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Environmental Evaluation of a Rehabilitation Aid Interaction under the Framework of the Ideal Model of Assistive Technology Assessment Process

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Recently Federici and Scherer (2012) proposed an ideal model of an Assistive Technology Assessment (ATA) process that provides reference guidelines for professionals of a multidisciplinary team of assistive technology (AT) service delivery centers to compare, evaluate, and improve their own matching models. The ATA process borrows a user-driven working methodology from the Matching Person and Technology Model (Scherer, 1998) and it embraces the biopsychosocial model (WHO, 2001) aiming at the best combination of AT to promote customers’ personal well-being. As Federici and Scherer (2012) suggest, the multidisciplinary team, by applying the ATA process, may provide for users not only a device, but much more an assistive solution, which is the real outcome of a match process. An assistive solution is provided for the user only when the interaction dialogue between user, device, and environments of use improves the users’ performances in participating in their everyday contexts. In this theoretical framework, the evaluation of the users’ interaction with the AT in different kinds of environments is a key factor for the success of the ATA process, because, as Mirza, Gossett Zakrajsek, and Borsci (2012) claim, the environment is antecedent to the AT and crucial for identifying how the AT works in relation to the users’ needs. In the ATA process a specific Environ-mental Assessment (EA) model for testing the interaction of the user with the environments of use, through the AT, has been defined. The aim of this paper is to describe the EA model steps and discuss the dimensions that a practitioner has to consider for this assessment. Accessibility, universal design, and sustainability are used in the EA model as the dimensions for measuring the relationship between the AT and the environment (Mirza, et al., 2012). The EA model steps and the trade-off among these dimensions are presented through a case example in which practitioners analyze the relationship between a communication aid used by a child and her classroom and home environments.
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M. Kurosu (Ed.): Human-Computer Interaction, Part I, HCII 2013, LNCS 8004, pp. 203–210, 2013.
© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013
Environmental Evaluation of a Rehabilitation Aid
Interaction under the Framework of the Ideal Model
of Assistive Technology Assessment Process
Stefano Federici
1
,
Simone Borsci
2
, and Maria Laura Mele
3
1
University of Perugia, Department of Human Science and Education
Piazza Ermini 1, Perugia, Italy
Stefano.federici@unipg.it
2
Brunel University, School of Information Systems, Computing, and Mathematics
Kingston Lane, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH, UK
simone.borsci@brunel.ac.uk
3
University of Rome La Sapienza, Department of Psychology
Via Dei Marsi, 00185, Rome, Italy
marialaura.mele@uniroma1.it
Abstract. Recently Federici and Scherer [1] proposed an ideal model of an As-
sistive Technology Assessment (ATA) process that provides reference guide-
lines for professionals of a multidisciplinary team of assistive technology (AT)
service delivery centers to compare, evaluate, and improve their own matching
models. The ATA process borrows a user-driven working methodology
from the Matching Person and Technology Model [2] and it embraces the biop-
sychosocial model [3] aiming at the best combination of AT to promote
customers’ personal well-being. As Federici and Scherer [1] suggest, the multi-
disciplinary team, by applying the ATA process, may provide for users not only
a device, but much more an assistive solution, which is the real outcome of a
match process. An assistive solution is provided for the user only when the inte-
raction dialogue between user, device, and environments of use improves the
users’ performances in participating in their everyday contexts. In this theoreti-
cal framework, the evaluation of the users’ interaction with the AT in different
kinds of environments is a key factor for the success of the ATA process, be-
cause, as Mirza, Gossett Zakrajsek, and Borsci [4] claim, the environment is an-
tecedent to the AT and crucial for identifying how the AT works in relation to
the users’ needs. In the ATA process a specific Environmental Assessment
(EA) model for testing the interaction of the user with the environments of use,
through the AT, has been defined. The aim of this paper is to describe the EA
model steps and discuss the dimensions that a practitioner has to consider for
this assessment. Accessibility, universal design, and sustainability are used in
the EA model as the dimensions for measuring the relationship between the AT
and the environment [4]. The EA model steps and the trade-off among these
dimensions are presented through a case example in which practitioners analyze
the relationship between a communication aid used by a child and her class-
room and home environments.
Keywords: accessibility, assistive technologies, sustainability, universal
design, user-centered delivery process.
204 S. Federci, S. Borsci, and M.L. Mele
1 Theoretical Background
The term “assistive technology” (AT) is “an umbrella term for any device or system
that allows individuals to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do or in-
creases the ease and safety with which tasks can be performed” [5]. Moreover, an AT
can be considered as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether ac-
quired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or
improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities” [6, 7]. In the light of
these definitions, it is quite evident why in the last few years many researchers have
studied the processes of AT assignment, by aiming to rate the success (in terms of
increasing the people’s well-being) and failure (in terms of AT non-use) of the AT
delivered to the people.
In the AT industry, the term “service delivery” is used to identify the set of proce-
dures and processes that act as intermediaries between the AT manufacturers and AT
endusers [8]. The AT delivery process, carried out by a team of professionals with
different areas of expertise [1, 2, 9, 10], is articulated in activities which include the
physical delivery of the technical aid to the disabled person, the user’s training, and
the setting up of the technology. The overall process of an AT delivery system is
oriented to obtain, through a well-designed and researched sequential set of assess-
ments, the best match between the AT and the user (i.e., matching process).
A well-designed system of AT delivery in which the matching process is iteratively
supported by the effort of a team of professionals in order to identify and adapt an AT
to the user’s needs is a central topic. In fact, many studies have clearly shown that a
wrong or a not-user-centered process of matching, assignment, and delivery results
in a high percentage of AT non-use (estimated from 30% to 33%) after the delivery
[11-13].
As the United States Assistive Technology Act [6] indicates, the matching process
differs from any other process of system delivery, because the professionals of an AT
service have to provide not only the technology, but a set of services that directly
assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an AT
device. In tune with this complexity, as Federici and Scherer suggest, the team of
professionals of an AT service delivery have to aim to deliver not the technology per
se, but much more an assistive solution that acts “as a mediator of quality of life and
well-being in a specific context of use. […] An assistive solution does not coincide
with assistive technology, since the first one is a complex system in which psycho-
socio-environmental factors and assistive technology interact in a non-linear way by
reducing activity limitations and participation restrictions by means of one or more
technologies” [1].
Finally, the assistive solution is the outcome of a user-driven process, called by
Federici and Scherer [1] the Assistive Technology Assessment (ATA) process, aimed
at the improvement of individual functioning.
Environmental Evaluation of a Rehabilitation Aid Interaction 205
2 The Model of the Assistive Technology Assessment Process
The ATA process model is “a user-driven process through which the selection of one
or more technological aids for an assistive solution is facilitated by the comprehensive
utilization of clinical measures, functional analysis, and psycho-socio-environmental
evaluations that address, in a specific context of use, the personal well-being of the
user through the best matching of user/client and assistive solution” [1]. This process
is usually represented as a flow chart that can be read either from the perspective of
the user or from the perspective of an AT service delivery. For our aims we report
here only a descriptive sketch of the user’s and AT service delivery center’s actions.
The user’s actions in the ATA process can be grouped into three phases: (i) The
user seeks a solution; (ii) The user checks the solution provided by the professionals;
(iii) The user adopts the solution, and receives training and follow-up.
The actions of the AT service delivery center can be grouped into four phases: (i)
Initial meeting with user and interviewer focused on gathering the user’s background
information and psycho-socio-environmental data; (ii) The multidisciplinary team
evaluates the data and user’s request and arranges a suitable setting for the matching
assessment; (iii) The multidisciplinary team, along with the user, assesses the assistive
solution proposed, tries the solution and gathers outcome data. When the assistive
solution proposed requires an environmental evaluation, the team initiates a parallel
assessment called the Environmental Assessment (EA) process. The multidisciplinary
team evaluates the outcome of the matching assessment, then proposes the assistive
solution to the user; (iv) When the technological aid is delivered to the user, a follow-
up and ongoing user support are activated and the assistive solution is verified in the
daily-life context of the user.
The ATA process model has placed the user at the center of the evaluation process,
and it acknowledges that the environment is antecedent to the AT and crucial for de-
termining an assistive solution [4]. In light of this, the evaluation of the environment
is a key factor for identifying the best assistive solution “intended as individualized
interventions providing users with appropriate environmental facilitators (AT prod-
ucts, personalized environmental modifications, personal assistance) to overcome
disability and enable participation in all aspects of life” [14].
2.1 Assessing Environmental Factors
The World Report on Disability has recently confirmed an assumption in the field of
disability studies: “Data on all aspects of disability and contextual factors are impor-
tant for constructing a complete picture of disability and functioning. Without infor-
mation on how particular health conditions in interaction with environmental barriers
and facilitators affect people in their everyday lives, it is hard to determine the scope
of disability” [7]. According to the ICF biopsychosocial model of disability [3], Envi-
ronmental Factors (products and technology, the natural and constructed environment,
support and relationships, attitudes and services, systems and policies) and Personal
Factors (e.g., age, sex, race, motivation, and self-esteem) belong to the Contextual
Factors. Therefore, we define the environment in the ATA process as any context in
206 S. Federci, S. Borsci, and M.L. Mele
which the AT is used by a person, according to the World Health Organization’s de-
scription of the environment as “the world in which people with different levels of
functioning must live and act” [7].
The EA process aims to analyze the cost-benefit balance with regard to the impact
of the AT on the environment to lead the multidisciplinary team and the user to either
modify the environment, or change the AT, or both. This decision in the EA process
is supported by measuring three dimensions of environment and AT impact on the
user’s performances [4]:
1. Accessibility (Access): This measures the level of environmental characteristics to
permit entrance, exit, and internal movements. This measure also predicts how
many changes are needed for rendering accessible the environment in use;
2. Universal design and usability (Use): This measures how much an environment
and a human product are designed for all;
3. Sustainability (Sustainable): This measures to what extent an environment and AT
are adaptable over time to a person’s changing needs, with minimal impact on the
natural environment and economic maintenance.
The dimensions of accessibility, sustainability, and universal design all exist along
their own continuum and each decision about the environment or about the AT (or
both) can be evaluated in terms of universal design, accessibility, and sustainability,
falling into various places on the three continua. The evaluation of the three continua
can help to focus a decision on a critical deciding factor for improving the person’s
performance.
As displayed in Fig. 1, we can identify three main phases in the EA process:
1. Checking the match (Fig. 1, point 1). The practitioners (such as engineers, archi-
tects and experts of human factors) assess the environmental impact on supporting
or obstructing the full participation of the user. If there is a match between the
environment, the user, and the AT, the assistive solution is achieved and the envi-
ronment assessment process ends. However, if a match does not occur, it is neces-
sary to estimate the impact of any possible modification to the environment or to
the AT.
2. Checking the impact (Fig. 1, point 2). Practitioners have to check the economical
and socio-cultural impact of the modifications to the climate.
3. Making a decision (Fig. 1, point 3). On the basis of the impact analysis, practitio-
ners can make one of the following decisions: (i) Modify the environment: In this
case, the ATA process restarts from the multidisciplinary team’s evaluation for a
new or the modified assistive technology. The match between the AT and the user
only requires a minimal environmental adaptation. (ii) Modify the AT: In this case,
the ATA process restarts with a new multidisciplinary team meeting in order to
discuss: (a) The cost benefit of AT modifications; (b) The cost benefit of identify-
ing another AT. In this case the process restarts from the beginning of the ATA
process. (iii) Modify both the AT and the environment. In this case, the ATA proc-
ess needs to restart with a new multidisciplinary team meeting in order to discuss
the cost benefits of the proposed modifications.
Environmental Evaluation of a Rehabilitation Aid Interaction 207
Fig. 1. Flow chart of the Environmental Assessment Process in the ATA process model. The
phases of the environmental assessment (1, 2, and 3 on the right) are linked to the procedures of
the AT Service Delivery process.
The environmental assessment, when needed, supports and integrates the ATA
process driven by two main actors: the user and the multidisciplinary team.
3 Evaluation of the AT Interaction in the Environment:
An Evaluation Case
For the aim of our paper we will report only a sketch of the subject profile as follows:
Roberto (Rob) is 7 years old with a diagnosis of severe spastic quadriplegia with a
dystonic component. His individual functioning can be summarized as follows:
He attempts to grasp, but he has significant dystonia;
He has standard visual performance (field of vision, visual acuity, sensitivity to
contrast etc.). Moreover, he perceives and locates objects in both the proximal and
distal distance, with good ability to fix and track;
He has excellent cognitive resources and he is very communicative and participato-
ry with the environment. He appears to understand any request about tasks ;
He moves voluntarily within the room using a motorized wheelchair;
He uses augmentative communications adequately.
208 S. Federci, S. Borsci, and M.L. Mele
The multidisciplinary team, after the evaluation of match with different kinds of ATs,
suggests that Rob’s performances could be significantly improved by using, together
with his current AT, a writing and multimedia Clicker tool and a Junior postural sys-
tem. Nevertheless, some concerns about the use of these new ATs in the classroom
environment are outlined by professionals in their report. In fact, while these ATs
could be a main factor for the integration of Rob within the class, at the same time the
main concern of the team is that a too fast changeover to the most advanced technolo-
gical tools could require an excessive effort from Rob for the training in the ATs use,
and at the same, as a novice in the use of these ATs, he may experience initially a
decrease in his communication performances. These difficulties in the use of the ATs
could be perceived negatively by Rob and impact negatively his daily life in the
classroom.
Taking into consideration these concerns, the multidisciplinary team requests an
environmental evaluation to test the interaction between Rob and the new ATs in his
classroom environment. The professionals run the EA process by using the environ-
mental codes of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health
– Children and Youth Version (ICF-CY: [15]) to codify the assessment. The analysis
of the use of the ATs in the environment (universal design) is designed as a test of
Rob’s performance in interaction with (i) the Clicker tool (ICF-CY code=e1251) by
using it as a postural system in the classroom (ii) his electric wheelchair (ICF-CY
code=e1201). Moreover, by considering the physical requirements for the use of the
Clicker tool in terms of accessibility and sustainability, professionals arrange the test
with Rob sitting (i) at his usual desk in a central position, and (ii) in a new desk posi-
tion. The new position of the desk was selected by professionals for the following
reasons: (i) it was more peripheral from the center of the classroom and closer to the
wall (but still not isolated) than Rob’s usual desk , reducing the possibility that his
schoolmates accidentally damage the AT device; (ii) it had a higher level of illumina-
tion than the usual position (ICF-CY code=e2400); and (iii) it was close to an elec-
trical outlet (ICF-CY code=e1501). Rob’s performance time was assessed by using
three different tasks for each trial; the performance time measured in the laboratory of
the AT service delivery center (M=13.26 s; DS=4.02 s) was used by professionals as a
comparative index of performances. The findings obtained were as follows:
When the Clicker tool was tested in a central position, Rob’s interaction was very
slow (M=25.01 s, DS=5.73 s). The AT in this position decreased Rob’s perfor-
mance compared to the laboratory testing. In this context of use, the Clicker was
not as good a facilitator (ICF-CY code=e1251.+0) as the electric wheelchair (ICF-
CY code=e1201.+0). Moreover, the low illumination and the distance from the
socket unit acted as severe environmental barriers (ICF-CY codes=e2400.3 and
e1501.3). Finally, the test showed that the use of these ATs in the classroom envi-
ronment caused problems in the dimensions of accessibility and universal design,
while, from the sustainability point of view, the electric wheelchair did not support
Rob’s movements during the interaction.
When the Clicker tool was tested in a peripheral position, Rob seemed more com-
fortable, due to the optimal level of illumination. Nevertheless, he was not driven
Environmental Evaluation of a Rehabilitation Aid Interaction 209
to control his hand movements by the electric wheelchair (M=19.55 s; DS=3.22 s).
In that case, the illumination and the access to the sockets acted as facilitators
(ICF-CY codes=e2400.8 and e1501.8), whereas the electric wheelchair and the
Clicker tool had still not properly supported Rob in his movements (ICF-CY
codes=e1251.+0 and e1201.+0). Therefore, although the accessibility problems
were solved, and Rob’s performances were slightly improved, his movements were
still affected by the electric wheelchair.
Finally, Rob was invited to test the Clicker tool sitting in the Junior postural system
previously tested in the laboratory of the AT service delivery center. This test was
only run with the desk in the new peripheral position. With the use of this kind of
postural system, the times of Rob’s performances were very close to his performances
at the center (M=14.05 s; DS=1.57 s).
At the end of their report, the professionals proposed that the Clicker tool could be
used as a complete facilitator (ICF-CY code=e1251.+4) only when associated with
the Junior postural system tested at the AT service delivery center (ICF-CY
code=e1151.+3), also recommending that the position of the desk in the classroom
should be modified in order to optimize Rob’s performance in its use.
On the basis of this analysis, the multidisciplinary team decided to introduce grad-
ually the new ATs in Rob’s contexts of use and concurrently to modify the environ-
ment (his position in the classroom) as proposed by the environmental report.
4 Conclusion
An AT can be considered an assistive solution only when all the possible nuances of
the user’s interaction experience have been carefully analyzed under the lens of ac-
cessibility, universal design, and sustainability. When a trade-off among these three
dimensions is identified by professionals, it is possible to match the needs of the us-
ers, the functioning of the AT, and the context of use by allowing users an efficient,
effective, and satisfactory interaction with the technology in their environment. Nev-
ertheless, the trade-off of the accessibility, universal design, and sustainability dimen-
sions often requires one of the components to be modified in interaction with the user
(the AT or the environment). In light of this, the EA process consists in the decision-
making flow that could lead professionals to modify the environment, the AT or both
for a successful matching between user and technology.
This decision process is carried out relying on measurements and methods that per-
tain to the interaction assessment, as shown in the evaluation case. Finally, in line
with the AAATE/EASTIN indication [14], the EA process represents a new way to
improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of the AT system delivery process that
brings from the interaction framework a set of evidence-based practices and concepts
to support professionals in taking critical decisions for the relationship between the
users and the AT.
210 S. Federci, S. Borsci, and M.L. Mele
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