Realwheels – Participatory Technology Project

Realwheels participants with final AV iPad set-up and multiple remote participants


Realwheels Theatre is a Vancouver-based theatre production company that creates and produces performances that deepen the understanding of the disability experience.

Realwheels recognized a demand for a remote collaboration tool, as there are people who are eager to participate in a production, but unable to attend rehearsals in person. There are a variety of factors that prevent people from attending rehearsals including being based outside of Vancouver, insufficient access to public transportation, scheduling conflicts, and illness.

brainstorm & ideation


Our target audience uses various assistive technology devices. We had to make sure the site was accessible for all of them.

The rehearsal process was running parallel to our development process. This meant our tool had to be used in rehearsals even when the prototype was still in its low fidelity stage and it should not disrupt the established workflow.

This was a challenge but it also allowed us to user test our tool twice a week in the space with our users.

Understanding our user’s needs

We conducted face-to-face interviews as well as phone calls and follow up email correspondence with several Realwheels’ participants that have at least one disability to understand their pain points in the rehearsal process.

The team also attended rehearsals regularly and found early on there was a clear demand for a shared digital space to share content and to facilitate communication between people who regularly attend rehearsals in person.

We worked with two consultants that helped us user test every iteration of our prototypes making sure they were accessible. This was especially important given Realwheels’ motto “Nothing about us without us” we wanted to make sure our product was created with, not for, people with disabilities.


The production website is intended to create a bridge between the theatre and remote participants. It also has the potential to support communication and content sharing between the whole cast and crew.

This website follows a design guide that prioritizes the needs of individuals with physical disabilities, those that are Blind or have vision loss, and those that are D/deaf or hard of hearing. When a user first visits the website they are presented with a login page where they can enter a predefined password provided by Realwheels to ensure that the creative content produced by participants is only viewable by people involved in the production.

After logging in, there are four pages that address remote participation and collaboration.


Based on accessibility best practices and our advisors experience we followed these considerations from the start of our design.

  • Clear semantic HTML
  • High contrast UI
  • Light & dark modes
  • Minimum font size 18 pts
  • Minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1
  • Descriptions for all images

Live call

Insight: From our research we found that participants who use screen readers or found it hard to navigate Zoom or Skype to join calls.

Design decision: By providing a one-click way to join rehearsals we made this process easier for them.

Files Page

Insight: We found participants were frustrated by having to print documents and dealing with long email chains needed to share their work at rehearsals. They also described Google Drive as very hard to navigate.

Design decision: Created an easy to navigate page for them to upload and access content for each rehearsal date and provide feedback.

Calendar Page

Insight: The existing calendars, usually built as tables, are especially hard to navigate for users with screen readers. Leading to missed rehearsals and unnecessary email chains.

Design decision: A list based calendar that is easy to navigate and shows all relevant information for rehearsal.

mock-up of website that includes a laptop, ipad and iphone


We went from successfully running rehearsals with one remote participant to having multiple people join remotely without prior instructions.

The Covid-19 pandemic interrupted our process and the theater’s rehearsals, forcing us to move all our workflow online. Luckily, the production website made the transition very smooth for the participants. We ended up running fully remote rehearsals where 16 participants with various accessibility requirements joined with no problems.

Group rehearsal with a laptop and a remote participant in a live call