit called African Savanna as the marquee exhibit of their transformation efforts.

The Vice President of Education was specifically interested in creative ideas to support vision accessibility in the revamped space.

A look at the recently unveiled exhibit, African Savanna at Zoo Atlanta.

The target user

The Zoo was interested in better servicing the Blind community. We focused our efforts on designing for adults ranging across the spectrum of permanent to severe vision loss. Often, this user group may have other disabilities that supplement their vision loss, including cognitive and physical disabilities.

Research, research, research

Surveying the Blind community’s sentiments towards zoos

Are Blind people even interested in going to zoos? To find out, I crafted an online survey to understand the relationship that Blind people have with zoos.

We connected with the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) who helped distribute the survey and advertised across relevant communities on Facebook. This survey also served to recruit participants for upcoming research.

Q: Why haven't you visited a zoo recently?

Top Answers


Wouldn’t be able to adequately see the animals


Lack of transportation


Doesn’t support my disability

According to respondents who hadn’t been to the zoo in sometime, the top detractor for visiting was not being able to see the animals. This reveals that there is a perception that the zoo is a space exclusively for sighted people.

Similarly, another major reason reveals there is a similar assumption that the zoo would not accommodate their disability. This was supported by salient comments respondents left:

“I could not recommend the present set up to a totally blind person. He would have limited independence.”

“I would not recommend another vision impaired person because currently it is difficult to get a good experience because of being in accessibility.”

Survey respondents shared they would primarily visit a zoo to experience the animals by a wide margin. This gave us some direction on what we might focus on improving as a solution for this project.

Q: What is your primary objective in visiting a zoo?

Top Answer


To experience the animals firsthand

Observing attitudes in context

To expand upon the attitudes we were hearing from the surveys, we invited several participants to tour the exhibit and share their thoughts about the experience. We used this opportunity to conduct observations of participants’ behaviors while in the space.

In total, we conducted two tours with individual participants (one of whom had a guide) and one tour with a group of five participants. At the end of each tour, we conducted a closing interview and focus group respectively.

Various shots of contextual research we conducted: (from top) participant interacting with an audio-visual display; focus group after touring the exhibit; a participant resting on a bench.

We formally synthesized the data gathered from these engagements as a team through a process known as Affinity Mapping. The significant findings are summarized below:


  1. I am sensitive to my physical environment. Participants were acutely responsive to their discomforts, including temperature and physical changes in their surroundings (e.g. levelness of the pavement).
  2. I want the agency in choosing my preferred method of interaction. We found that participants valued touch and hearing to learn about the animals, but they wanted to choose which method given the circumstance or personal preference.
  3. I require more information to make sense of an interaction. The same amount of information or feedback that is provided to a typically-sighted visitor would not suffice for the Blind, who often require more description or other additional information.

With the goals of experiencing the animals firsthand and accommodating to heightened sensitivities and discomfort, participants needs were divided between lower and higher order desires.

Per the framework Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, lower needs must be addressed before aspiring toward the higher order needs. This led to our ‘How Might We’ statement that initiated the design phase:

How might we enable the lower-order needs of Blind guests  at the zoo while also fulfilling their higher-order needs?

Diverging: Trying different things out

Rapid Prototyping

Out of the  approximately 100 ideas that generated from the newly-defined problem statement, we selected selected the most promising ideas to address the project goals and develop into lo-fi prototypes/ wireframes.

We presented these prototypes to rehabilitation professionals and Blind participants to gather meaningful feedback as to which idea was strongest and why.

Idea #1

Idea #2
Wayfinding Ecosystem

Idea #3
Sensory Exhibit

A web app designed to allow a visitor with a visual impairment request services in advance of their visit.

A necklace sensor that interfaces with an accessibility path with navigation and informational functionalities.

A space with informational tactile and auditory display elements for Blind people and others with sensory challenges.

These shots follow the prototyping process for Idea #3, the sensory exhibit: After first sketching the idea, we constructed it using low-fidelity making techniques (laser cutting, glue, etc.); finally, we presented it to our stakeholders for feedback and impressions.

Designing a feedback questionnaire

In order to gauge the response to each design concept, I crafted an evaluative questionnaire that mixed a variety of quantitative and qualitative responses.

This questionnaire was filled after all participants had tested all concept options. The goal of the questionnaire was to produce results that could be easily compared.


What we wanted to know


For each design - On a 5 point  scale of ‘Extremely Helpful’ to ‘Not Helpful at all’ rate the first impression of the design.

This helped our understanding of the user’s feelings and thoughts on the design and how it impacted their ability to perform in the zoo.


On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend Zoo Atlanta to others with visual impairments, if this design existed?

This NPS-style questions helped us determine whether a participant would recommend to the greater Blind community, an important metric of adoption for this population.


You arrive at the zoo, and if you were shown a table with these three designs and you could only pick 1, what would iit be and why?

Asked in a simple manner, this question forced users to place themselves at the zoo and determine which design would be most integral to their experience.


Now, rank these three designs in order or preference.

Asking participants to rank the designs afforded us more insight into relative prioirities.

Upon reflection, it may be hard for users to definitively answer hypotheticals. There may be a number of variables that would impact each user’s opinion of a product, including the quality of each prototype and extent of a participant’s imagination.

Reception (highlights)

Idea #1

Both experts and users believed it would make Blind visitors feel “special” and “wanted” at the zoo. The services presented in the app — which range from guided tours and parking lot assistance — gave the participants a high sense of confidence in their ability to maneuver and interact with zoo elements.
Idea #2

Way-finding Ecosystem
While the way-finding system scored well for granting users autonomy, it posed as yet another temporary device that users would have to learn to operate.
Idea #3

Sensory Exhibit
The interactive exhibit was perceived as being geared towards children or visitors with total blindness.

It's a service economy

Participants were decidedly drawn to the ZooServations app. Though reception to the other concepts was not damning, in the end we decided to proceed with the enthused service-oriented Zooservations.

ZooServations was not without its criticisms, however. Participants warned of the complexity that the ZooServations wireframes presented. Even read aloud to them, participants hoped the interface might be greatly simplified or that accessibility would be considered, including compatibility with screen readers, font size, contrast, limited use of images, among other factors.

Designing a single touchpoint

Service Design or Interface?

To design ZooServations in its entirety would require the service design of the operational front-stage and backstage of many new services that would carry significant implications on staffing, training, infrastructure, and content creation for Zoo Atlanta.

Many of these services were inspired by comparable attractions, including Disney World Animal Kingdom, the Atlanta Braves Stadium, and the Birmingham Zoo — all of whom we visited and/or talked to guest services staff.

For the scope of our project, we decided to focus on one single touchpoint for our user: that of a service reservation portal. This meant we would not focus on designing the accessibility services themselves.

Recommended Vision accessibility services




  • Human-guided tour
  • Self-guided tour
  • Audio guides
  • Bio-facts
  • Braille guidebook
  • Geolocation beacons
  • Tactile pavement
  • Prominent Curbs
  • Parking lot assistance
  • Shuttle mobility
  • Restroom assistance
  • Wheelchair assistance
  • Reserved Parking

A list of services that the zoo should incorporate into their service offerings; however, the scope of our project will not focus around how to directly design or incorporate the services.

Storyboard used to envision the services that our digital touchpoint could enable.

Three variations of a guest touchpoint

In line with our research, we designed for three different avenues of access to the portal based on our taregt population’s need for interactions options. I was primarily involved in the design of the mobile webapp, so the rest of this case study will reflect as such.

Automated & human-operated phone system

Mobile/desktop web app

Conversational AI / chatbot

Remainder of this case study will focus on mobile design.

User Interface Design

Using wireframes and userflow developed by my teammate, I created the user interface design and an iteration of the high-fidelity prototype used for user testing.

Style sheet used for the interface design.

While resembling the feel of an app, the site would be completely accessible through the Zoo Atlanta website. It was also carefully constructed to elevate elements that could be captured by a screen reader. The colors were adapted from the Zoo’s color palette.

Some UI design decisions include:

  • Large affordances in buttons and form options
  • High contrast in type
  • Large font sizes
  • Minimal use of images
Screens arranged according to the user flow for making a reservation.

Usability Testing

We conducted task-based usability studies using our hi-fidelity prototypes (built in Axure). We recruited two Blind participants to assess the extent of the systems’ functionality. I led one usability test, using a “Wizard of Oz” style approach to mimic a screen reader.

We also met with experts (including a Blind assistive technology professional) and used w3’s Accessibility heuristics to facilitate professional feedback on our prototypes.

Here is a link to an interactive prototype.


Positive feedback
  • Users were familiar with basic mobile functionality. For them, this was the easiest and best interface.
  • Users liked the layout without visual clutter, simple question format, found it “user friendly,” and liked the ability to “pause” when making reservations.
  • Users  liked the ability to choose multiple options on the food and accessibility selection screens.
Constructive feedback
  • Lack of voiceover and screen reader functionality. (Axure did not support.)
  • Users requested additional accessibility features (ability to change background, contrast, font size/color, larger buttons, etc).
  • Users wanted a review page at the end that summarized all the selections, with the option to edit their choices.

Overall, the tests were important to compiling a list of redesigns to improve usability. Moreover, users affirmed that the concept brings comfort that their needs are acknowledged and accounted for, as illustrated through this quote:

“Having to request and knowing those things are available makes it a more enjoyable trip overall.”


Although this project was an excellent opportunity to practice service design, we chose to focus on a supportive frontend system due to time limitations (it was a semester project). This just made me reflect on the complexity of what the holistic project might call for and how to balance the right scale of a design intervention.

Moreover, this project exposed me to the many facets of accessibility design in visiting our participants’ homes, rehabilitation centers, and seeing firsthand the extent to which the built environment may not accommodate Blind people.

I hope to carry these insights for accessibility into future work regardless of the specific target population.