IHCD's User/Expert & Stakeholder Reviews of Bench Options for DCR and the MBTA

Submitted by anoopa on Tue, 09/10/2019 - 17:42

Introduction to the Study

The Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) is currently working with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) on a mix of projects related to accessibility and inclusive design. In both cases, IHCD is recommending additional benches in response to the rising prevalence of people who have difficulty walking. IHCD is also working with both agencies on new Design Guides for Access.  

IHCD saw this as an opportune time to build awareness of the features that make for the best accessible bench designs. During August 2019, we conducted a contextual inquiry research project with ~40 “user/experts,” people with one or more physical, sensory, and/or brain-based limitations. Over a two-day period, user/experts provided us with both quantitative and qualitative data to inform our bench recommendations. In addition, we invited “stakeholders,” our public-sector partners and other pertinent parties, to participate in the review over a period of ten days.  

IHCD tested eight (8) benches that met the minimum ADA design standards and that were available from the respective manufacturers for loan to IHCD for the duration of this study. Our goal was to learn what works best and what modifications are needed, by testing directly with user/experts – people likely to use the benches. We asked about overall comfort, design and placement of armrests, ease in sitting and rising, and other issues. We also sought feedback from stakeholders about maintenance, appearance, perceived user comfort, and other issues. Product information, including specifications, for each bench is included in the Appendix to this report.

IHCD, DCR, and MBTA logos

Methodology for User/Expert Review

Many User/Experts were invited to participate in this study and approximately 40 did so, including:

  • People who are part of IHCD’s User/Expert registry, including those who have participated in past U/E studies. 
  • People involved with the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL)
  • People involved with Mass Senior Action
  • People involved with the New England Center and Home for Veterans

Each User/Expert was individually interviewed by an IHCD staff member or intern. There were nine short questionnaires: an overview questionnaire asking User/Experts some general information about their bench preferences and bench use, as well as their own functional limitations. There were also eight additional questionnaires, one for each bench, that asked User/Experts about ease of sitting and rising; comfort of the bench seat, back, height, stability, armrests, and attractiveness; as well as other observations. Responding to these interviewer-administered questionnaires took about an hour. Both quantitative and qualitative (comments) data were collected and analyzed.

IHCD interviewers with User/Experts during the bench study.
IHCD interviewers with User/Experts during the bench study. 

Methodology for Stakeholder Review

Stakeholders from the MBTA (including System-Wide Accessibility), DCR, City of Boston Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities, Mass DOT, and other organizations, including consultants to MBTA and DCR, were invited to participate in the bench review over a ten-day period. Nineteen (19) stakeholders filled out eight self-administered questionnaires, one for each bench, where they rated benches according to issues, such as seat, armrest, and back comfort; required maintenance; attractiveness, and others. They also rank-ordered the eight benches from most favorite to least favorite. Stakeholders took 45 - 60 minutes to review all eight benches. In addition to providing quantitative data, they also wrote comments about the benches. Both quantitative and qualitative (comments) data were collected and analyzed.

An MBTA stakeholder reviewing one of the benches in the study.
An MBTA stakeholder reviewing one of the benches in the study.