Archive for October, 2016

Assistive Technology Designed? That’s Only Half the Battle.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

At the beginning of the course, we discussed models like CMOP and HAAT, which are used to better understand people with disabilities and their interactions with assistive technology.  While they seemed more like abstract concepts initially, I have developed a greater appreciation of these models now that I have started to apply them to my project because they help avoid the temptation of engineering in a vacuum.

Designing assistive technologies is not about solving a problem, but rather about helping a person.  No matter how ingenious a solution might be from a technical perspective, ultimately, if the user does not like the solution and cannot be convinced to use it, the solution needs work and should not be presented as the final product.  It is therefore important to understand the intended users and their needs and preferences.

For my project this semester, we are working to alleviate the inconvenience of using a traditional TV remote for a client with MS.  When we started, my partners and I immediately began exploring the design space and discussing solution tradeoffs from a technical perspective.  Then one day, our mentor shared with us some surprising news: our client was not even sure whether her problem of an inconvenient TV remote was “legitimate.”  Subsequent discussion helped convince her otherwise, but had we never talked with her about the importance of our project, no solution that we designed may have ever been that appealing.

We may have had a good understanding of the activity and the assistive technologies involved, but the understanding of our client was incomplete.  It was only through a more balanced understanding of all HAAT model components that has allowed us to pursue a more meaningful dialogue with our client that has greatly aided our design process.

2.009 + Assistive Technology

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Coincidentally the work that I am doing in 2.009 is around assistive technology as well. We are trying to design a better set of crutches for users to use, especially for going up and down stairs. We interviewed a variety of different users about their experiences for going up and down the stairs in order to get a better feel. While there is an official way, as shown here, Users don’t use it that way because 1. they aren’t taught that when they get the crutches, 2. it is not that much better than the normal way.

We found out from speaking with users and actually using the crutches ourselves some issues about using crutches to go up and down. We learned that you tend to lean forward/in the direction of where you are going when you go up and down to the stairs.  This shifts your center of mass forwards and creates instability, increasing the likelihood you’ll fall. We took these results to the drawing boards and created a set of designs that added an other contact to the crutches. An extra horizontal limp that expands perpendicularly from the crutches allow the users. We also took inspiration from para-olympic runner prosthesis that absorbs force into another one of the designs.

The results were promising, we took the design and ask users to use it, and they felt a lot more safe using our prototype for going down the stairs than normal crutches. There was not any discernible differences for going up the stairs.  Currently, we only have a prototype and not a full fledge product. We hope to do more user testing as we move forward. I’ve been able to mix some of the stuff I learned in PPAT into 2.009 as well, which is great.


Assistive Technology in India

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Last week we had a guest lecture that was really interesting to me about the design of low cost wheelchairs that could be used in developing countries. I found the concept of disruptive technology fascinating in its ingenuity and also usefulness to people that could not afford current technology.

The talk got me interested in assistive technology in India; my parents are from there and I have visited plenty of times, but I have never really thought about the struggles that differently abled people may face in a country that historically has not been accepting of these differences.

Reading some of the articles that can be found online, it seems that one of the biggest challenges to AT in India is simply the fact that people with disabilities 1) don’t know that the technology exists and 2) are not properly trained in its use. Thus, it’s an interesting scenario wherein developing new, cheaper AT is great, but it’s not really doing much if people don’t know it exists in the first place.

Another point I stumbled upon is that the economics of AT are not financially attractive in India (or most places for that matter) but India specifically lacks the necessary policy to support its development. In the US we have a couple different established government programs to foster the acceptance of people with disabilities and also push for assistive technology development. India, on the other hand, is still slightly behind in this area. I would be really interested to see if you could find a class like PPAT at a school like IIT.