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Sensory Forecast:

An app designed for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and low-support needs. 

My role:

The team:

Product Design, Primary Research, Copywriting, Account Management

Max Warren (Brand Manager), Ed Keithly (Strategist), Clare Malone (Strategist), Dominic Militello (Experience Designer)

The Ask:

Create a service for an underserved and/or marginalized community.

The Problem:

The sensory experience of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be overwhelming, especially when they don’t know what to expect from an unfamiliar place.

Neurotypical societies create mapping apps that don’t include the right details for how people with ASD process the world.

The Solution:

A mobile application that tracks and maps the sensory experience of locations, so people with ASD can make informed decisions about when and where to go.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave.

ASD increases the intensity of sensations in ways that are hard for neurotypical people to understand.

Built from considerations from the ASD community

We spoke with several people who have ASD, care for individuals with ASD, or work within the ASD community. Speaking with these individuals offered many insights, including the one that informed our strategy:

“To make something sensory-friendly is to communicate exactly what people can expect and, then, adapt to individual needs.” -Adam Warman, The Faison Center

Our application is intended to be used by adults on the Autism Spectrum with low support needs, or guardians and caretakers of adults on the Autism Spectrum with high support needs.

Why the audience matters:

Support for adults with ASD is abysmal. There are almost no public accommodations for the 5.4 million (a number thought to be massively under-reported) American adults with ASD.

The U.S. allocates only $290 million in ASD research and support, and very few funds (2%) are allocated towards adults with ASD.

(Psychiatry Online & National Institute of Mental Health)

The opportunity:

As we began research, we were expecting to find competitors or even just tools intended for adults with ASD. To our surprise, we found that nothing like this exists, even though the technology to create it has existed for years. What if we could use this technology to create a resource for adults with ASD that gives the right information they need to navigate the world?

Sensory Forecast

Sensory Forecast’s mission is to provide accommodation tools that better adapt society to people with ASD because tools and resources intended for adults with ASD are virtually nonexistent.

It is a mobile application that maps out the sensory experience of people with ASD, exactly as they experience the world. Users develop a profile based on their unique light, noise, temperature, and crowd sensitivities. Sensory Forecast then compares that profile to the predicted sensory experience in an establishment (e.g., how the noise/crowd levels will compare Sunday night vs. Monday night at a local restaurant).

Our design principles cater to ASD adults with low support needs. Our app offers:

The app design is highly customizable giving the user control over the look and feel.

Clear content:
We use logical language without metaphors. Visuals are used only when they provide further clarity.

The app colors are muted tones that are chosen for accessibility. Fonts are chosen for legibility.

Watch our app walkthrough:

We will gather data by utilizing a crowd-sourced approach led by the ASD community. We will be tracking:

Crowds, noise, light, and temperature:
We will utilize Google Maps and smartwatch data to measure these sensory features.

Potential triggers and overall experience:
After users visit a locale, we will ask for their feedback regarding their experience.

Availability of ASD accommodations:
This will be provided by establishment owners and then checked out by the community and application users.

What’s the forecast on the app’s success?

Sensory Forecast is still a prototype, but testimonials from the Autistic community in response to app demos have been positive. One person we spoke to said:

"As an autistic person with hearing sensitivity, I get overstimulated easily with these new modern restaurants that don’t have soundproofing. An app like this would negate that and hopefully help restaurants and other establishments improve on accessibility."
-Sreid, 23, Richmond, VA

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