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

Journal of Assistive Technologies

ISSN: 1754-9450

Article publication date: 21 December 2015


Abbott, C. (2015), "Editorial", Journal of Assistive Technologies, Vol. 9 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/JAT-10-2015-0028



Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Assistive Technologies, Volume 9, Issue 4.

We end our ninth volume with a general issue containing contributions from Austria, Sweden, Germany and Canada as well as the UK. We begin with a further paper from the mobile technologies strand at the last ICCHP Conference, the focus for our last issue. Foad Hamidi from York University, Canada, writing with colleagues Melanie Baljko and Toni Kunic from the School of Engineering and Ray Feraday from the Toronto Catholic School Board, focuses on a do-it-yourself communication board called TalkBox. Developed through participatory design principles and linked to Maker Movement ideas, TalkBox is an attempt to bring more democracy to the development process, and to work meaningfully with a community partner. The aim was to develop a low-cost alternative to more expensive products, resulting in an open source speech-generating device. After using low-tech platforms, the project partners produced their prototype using the Raspberry Pi and Scratch and working with a team with differing background and experiences. Preliminary evaluations of both prototypes are shared, and the team suggest there is a promising future for do-it-yourself assistive technologies.

Our next peer-reviewed paper comes from Sweden, and from colleagues in the Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering at the Luleå University of Technology. Daniel Innala Ahlmark, writing with Maria Prellwitz, Jenny Röding, Lars Nyberg and Kalevi Hyyppä, describe their development of a haptic navigation system for users with a visual impairment. The users in the project were all experienced white cane users, and the research team aimed to investigate whether these skills would transfer into the haptic environment. Most users found that their prior skills were useful, but that considerable time and effort would be needed to benefit from the new system. However, the research team suggest the project did demonstrate the value for these users of being able to perceive objects beyond the reach of the white cane. This is early prototyping work, and with the aim of identifying issues that need to be addressed before further development takes place. Data on usage were collected through video and interview, and the team sought in particular to understand the strategies employed by the users who were part of the project. There is growing interest in haptic devices of all kinds, and JAT welcomes further papers addressing this broad area.

Our next two peer-reviewed papers address the needs of older people. The first of these comes from the UK and the University of Hertfordshire and considers the potential of robots for people with dementia. Joan Saez-Pons, Dag Sverre Syrdal and Kerstin Dautenhahn, Computer Science colleagues, focus in particular on the distressing area of memory deterioration. They explain the effect that memory decline can have on independence, and they consider the possible future role of robots in what is usually called the smart home of the future. They aim to eventually develop a memory visualisation tool, delivered by robots, that will have a positive effect on the cognitive abilities of older people. The project used a commercially available robot, and results of these early experiments seem hopeful; although the team are quick to recognise that current robots do not have the full capabilities needed for memory visualisation, and much further work is required.

Rather than robots, it is the interaction between older people and the web that is the focus for the final peer-reviewed paper in this issue. Marten Haesner, Anika Steinert, Julie Lorraine O’Sullivan and Elisabeth Steinhagen-Thiessen are members of the Geriatrics Research Group at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany, and aimed to discover the effects of cognitive impairment on the usability of web interfaces. In this pilot study, users were observed using the interface and also responding to unexpected events, and found clear evidence of the difficulties experienced by older users with cognitive impairment, regardless of the usability of the web interface. The research team make a strong case for training in this area for these users, whether they are showing signs of cognitive impairment or not.

We complete this issue with two project reports. Readers are reminded that JAT welcomes such short reports of relevant projects, especially where these may alert others to ongoing work in a timely fashion, as well as acting as a precursor to a later peer-reviewed submission. We first publish a further report from the Digital Bubbles project, in which a group of UK universities are exploring innovative technologies for people with autism. In this report, Nicola Yuill (Sussex), Sarah Parsons (Southampton), Judith Good (Sussex) and Mark Brosnan (Bath) focus on differing perspectives with autism, human variation and the use of technologies such as eye-gaze, and the ways in which researchers and stakeholders may engage with each other. Our second project report is from Austria, and describes the winning coding project from AAATE 2015, the recent European Assistive Technology Conference. University of Linz students Markus Weninger, Gerald Ortner, Tobias Hahn and Olaf Dümmer from callas software, working under the guidance of Klaus Miesenberger, developed a prototype to improve the accessibility of graphical information for people with visual impairments.

Chris Abbott