People with disabilities form the largest minority group in the US. One in five Americans have some kind of disability and over 1,600 UC Berkeley students participate in DSP(Disabled Students Program). Assistive technology refers to tools, equipment, and products that can help a person with a disability to work more independently at school, home, work, and in their community. Such solutions are able to significantly improve the life experiences of many individuals around the world.
❔ How do I design assistive technology?
When developing assistive technology, it is important to design around the needs of the person with the disability you are trying to address. This process heavily relies on empathy, which involves setting aside your own perspective of the world and understand, be aware of, and be sensitive to the feelings, thoughts, and experience of the user, which will help you gain insight into their needs.
Clearly define the design challenge and goal. Be able to explain it to someone who knows the challenge and someone who does not. Clarify the challenge with your user and be sure that you understand what they need.
Brainstorm as many ideas as possible, then narrow down and combine your options to find a few that you think will work the best. Take into account how much each solution may cost, because the technology will not be effective in improving lives unless it is affordable for users.
Create a physical representation or model of a finished design for evaluation by users. It can be as simple as a paper user interface layout. Commonly used resources include 3D printers, laser cutters, and Arduino.
Have your user try as hard as they can to break your prototypes, because that's how you learn where they fail and what you need to improve. Document all of the feedback you get and factor that into further iterations.
👩🏼💻 Sample projects
🗣️ Speech translator
Malia is 11 years old and has severe Cerebral Palsy, which often makes it difficult for people to understand her when she speaks. An algorithm was developed that samples Malia’s voice, trains itself to pick up on the nuances of her speech, understands what she is saying, and translates it to others around her.
Ahmet is a deep-sea kayaker; because he is blind, Ahmet requires a non-visual navigation device so that he avoids shipping lanes and stays on course.
Drew is a wheelchair-bound Cal alumni who cannot easily open or close his windows. A simple and affordable solution opens windows through the activation of a Bluetooth phone application.