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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Assistive Technologies, Volume 10, Issue 2.
This special issue of the Journal of Assistive Technologies was to emphasis and underline the interdisciplinary nature of the journal, picking up on health, education, teaching and the broad range of participants (age, disability, etc.). The response indicated particular interest in the role of user engagement in the design, testing and application of assistive technology for people with disabilities and health-related concerns. As such we have four articles and two project reports that draw out these themes.
We start the special issue with an article by Daly Lynn and colleagues who outline the application of user-centred design (UCD) within a project to support the design, development and evaluation of a brain computer interface for people with acquired brain injury. This paper starts to build a strong case for using brain computer interfaces "for people that have little or no ability to move their muscles to access digital systems and services". But specifically, and of most interest to this special issue, was the implementation of a UCD approach to engage users in both design and validation of the interface. In doing so, the authors make a case for applying a UCD framework as it helps to reduce device abandonment. This is a very strong argument for implementing a UCD approach and one that helped in the reported success of the project. Finally, the authors go one to suggest that: "More research is needed to bring these technologies to the market place to enable real world application for people with complex disability […]" which is something that presents a "real" set of challenges for future research in assistive technology domains.
Following the article of Daly Lynn we have work by Clark and Turner who were looking to understanding user experience when defining automating goals for supporting home care. Using the Mobilising Advanced Technologies for Care at Home project, the authors provide a context for understanding user experience when creating personal goals and to better understand how these views could inform and improve the development of the system. Rather importantly the authors of this paper identify the need for current inflexible telecare systems to be more customisable with the view they can provide greater beneficial solutions to their target user groups and range of stakeholders. These are similar to the views presented in the first article by Daly Lynn et al., and so both articles start to present ideas around flexibility of assistive technology to take full advantage of the real needs of users.
Next Draffan and colleagues discuss a number of participatory research methodologies that can be used to assist with developing assistive technologies, and as such suggest: "it is possible to apply a decision making process to selecting the best participatory research method, based on factors affecting assistive technology need". Here they present case studies form two projects that sought to engage with participants and understand the decision-making processes associate with assistive technologies. One important finding relates to working with participants; not just about encouraging ownership and uptake of the AT research outcomes, but also to fill the knowledge gaps between the designer/researchers’ expertise and those of the anticipated users.
We finish the article section with Fabri and colleagues who provide an article that reflects on engaging young autistic people in the participatory design of an online toolkit called Autism&Uni where they engage a Design Thinking process (a human-centred approach) focused on effectiveness of stakeholder participation. In some detail, the authors discuss the stages of the Design Thinking process as it applies to the research approach of their study. This involved engaging autistic users in several stages: empathise; define; ideate; prototype and test. These stages were implemented in three workshops with the aim of engaging autistic adults in the creation of material that could serve their needs. This voice, and input from a target group, is something that all projects designing for specific communities would do well considering.
The two project reports in this special issue are provided by Brosnan and colleagues: How can participatory design inform the design and development of innovative technologies for autistic communities?, while Creed present work entitled: Assistive tools for disability arts: collaborative experiences in working with disabled artists and stakeholders. Both of the reports provide a very important overview of recent work considering the views of people with autism and physical disabilities (respectively). Brosnan and colleagues reflect upon the opportunities and challenges of engaging with a wide range of stakeholders in the design and development of innovative technologies for autistic users, while Creed review their experiences in working collaboratively with physically impaired visual artists in exploring the potential of assistive tools to support their practice. Brosnan et al. discuss findings that suggest, "Involvement per se does not constitute engagement as a design partner" and that including the perspectives and voices of participants needs to go beyond academia. This is an ethos and view that also underpins the work of Creed who provide a case study (D2ART) to frame their experiences of working with disabled artists. One very interesting view that emerges from this report is the importance and flexibility of research design/approach when engaging with disabled participants, and the notion of prioritising specific study designs therein.
Williamson finishes the issue with a review of mailto:I-stay@home wiki that presents content from a study funded in part by the European Regional Development Fund Interreg IVB programme.
In sum, this special issue provides a range of work from colleagues focused on a user-centred approach to proposing, designing and evaluating a range of assistive technology tools for people with a range of disabilities. For the purpose of this issue they have focused on autism, brain injury, physically issues and age-related contexts but there are many lessons to be taken from the work presented in this issue that could be applied to assistive technology research more broadly. I would like to thank all the authors for their contributions and hope that, as a reader of their work in this special issue, there are lessons, implications and ideas stimulated as a result.
Nigel Newbutt is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures at the Department of Arts and Cultural Industries, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK.