Assistive Technologies Research: Physical Disabilities

Computer-related assistive technology: satisfaction and experiences among users with disabilities.

Burton M, Nieuwenhuijsen ER, Epstein MJ.  Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Michigan Hospitals and Health System, Ann Arbor, MI 48108-5744, USA. Assist Technol. 2008 Summer;20(2):99-106; quiz 84-5.

Many people with disabilities use assistive technology devices (ATDs) for computer access. The specific focus of this exploratory study was (a) to assess the experiences, opinions, and satisfaction levels of 24 individuals with disabilities using computer-related ATDs; (b) to investigate their awareness of health risk factors related to computer usage; and (c) to examine the psychosocial impact of computer-related ATDs on users. Data were collected via telephone interviews with 24 individuals with physical disabilities who had experience using one or more ATDs. The Quebec User Evaluation with Assistive Technology instrument was used to evaluate users’ satisfaction with ATDs in a number of dimensions, including their physical attributes. The Psychosocial Impact of Assistive Devices Scale measured the psychosocial impact (i.e., independence, competence, and adequacy) of an ATD on users. Additional questions were posed to gather information about user’s opinions and experiences. Training appeared to be an important component for ATD users, many of whom preferred a setting to try out devices rather than group or individual training. Respondents with visual impairments revealed a higher level of adaptability versus those without visual impairments (p = .001). Additional research is needed to develop specific survey items focused on users of computer-related ATDs and the evaluation of the psychosocial impact of ATDs on computer users.

Development of the new Family Impact of Assistive Technology Scale.

Ryan S, Campbell KA, Rigby P, Germon B, Chan B, Hubley D.  Bloorview Research Institute, Bloorview Kids Rehab, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Int J Rehabil Res. 2006 Sep;29(3):195-200.

Children with physical disabilities generally require more care, attention and direct supervision than children without disabilities. Research demonstrates that these higher care-giving demands are associated with poorer psychological and physical health states for parents and other family members. Assistive technologies may have a role in mitigating caregiver stress and burden by improving functional performance, social interaction and autonomy in children with physical disabilities. In this paper, we report on the initial development and testing of the Family Impact of Assistive Technology Scale – a new measure designed to detect the multidimensional effect of assistive device use on families who have young children with disabilities. To study the content validity and face validity of the Family Impact of Assistive Technology Scale, we conducted structured evaluations of the proposed constructs and items with 14 clinical experts and parents of young children with cerebral palsy. Experts agreed that the Family Impact of Assistive Technology Scale contains the key variables needed to study the effect of assistive technology use on child and family functioning. Parents concurred that items on the preliminary version were relevant and clear. Further research is planned to estimate the reliability and other aspects of validity of the Family Impact of Assistive Technology Scale.

PDAs as cognitive aids for people with multiple sclerosis.

Gentry T.  Department of Occupational Therapy, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23298-0008, USA.  Am J Occup Ther. 2008 Jan-Feb;62(1):18-27.

OBJECTIVE: Cognitive impairment is a common symptom for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). This study evaluated the effects of an occupational therapy training protocol using personal digital assistants (PDAs) as assistive technology for people with cognitive impairment related to MS.

METHODS: Twenty participants were trained to use PDAs by an occupational therapist. Assessments of functional performance were taken at the start of an 8-week pretreatment period, at the beginning and end of training, and 8 weeks after the conclusion of training.

RESULTS: Participants demonstrated the ability to learn how to use basic PDA functions and retain learning for at least 8 weeks. Functional performance increased significantly with PDA use, and this gain was maintained at 8-week follow-up.

CONCLUSION: This study provides evidence of an association between an intervention providing training in the use of a PDA and improvements in the everyday function of people with cognitive impairment related to MS.

The Vocal Joystick: evaluation of voice-based cursor control techniques for assistive technology.

Harada S, Landay JA, Malkin J, Li X, Bilmes JA.  DUB Group, Computer Science and Engineering Department, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.  Disabil Rehabil Assist Technol. 2008 Jan;3(1):22-34.

PURPOSE: Mouse control has become a crucial aspect of many modern day computer interactions. This poses a challenge for individuals with motor impairments or those whose use of hands is restricted due to situational constraints. We present a system called the Vocal Joystick which allows the user to continuously control the mouse cursor by varying vocal parameters such as vowel quality, loudness and pitch.

METHOD: Evaluations were conducted to characterize expert performance capability of the Vocal Joystick, and to compare novice user performance and preference for the Vocal Joystick and two other existing speech based cursor control methods.

RESULTS: Our results show that Fitts’ law, a well adopted model of human motor performance for movement tasks, is a good predictor of the speed – accuracy tradeoff for the Vocal Joystick, and suggests that the optimal performance of the Vocal Joystick may be comparable to that of a conventional hand-operated joystick. Novice user evaluations show that the Vocal Joystick can be used by people without extensive training, and that it presents a viable alternative to existing speech-based cursor control methods. CONCLUSIONS: The Vocal Joystick, with its ease of use, minimal setup requirement, and controllability, offers promise for providing an efficient method for cursor control and other forms of continuous input for individuals with motor impairments.