Studying User Input in Assistive Technology

Producers of assistive devices face many challenges in finding ways to produce products that meet end user needs, are reliable and are cost effective to manufacture. One of the things that helps make this possible is the process of collecting needs from users during the design of a product. This is a critical step because it helps the product designer learn about problems and issues faced by users and how they might be solved. There are a number of different strategies that are commonly used to help learn about a problem. The goal of this project was to investigate the impact that three types of input: direct end user input, input from an occupational therapist, and input from simulation; have on the finished version of an assistive product.

tape dispenser under cabinet tape dispenser conveyor system tape dispenser puller hand operated tape dispenser table attachment

Eight different design teams were formed to take part in the study. Each team given the same design problem: to design a device that will allow a user with limited dexterity to tape closed a box on their own. Each team was given a specific type of input while designing their devices. Two teams were allowed to use simulation tools, two teams received input from an occupational therapist, two teams received input directly from end users, and two control teams received no additional input. The designs from each team were then fabricated into fully working prototypes. Finally, each of the prototypes were evaluated by users with dexterity limitations to determine how effectively they functioned and how satisfactory they were to use.

tape dispenser stamper tape feeder dispenser system

The findings showed that any of the three types of input studied can have a significant positive influence on the level of effectiveness and satisfaction with a product. This is very important for producers of assistive devices because it shows that time and effort collecting input to understand can result in a better product. The findings also showed that the use of simulation tools during design can aid in producing products that are very effective and satisfactory for end users. Since there are different costs associated with different types of input, this is a potentially important finding. It may be useful in future efforts to improve the process so that AT products can be produced more cost effectively and be more effective and satisfactory at the same time.

tape dispenser wall attachment tape dispenser attached to pole For more information, contact Young-Mi Choi at