Chris Abbott (King's College London, London, UK)

Journal of Assistive Technologies

ISSN: 1754-9450

Article publication date: 21 September 2015


Abbott, C. (2015), "Editorial", Journal of Assistive Technologies, Vol. 9 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/JAT-08-2015-0023



Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Assistive Technologies, Volume 9, Issue 3.

The International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP) takes place every two years in Europe. JAT is pleased to publish in this issue a selection of papers from the mobile technology strand at ICCHP 2014, which took place in the University of St Denis, near Paris. The move from specialist equipment to everyday mobile technologies has been one of the biggest changes to affect the assistive technologies world, and the papers in this issue raise some important issues to which we are sure to return in the future.

We begin with a paper dealing with the iPad, one of the devices that has been extremely influential in the move from specialist to everyday equipment – a move that raises many issues for manufacturers, developers and those supporting assistive technology use. Linda Chmiliar and Carrie Anton from the Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada write from their perspectives as, respectively, a social science academic and a person working in student support. Their paper is essentially a discursive one, rather than being directly research-related, although it does connect with a current pilot study with which they are involved. The paper also serves to introduce some of the debates around mobile assistive technology, and the extent to which mainstream devices can meet particular needs. Working with post-secondary students, the authors consider whether the iPad meets the needs of those adopting its use. They note changes in study skills, increased understanding on the part of students of their own learning, and a growth in self-confidence. The authors go on to argue for new terminology to meet this developing phenomenon, and they suggest that in place of assistive technology or mobile technology, we should be talking of equalising technology, since the use of such language does not set students apart from their peers.

After this thought-provoking first paper, we move on to a submission from Vienna. Linda Wulf, Markus Garschall, and Manfred Tscheligi from the Innovation Systems Department of the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) write here with Michael Klein from the Centre for Usability Research and Engineering. Their topic is touch gesture, and the behavioural differences around this interaction mode seen in groups of different ages. Of course, considering older users is always a complex and subjective issue; your editor regularly receives papers about use of technology by “older” users where the definitive of advanced age would seem to be anyone older than the authors. In this case, however, the age groups are stated quite explicitly. Working with two groups, one aged from 25 to 24 and one from 65 to 85, the researchers aimed to identify variables setting apart the two groups. Focusing on task completion and error rate, the group found a significant effect of age in both of these areas. Interestingly, both groups preferred to work in landscape orientation and the project found considerably higher rates of errors when devices were used in portrait orientation, presumably related to the smaller target screen area available for touch control.

We stay in Vienna for our third paper, which also comes from the AIT and with some of the same authors. Led by Elke Mattheiss, the group this time also includes Georg Regal, Johann Schrammel, Markus Garschall, and Manfred Tscheligi, again from Innovation Systems Development. The topic researched by the group is once more related to touch, but this time in the context of use by those who are visually impaired or blind, and who may need modifications in order to use some mobile devices effectively. The group developed a Braille-based input methodology which they named EdgeBraille, and which made it possible for users to input six-point Braille characters by swiping on the side of the device screen. They then compared this input method with the use of a talking keyboard. EdgeBraille was well-received but they found no difference between the efficacy of the two different input methods. However, they did identify the potential for interesting further work relating to eight-point Braille, which may lead to different results.

We return to Canada for our final paper from ICCHP in this issue. The paper deals with the use of speech interface by people with dysarthria. Foad Hamidi and Melanie Baljko from York University in Ontario, and independent researcher Connie Ecomomopoulos, write with colleagues Nigel Livingston and Leo Spalteholz from the University of Victoria in British Columbia. The team developed an open source speech interface for users with speech-related dysarthria which they named CanSpeak. The interface includes the ability to set up particular commands that can be personalised. Co-design was a feature of the project throughout; in the first phase through the use of Participatory Designs to engage potential users in this process, and then by a more focused approach later in the project that led to one of the users becoming a co-designer. The researchers found that the co-design approach led to greater participation and involvement on the part of users, and co-design will be the focus for a special issue of JAT in 2016, to be edited by Dr Nigel Newbutt from the University of the West of England. Please find the link to the call for papers on the journal web site at: www.emeraldinsight.com/jat.htm

We also include in this issue a paper, not related to ICCHP, from Sweden. Authors Daniel Innala Ahlmark and Kalevi Hyppä, are based in the Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering at the Luleå University of Technology. Their paper deals with suggested guidelines for displaying spatial information non-visually and includes a discussion of the perception and understanding of spatial knowledge by users with visual impairment. The authors also consider currently available perception and navigation aids, and the extent to which these may be considered to be meeting user needs. Following discussion of these areas, the authors put forward their proposed guidelines.

We complete Vol. 9 Issue 3 of JAT with a book review, and our Reviews Editor Cheryl Dobbs would welcome further books for review. In this issue Nigel Newbutt reviews Technologies of Inclusive Well-Being: Serious Games, Alternative Realities, and Play Therapy, edited by Anthony Lewis Brooks, Sheryl Brahnam and Lakhmi C. Jain.

The next ICCHP event will be the 15th ICCHP. ICCHP 2016 will take place in Linz, Austria from 13th to 15th July. The conference is a unique platform for researchers, practitioners and experts, and will include a range of special thematic sessions as well as keynote addresses and a wide range of paper presentations. There will be a track on Universal Learning Design as well as events aimed at young researchers and others. I look forward to meeting many of our JAT authors and readers in Linz at ICCHP 2016 (www.icchp.org).

Chris Abbott