UX Research: accesSOS

Usability study and needs assessment to enhance emergency mobile app accessibility for individuals with communication barriers.

What did I learn from this Project

  • Conducted qualitative UX research using usability testing and interview methodologies. 
  • Work ross-functionally with design and product management teammates to identify research topics.
  • Generate insights that impact how the client thinks about medium and long-term product strategy.
  • Prepare documentation to support development activities, including interview guides, participant screening surveys, and project reports.

Project Overview

Client: accesSOS is a non-profit tech startup that strives to provide critical emergency services access to individuals with communication barriers. The mobile web app of accesSOS, contact911.org, has been successfully launched in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and provides language translation services for non-English speakers. 

Client Goal: The ultimate goal and deliverable for accessSOS are insights and findings on the feasibility of launching v6.1 of the app on a campus like UC Berkeley or the City of Berkeley or Berkeley City College to meet the needs of international students and students with disabilities.

Project Goals: The primary project goal is to understand how UC Berkeley’s international student population and students with disabilities currently contact emergency services and whether the new v6.1 of the AccesSOS app would meet their needs.

NDA: Due to the sensitive nature of the project and the signing of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), I can only provide a high-level overview without discussing client platform details.

I collaborated with Grace Roseman, Nimisha Devanagondi, and Yitian Li on this project. 

Research Questions

Based on the input from stakeholders, we want to answer the following questions:

Question 1: How do UC Berkeley’s non-English speaking and/or international student population and students with disabilities currently contact emergency services?

How could UC Berkeley’s international student population and students with disabilities contact emergency services if the blue beacon poles on campus are designed only for voice and English-speaking people?

Modification for the target population:

  • To cover a larger variety of accessibility issues
  • Reading proficiency / cognitive difficulties

Question 2: Would the new version 6.1 of our app meet the needs of UC Berkeley’s international student population and students with disabilities?

Does the English version of the app work for those who prefer another language other than English? (for instance, are the visual elements and user flows understandable to target users even without fully comprehending all the english words?

Modification: Be more about the priority needs that students have and less about how the app meets them. (I.e., focus on finding and prioritizing the needs, and then mapping those to the app)

Question 3: What would need to be done to launch the accesSOS v6.1 at UC Berkeley?

If a pilot program was launched between accesSOS and UC Berkeley, what would be the best way to make emergency resources like our app known to the campus population?

Recruiting Plan

Target Users: UC Berkeley students (or maybe “community” so as to include faculties and staff) whose first language is not English and prefers to use non-English language during emergencies, such as international students, and those who have disabilities such as hearing impairment or other difficulties in talking via phone.

Potential External Collaboration: Experts in the area: Campus Public Safety, the UC Berkeley Disabled Students Program, and campus administrators

Recruiting Method:

  • Contact organizations and communities mentioned above to recruit target users
  • Post recruiting information via Slack, Instagram, Reddit, or other social media while posting paper posters on essential campus buildings.
  • Posting physical flyers around campus

High-Level Findings and Recommendations


The study found that international students may struggle with communication barriers such as vocabulary and accents, which may make it difficult for them to contact emergency services. Participants were able to successfully use the accesSOS app to contact emergency services, but there was some confusion and frustration while using the app. Finally, the expert review gave insights into how accesSOS could integrate with UC Berkeley’s campus and its existing emergency service system.


Based on our findings, we provided several design recommendations with implementation examples to accesSOS including the following areas:

  • Streamline & modify app flow
  • Group & reduce icon choices
  • Improving visual languages in the app
  • Allowing Users to provide emergency context in their own ways
  • Providing more follow-up support
  • Partnering with local emergency support services