2015-16 (ongoing)


Course: "Design for Understanding of Health Information"
Instructor: Kristin Hughes
Partners: Yooyung Ko, Leeyat Slyper, Min Kim

Imagine you were Deaf, and you found yourself in an emergency. How would things change?

In high school, I started learning sign language for a school play. It's a beautiful and incredibly emotional language, with a unique sense of structure, completely different from written and spoken English. Once the language 'clicked', I was captivated, and I haven't stopped learning sign since.

Kristin's class gave us the incredible opportunity to partner up with real-world organizations that help people with various needs handle their healthcare. Among the other partners, one jumped out at me: "Hearing & Deaf Services." Imagine how thrilled I was to learn that I could use my sign in service of design! We reached out to HDS, who suggested we start our research at the Pittsburgh Association of the Deaf. They didn't tell us there would be drinks.

Talking with Holly

A week later, I found myself interpreting for the rest of my group inside the first Deaf bar I'd ever seen. We were trying to understand what the healthcare experience was like for Deaf people — what worked, what didn't, and what experiences with healthcare had major problems.


We learned a lot from our discussions (and I learned a ton of new signs!), but our biggest take-away was how different--and how much more stressful, even traumatic--emergencies could be for Deaf people.

Imagine: you or someone you love gets hurt, and you can't call 9-1-1. Maybe you know you can text 911 (did you know you can text 911?), or maybe you try to get someone to call and interpret for you. Then the EMS arrive—but none of the EMT's sign. There's no time to get an interpreter, and so you're forced to communicate potentially life-saving information, piece by piece, through writing, in your second language.

Problem spaces

With this horrific situation in mind (and a lot more research, investigation and iteration), we designed LifeKey. LifeKey is a concept for a software keyboard, custom-designed for texting 9-1-1. The keyboard makes it faster and easier to summarize an emergency, post your exact location, send emergency contact numbers, and communicate other critical information. But Lifekey's big innovation is also simple: being accessible as a keyboard means you never have to leave your SMS conversation with the dispatcher.

Lifekey from Yooyoung Ko on Vimeo.

We designed LifeKey with and for Deaf people, but its benefits can be seen a used in an emergency by absolutely anyone. We are currently working to take LifeKey from class-concept to reality.