About halfway through my summer internship at Concur, I came across this quote from Steve Jobs:
If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?
I viewed this question not as a "live like you're dying" sentiment, but more along these lines: Am I happy with how I'm about to spend my time today?
I was surprised when my answer was yes. Surprised that an adamantly-NOT-a-morning-person such as myself found it so easy to wake up in the morning and head to my desk job for 40 hours a week. Surprised that I was so excited to get to the office and spend time with my wonderful work family at Concur Mobile, and that I was so impassioned by my project, I would often find myself jotting down ideas long after I had left the office.
How might we make business travel easier for visually impaired users?
According to the World Health Organization, about 285 million people in the world have some sort of visual impairment, ranging from colorblindness to total blindness. Of these, about 40%, or 114 million, are employed. Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, we have made huge strides in terms of inclusivity of people with disabilities entering the workplace. But what are we doing to make workplace productivity—and important tools like Concur’s solutions—accessible to all?
Addressing this question from the standpoint of Concur’s iOS mobile application made plenty of sense. Apple was one of the first technology companies to recognize the need for accessibility in its products, and has been extremely successful in its efforts. As of 2014, over 65% of people with accessibility needs chose to use iOS mobile devices over Android and others, and this number is only growing. In 2015, Apple was awarded the Helen Keller Achievement Award by the American Foundation for the Blind for its continued work in making products accessible to all users.
In the course of my ten week internship, I worked with many extremely intelligent and supportive people at Concur in order to define and execute the two phases of my project.
Phase 1: Ensure compatibility with VoiceOver
Phase 1 was to formulate a plan for ensuring that the app was completely compatible with Apple’s built in VoiceOver screenreader. I conducted usability tests to discover problem areas and worked with a developer intern, who added missing VoiceOver functionality to the entire home screen. During the internship, I worked to spread internal awareness of developing for accessibility—something that is not yet a part of the core curriculum in most computer science and design programs—and introducing resources offered on Apple’s developer site and Teach Access, a joint initiative of tech companies and educational institutions with the mission to teach and train technologists in accessible development.
Phase 2: Proof of Concept
Phase 2 of my project was much more ambitious. I set out to deliver a proof-of-concept redesigning the flow of the app, to increase usability for all users. With the help of an experienced accessibility engineer, I conducted interviews with visually impaired users to determine the usability of the application as well as to uncover pain points of the user experience. From these interviews and the brainstorms that followed, Project ARC: Accessible Receipt Capture was born. Collaborating with two extremely intelligent iOS developers—one from the Concur Labs team, one a fellow intern on the Mobile team—I was able to take Project ARC from just an idea to a tangible prototype, which I demonstrated in my final presentation.
“I can’t create an expense report by myself, I need a sighted person to do it for me."
Project ARC taught me something invaluable for my career, regardless of path: you can’t truly solve a problem if you don’t fully understand what it is. Sitting down with one visually impaired user, I learned that creating an expense report independently was nearly impossible for him due to the necessity of attaching a receipt to each expense. With the guidance of my Concur Labs teammate—who brought a unique perspective and technology genius, both important contributors to the project’s success—I designed a brand-new receipt capture system, inspired by optical character recognition (OCR) apps for the blind (such as TextGrabber and KNFB Reader) and mobile check deposit cameras found in many mobile banking apps.
After weeks of meetings, redesigns, and changes of scope due to time and resource constraints, we finally had a testable prototype, allowing the user to transform a receipt to a report-ready expense without needing to read or touch the screen at all, using immediate OCR, voice recognition, audio feedback, and automatic photo capture and cropping. In this new state, a visually impaired user can use the camera to scan for the receipt, hearing an audible shutter sound when the receipt is in view and has been captured—and in about three seconds, the app reports back the total audibly, allowing the user to check before submitting the receipt to be analyzed and processed into an expense.
Of course I couldn’t have done this alone, not in ten weeks, and not with my minimal tech background (one quarter of Java programming basics didn’t exactly make me qualified to build an OCR iOS application). I had the help of Concur Labs’ Senior Developer Manager, two developer interns, my mentor, manager, and Senior Director advising me and advocating for me the whole way. I had my product team providing advice and the rest of my work family offering their help and expertise whenever I needed it.
I gained many things from this internship program: friendships and experiences, a greater sense of what I want to do with my life, a lot more connections on LinkedIn. But one special thing I gained is the idea of what a workplace should be like. In my ten weeks' experience, I found Concur to be a place where people help each other succeed, where you talk to someone and get the feeling that they truly enjoy their work, and where an intern will never want to leave.
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