SGER: IT-Oriented Functional Assessments

Project: Research project

Project Details


The characteristics of participants (subjects) in research studies are critical for academic peers to determine the validity of a study, and the applicability of results to new populations. But while a participant's medical condition can be referred to using consistent medical terminology, for HCI the name of a given condition provides only a vague estimate of the functional capabilities of the individual. Numerous articles have been published where participants were described as having multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or cervical spinal cord injuries, but such clinical diagnoses provides insufficient insights into the capabilities of the study participants. In this research, the PI will take the first steps towards the development of consistent assessment tools for measurement of the functional capabilities of research participants, which address the needs of the HCI research community with respect to describing a subject cohort with functional impairments for a given study. The PI envisions such assessment tools being used to measure both applicable human functions (seeing, hearing, physical movement and manipulation, and cognition) and standard HCI functions (inputs such as pointing, text entry and speech input, and outputs such as visual display, text-to-speech output amd audio display). The tools would be designed for use in any study which involved HCI and people with disabilities, and could also be used to assess people who experience situational limitations which occur not because of medical causes but due to the environment (cold, heat, wind, brightness, darkness, etc) or the task (carrying things, eyes-busy, audio occluded or precluded, etc). In this exploratory study, the PI will focus on one set function, namely physical interactions with computers, for which he will develop two proof-of-concept solutions. First, a questionnaire-based functional assessment will be developed, by bringing together existing knowledge on the assessment of physical functions and IT interactions. This tool will be evaluated by accessibility researchers, followed by a controlled experiment that will allow for formal validation as well as a demonstration of the tool's practicality. Second, to demonstrate the potential of computer-based functional assessments, the PI will develop a hardware and software tool that provides detailed quantitative functional assessments for selected movement and dexterity impairments, including those which are voluntary (e.g., reduced fine motor control) and involuntary (e.g., tremors, dystonia, myoclonus). This tool, to comprise standard and customized computer hardware as well as custom software, will allow for more detailed assessments than the paper-based tool. Again, tool efficacy will be demonstrated through a controlled experiment.

Broader Impacts: This research focuses on the challenges experienced by individuals with various disabilities as they interact with information technologies. The outcomes of the project will allow the capabilities of study participants to be described independent of any underlying clinical diagnosis, while providing greater detail regarding their IT-related capabilities. As a result, the resulting techniques will enhance our ability to interpret results reported in the literature, and will also allow results to be compared among studies more effectively. Future extensions of this research may facilitate the matching of IT users to specific technologies, and also assist hardware and software developers to develop products that either adapt to the needs of individual users or are usable by people with a wide variety of functional limitations.

Effective start/end date3/1/058/31/06


  • National Science Foundation: $99,320.00


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