Jui-Te Lin (University of Pittsburgh)
Assistive Technology (AT) is a term that covers many types of adaptive and rehabilitation devices. However, looking into current online marketplaces, most websites don’t arrange AT information properly and the structure is not individual oriented. This paper put forward a novel database design that utilizes user aspects in the classification and search engine. This database was specifically designed for assistive technology so that both buyers and sellers can use these resources easily. For one type of AT the database was completed with this new concept. Potential end users evaluated the prototype and provided feedback. After evaluation users pointed out that the layout was well organized and highlighted a more human-based structure than other available sites.
In 2002 it was estimated that 20% of the US population had special needs. Over 35 million Americans (12% of the population) are over the age of 65, and this population is expected to double by 20301.However, aging and disability pose challenging and costly problems that cannot be covered solely by AT acquired through individual insurance policies.
Looking into current online marketplaces, we found that most websites don’t arrange AT information properly or they only focus on one type of device. Additionally, online classified catalogues are often limited and may exclude different AT devices. Categories are often only divided by product type but not by user need. Furthermore, there are no standard forms to guide seller postings and their information to prospective buyers. And buyers may feel confused due to incomplete information posted by AT sellers.
Also, AT devices are often highly customized. The same AT device may even have different features to match a specific user need. When reviewing existing marketplaces, most of the websites seem to only offer product information. Websites do not offer information that can teach or assist buyers to match a piece of AT to their needs2. Finally, keyword searches seem inconvenient for buyers who are not familiar with terminology used in assistive technology.
The used-device marketplace can offer a solution for individuals with disabilities to find useful information on AT and to find an appropriate AT device. Furthermore, used devices are cheaper than purchasing new ones. This way, even financially disadvantaged people can gain equal opportunity by having access to affordable (used) devices.
This website will likely increase the circulation rate of assistive devices. By providing an information exchange platform, sellers can sell their unnecessary devices in the marketplace, and buyers can find affordable devices at the same time. In additional, re-using technology saves natural resources and protects the environment.
The purpose of this design project was to develop a new marketplace platform that includes the following features:
- Integrates used AT device information into a user-friendly layout
- This includes all type of assistive technologies (AT) that are classified by users
- Utilizes a convenient search strategy so that each user can easily find what they need based on personal characteristics and clinically based suggestions
- Allows buyers and sellers to enter data easily and correctly
The potential users can be divided into two groups: buyers and sellers. We brought the design problem to the attention of students and faculty members and asked them to assist with the design components and with the evaluation of the prototype database. A quality function development (QFD) diagram (Table 1) and user survey were constructed to see important factors that sellers and buyers most care about. These characteristics, such as performance and usability, were translated into the interface features.
Table 1 Goes Here
User Group Analysis
Thinking about the user characteristic with the system, we realize that each type of website user who has different abilities to use the internet. It is important that people are able to catch the point or purpose of the information in the platform easily3. To improve the using experience, this design follows a User- Centered Design process4:
- Visibility: Interface can help users predict the effects of their action while using the interface. For our design, we combine pictures and text to improve intuition that users are able to tell from a glace what they can and cannot do.
- Accessibility: Users should be able to find information quickly and easily throughout the platform. The platform offers various ways for users to find information, such as navigational elements, search functions, clearly labeled sections and color coding.
- Legibility: Text should be easy to read and understand. Through analysis of the rhetorical situation, the website offers readable font style and measure unit, such as transfer from metric to imperial.
- Language: Depending on the rhetorical situation, certain types of languages are needed. In our title, we used short sentences, as well as short, well-written texts for explanations. It is helpful for a user to catch the main point easily.
To create resources that can be used by the widest spectrum of potential visitors rather than an idealized “average”, the website should be designed according to “universal design” principles3. This requires consideration of the needs for individuals with disabilities, elders, and those using assistive hardware and software.
The solution for including and classifying all types of AT devices will be achieved by using the International Classification of Function (ICF) format. It is a classification of health related domains, which contains information based on body functions, structure, activity and participation while considering environmental factors5. This kind of classification will put the emphasis on the individual user and his/her characteristics/abilities instead of the technology (Fig. 1). To improve the usability of the marketplace and ensure accurate online search results, the idea of a clinical thinking process is also integrated in the website. A database will connect seller information and buyer requirements through a clinical prescription method (Fig. 1). The website will also offer measurement guidelines and tips to educate users how to accurately enter key parameters (Fig. 2). For the buyer, the searching criteria will be designed to meet user characteristics. Finally, the results of the online search will be organized into a format that is easy to understand and interpret.
Figure 1 Goes Here:
Figure 2 Goes Here:
In the last evaluation stage, a questionnaire was designed to see whether the prototype is easy to use, easy to search and has a friendly layout for a variety of users when compared to existing AT websites. The study recruited three buyers and three sellers to engage in this evaluation. Sellers were asked to post a sample wheelchair on the prototype site. Then they were asked to complete the questionnaire and assess the site’s ease of use. To evaluate the buyer’s experience, individuals were asked to find a sample wheelchair and complete a questionnaire and document their experiences.
Most users mentioned that the reliability of used product information was very important. Incomplete and trustless information makes users afraid to buy online. The QFD chart revealed that reliable information was the most important part in the platform design. From this matrix we also gathered that usability of the interface design is important. Users wanted to see all information well organized and classified clearly. The website should offer an easy way for users to surf and match their individual needs and technical requirements. Considering the idea of universal design, the website should be suitable for different types of users, such as different knowledge background or functional ability. Website accessibility also plays an important role in usability.
Although most websites had abundant information about the device, we found that the information was not really organized and classified. It was hard for the user to look through all of the information. Even more, most websites did not offer efficient searching strategies and accurate results. To improve these weak points, our platform integrates the idea of user-center design and user experience. Refers to the ICF model and clinical decision, our classification and searching strategy makes the searching process for used AT more efficient. Comments relative to the database characteristics were summarized into the QFD matrix (Table 2).
Table 2 Goes Here:
In our prototype evaluation, testers mentioned that our design was useful and friendly. Most testers said they could find necessary information right away and they were well organized. Overall, most testers had positive feedback on the prototype website: classification strategy, human-centered layout, and clinical matching capabilities. However, testers indicated that the platform still needs improvements, such as ways to make it sustainable. At the present time the platform is only functional to display and search power wheelchairs. Other AT types needs to be added to the platform.
A website design should consist of three parts: Performance, Usability and Attractiveness. Website performance means users can earn what they want by using website. They could search their devices, understand the quality of devices or get feedback easily from the website. Most important of all, all information should be reliable and correct. To see whether it is usable, the website should contain all type of assistive devices for different requirement.
Considering these requirements, our design offers user a novel way using an efficient strategy to classify and search used AT devices. Information from the website will become more reliable and well organized. This website will likely increase the circulation rate of assistive devices. By providing an information exchange platform, sellers can sell their unnecessary devices in the marketplace, and buyers can find affordable devices at the same time. Reusing technology saves natural resources and promotes quality of life through easier access.
Although the AT platform was well-received, several potential design improvements are possible such as completing other types of AT information and publishing this platform in online carriers such as e-Bay or www.SpinLife.com. Other aspects need to be addressed upon implementation, including sustainability of the web tool and financial/web maintenance aspects.
To develop a novel used AT marketplace is not costly. It took about $ 299 to purchase the design software, FileMaker 10, to develop its cross-platform database. Approximately $10 per year to pay for the domain name and $ 10 one month for web hosting. Our website structure and searching concept could be sold as a website template. Furthermore, because the database is expandable, this database concept might not be limited to specific AT but can include different types of used device.
- Child Health USA (2003). Population Characteristics; Retrieved from http://mchb.hrsa.gov/chusa03/pages/population.htm
- Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, MHRA(2010). Assistive Technology. Retrieved from http://www.mhra.gov.uk/Safetyinformation/Generalsafetyinformationandadvice/Product-specificinformationandadvice/AssistiveTechnology/index.htm
- University of Washington (2009).Word Wide Access: Accessible Web Design. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Technology/universal.design.html
- WIKIPEDIA (2010). User-centered Design. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User-centered_design
- Word Health Organized (2010). International Classification of Function. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/classifications/icf/en/
This work was done at the University of Pittsburgh, Dept. of Rehabilitation Science and Technology as part of a graduate course in Rehabilitation Engineering Design. The author acknowledges Dr. van Roosmalen, Dr. Brienza and fellow students for their input and feedback on the design project.
AUTHOR CONTACT INFORMATION:
Jui-Te Lin, BS, University of Pittsburgh, Human Engineering Research Laboratories, Pittsburgh, PA, 15206, Office Phone (412) 954-5302, EMAIL: email@example.com
FIGURES AND TABLES
Figure 1: Database Structure and Concept
Alternative Text Description for Figure 1
This Figure shows the whole structure of the AT database base of different aspects. The database will be divided into three steps for the buyer and seller. The first step focuses on how to classify all devices based on user needs. The second step emphasizes the organized and specific layout for buyers and sellers. The last step addresses how the searching system matches individual characteristics and product information.
Figure 2: Item Explaining Page
Alternative Text Description for Figure 2
This Figure shows the layout that guides the seller to improve accuracy of posting AT devices by combining picture and a text description. This page will connect to the information posting page automatically so that users don’t need to re-type information.
Table 1: Quality Function Deployment (QFD).
Alternative Text Description for Table 1
This table displays a QFD matrix and the ranking score of different user needs.
Table 2: Summary of User feedback (5= excellent)
|Website Characteristic||Score||Website Characteristic||Score|
|Usability of user Interface||3.6||Usability of user Interface||3.3|
|Functionality of product Classification||4||Functionality of product Classification||3.5|
|Clearness of field description||3.3||Clearness of field description||3|
|Intuitiveness of the layout design||3||Accuracy of searching result||2|
|Overall performance||3.5||Intuitiveness of the layout design||3.3|
Alternative Text Description for Table 2
This Table displays the average of website characteristics for buyer and seller.