Āvā is a feminine given name in the Persian language, meaning "voice, sound".

AVA - Absentee Voting Assistant, an assistive tool for the visual impaired to vote independently at home.

Team was invited to do poster presentation in ConveyUX 2018, Seattle | Team: Akio Kakishima, Bingqing Shan, Qing Guo, Wenyang Mu | Duration: Sep., 2017 - April, 2018 | Tools: Sketch (GUI), Wizard of Oz., VoiceOver (VUI)

Design Overview

Video of the story, design process and solution

Key features:

  • Work in conjunction with screen readers, such as VoiceOver
  • Help the visual impaired vote independently at home by operating on the touch screen or using voice control
  • Confirm the printed ballot by scanning


Background & Challenge

Current ways for the visual impaired to vote and the inconveniences

During the November 2016 Presidential election, 16 million people with disabilities reported voting. The turnout rate for people with visual impairment was 53.7%, which was much lower than people without disability, because they face barriers in voting. Specifically, they need assistance in filling out the ballot because the current system is not blind-friendly.

inconvenience of current voting methods

Their voice is just as important as any other voter’s voice. What can we do to improve the accessibility of voting process for the visual impaired community and transform the voting experience?

Interview Insights

The right to vote independently and vote at home is valued.

We conducted interviews on five experts from different disability organizations and communities for guidance, including Washtenaw County Clerk, Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living and people with disability. We found

  • People valued the right to vote independently, the disabled as well.
  • The visual impaired preferred to vote at home due to the difficulty of transportation.
  • Voice commands can help them with non personal information, but screen input is preferred for personal information.
  • UI with strong contrast and large font is needed especially for some visual impaired individuals.


The totally blind and other visual impaired individuals have different preference of the UI and interactions.

We found especially for the visual impaired individuals, doing absentee voting at home independently was a big problem. During the interviews we found, compared with the totally blind, other visual impaired people can still see things in a blurred vision. And some of them may be much familiar with the screen interactions than the totally blind interviewee. So we decided to separate them as two groups: the totally blind and other visual impaired individuals.

Design Process

Ideation & Sketching

Device, laws and secure can be the major constraints for this practical problem.

From the perspective of the devices, we basically brainstormed our solutions from three directions -- a customized device, a customized template with a corresponding App, and an App connecting users and officers.

solution brainstorming

Fig. Three primary design directions

But for this practical problem, we discussed and decided three criteria which may constrain our design:

  1. The solution needs to follow current laws and regulations, in another word, does not require political leveraging.
  2. User should not have to buy extra devices just for elections.
  3. The solution should be as easy and secure as possible for the visual impaired to vote independently.

Based on the three direction and criteria, one main solution to help the user “see” the ballot with three possible ways to fill out the ballots emerged:

  1. Using a physical template, like the signature guide. But the template needs to be customized for each election which requires extra effort from the government, so we did not go further with this solution.
  2. Locating and instructing the movement of user’s hands to fill out the check box by image processing and tracking algorithms in the App.
  3. Using a printer to mark out the boxes on the original paper ballot.
signature guide

Prototyping & Usability Testing

Hand writing is not an accessibile way for all individuals, while combing with on-screen interactions voice interaction can be a way with more posibilities.

We decided two prototypes according to the two possible ways of filling out the paper ballots.

  1. A sample ballot with an App which can track the position of the pen with the help of camera and image processing. The App will give commands on how to move and black the box by hand to the user.
  2. An App which can let voters to vote by voice commands and print the result on the original received paper ballot. We created a script of voice commands and a simple UI for testing.

Fig. Frameworks of key interfaces

We conducted 2 rounds (7 in total) usability testing with the visual impaired individuals (two blind, one low vision) and three normal people with Wizard of Ox method.

The results showed

  • Different users interpreted the commands of moving hands quite differently, so standardizing commands become difficult.
  • There would be write-in fields on paper ballot, so it's impossible for those who cannot write characters to fill out the ballot by hand independently.
  • Our commands should be modified a lot to match their habits. At first we wanted the voice commands to be nice and human-like, but they usually caught the keywords in the sentences, and a simple but clear command is more important to be "friendly". And the speaking speed of their screen reader is fast (it's even hard for the native speaker in our group to recognize).
  • The voice assistant should be consistant with the system screen reader they used so that they can set it according to their preference.

As a result, we decided that using a printer to mark out the boxes can be a better choice. A GUI with larger font and strong contrast is still needed.

User Testing on filling out the box

Fig. The blind user was testing with us. Was trying to black the box following our commands.

User Testing

Fig. The visual impaired user was testing our design. Was scanning the paper ballot.

Design Details

A practical solution incorporating GUI and VI.

Work Flow

Fig. Workflow of using AVA to vote

1. Launch the AVA App

User will request an absentee ballot online following the current process, and get the paper ballot mailed to his/her address. Then user can launch AVA and start to vote.

Launch AVA

2. Input state, ward, and precinct information

User will input state, ward and precinct information by either voice input or keyboard input to pull up the correct ballot template. Ballot template data will be updated by the election committee.

Input State, Ward, Precinct information

3. Listen to the how-to-vote instructions

AVA will read the how-to-vote instructions, and user can skip the instruction if he/she already know that.

Input State, Ward, Precinct information

4. Vote

The ballot will be read section by section, and user can select candidates or write in, and vote proposals by either voice control or touch screen control.


5. Confirm and print

After finished all the choices, AVA will read the voting results to user to confirm or edit the choices. And then AVA will ask for permission to connect to the printer. AVA will direct the user to insert the paper ballot in correct direction and start to print.

confirm vote resuts and print

6. Confirm printing result and mail

AVA guides the user to scan the printed ballot and compare the printing results with the voting results to ensure whether the correct candidates are filled in. Then, user can seal the envelope and mail the ballot back.

confirm printing resuts and mail back

Key features:

  • Black and white interface. A strong contrast makes it more readable for the visual impaired individuals.
  • Large buttons and simple interface. More readable for the visual impaired and easier to operate on the touch screen.
  • Both voice and geasture control. User can use touch screen to input private information instead of speak it out. And now many visual impaired have gotton used to touch screen.
  • Audio instructions. User can control the audio with the same operations as VoiceOver, the screenreader they are used to. And they can choose to skip or re-listen some instructions by clicking the buttons on the top. Have a look at our Scripts for the voice instructions.


Unsolved problems in the final solution

  1. It's difficult to set up the printer for the blind individuals. And different types of printers have different ways to connect with mobile devices, like bluetooth, wifi, email. And this is the biggest problem of the current solution. But usually people just need to set the printer for once and the following printing will not be a great difficulty.
  2. At this stage, we assume the voter's family member can help with filling out the return envelope for the voter, but we should take it into future consideration if we want this process to be totally independent. Using electrical signature which user signed in the App and print on the envelope is still possible as a future solution.

It was a hard time when we stuck at these imperfect solutions, but we were so lucky to meet all these people who were so willing to help. They helped us to reach out to related organization and target users. And it was them encouraged us to keep going, since they thought it was a meaningful attempt to solve a problem which can be beneficial for their community.

Feedback and Insights from ConveyUX conference

During the ConveyUX conference, we got several feedbacks and meaningful discussions on how to improve this solution. One possible solution for the printing process can be setting up printing point in the community where these visual impaired usually gather and have activities. These places are much convenient for them since they are familiar with these places and the they can connect and transfer the voting result to the settled standardized printer in a decided way. But we found most of the more efficient solutions need extra support, either finance or labor support. We hope more efforts can be made to solve this problem.

team photo on ConveyUX 2018

Fig. Photos of we presenting on ConveyUX 2018, Seattle

team photo on ConveyUX 2018
team photo on ConveyUX 2018