Computer technology has become ubiquitous in today's society and many daily activities depend on the ability to use and interact with computer systems. Most computer technology, however, is currently designed for the "average" user, and thus ignores substantial segments of the population excluding them from many common activities. The goal of our research is to address, in part, the problem of designing inclusive technology, focusing on the design of technology for users with aphasia.

Aphasia is a cognitive disorder that impairs language abilities, including some or all of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. It results from damage to the brain and most commonly occurs after a stroke, brain tumor, or head trauma. From interviews with aphasic individuals, their caregivers, and speech-language pathologists, several needs were identified that could be met with new application software. Among those needs was a daily planner application that would allow aphasic users to independently manage their appointments using a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).

This research was conducted in two phases: (1) a participatory design phase in which ESI Planner (the Enhanced with Sound and Images Planner) was iteratively developed with input from aphasic participants, and (2) an evaluation phase where a lab study was performed to assess the effectiveness of the resulting tri-modal design, which incorporates triplets of images, sound, and text to represent appointment data. This methodology was used to achieve both usable and adoptable technology.

An additional goal in performing this research was to identify where traditional user-centered design methodology and experimental evaluation are inadequate for our target population. Several guidelines have emerged from our work, which are likely to be relevant to others engaging in research with special populations.


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