Creating ‘a simple conversation’: Designing a conversational user interface to improve the experience of accessing support for study

Iniesto, Francisco; Coughlan, Tim; Lister, Kate; Devine, Peter; Freear, Nicholas D.; Greenwood, Richard; Holmes, Wayne; Kenny, Ian; McLeod, Kevin and Tudor, Ruth (2023). Creating ‘a simple conversation’: Designing a conversational user interface to improve the experience of accessing support for study. ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing, 16(1), article no. 6.



Administrative processes are ubiquitous in modern life and have been identified as a particular burden to those with accessibility needs. Students who have accessibility needs often have to understand guidance, fill in complex forms and communicate with multiple parties to disclose disabilities and access appropriate support. Conversational user interfaces (CUIs) could allow us to reimagine such processes, yet there is currently limited understanding of how to design these to be accessible, or whether such an approach would be preferred. In the ADMINS (Assistants for the Disclosure and Management of Information about Needs and Support) project, we implemented a virtual assistant (VA) which is designed to enable students to disclose disabilities and to provide guidance and suggestions about appropriate support. ADMINS explores the potential of CUIs to reduce administrative burden and improve the experience of arranging support by replacing a static form with written or spoken dialogue. This paper reports the results of two trials conducted during the project. A beta trial using an early version of the VA provided understanding of accessibility challenges and issues in user experience. The beta trial sample included 22 students who had already disclosed disabilities and 3 disability support advisors. After improvements to the design, a larger main trial was conducted with 134 students who disclosed their disabilities to the university using both the VA and the existing form-based process. The results show that the VA was preferred by most participants to completing the form (64.2% vs 24.6%). Qualitative and quantitative feedback from the trials also identified accessibility and user experience barriers for improving CUI design, and an understanding of benefits and preferences that can inform further development of accessible CUIs for this design space.

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