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

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.

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