Background information

Researchers and designers need to understand the lives and experiences of end-users to increase the likelihood that products and services fit these users and enhance their lives (Koskinen et al. 2003). Ideally, end-users actively participate in all research and design activities, such as problem definition, ideation, design, development and evaluation. Several tools and techniques have been developed to involve the users in these activities and to gain a deep understanding of the users and their lives. Examples of such methods are contextual inquiry, (participatory) observations, design probes, low-tech prototyping, design games and generative toolkits.

When designing for users with impairments it is especially important to understand the users and their experiences, and more specifically the issues users face because of their limitations (Henry, Law & Barnicle, 2001). However, understanding users with impairments is challenging, especially when the impairments affect cognitive abilities or communication skills, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Alzheimer’s Disease or hearing impairments. The experiences of users with such impairments might be very different from those of the researchers and designers, making it difficult to identify with or relate to the users. In addition, these users often experience problems with thought processes and communication, including conceptualizing and understanding abstractions, sequencing thoughts and actions, remembering, understanding symbols, and interpreting social cues. These problems may cause difficulties with making sense of and sharing experiences verbally with others (Braddock et al., 2004).

Many research and design techniques for involving users draw upon the cognitive functions or communication skills that users with impairments have problems with. They are based on a shared verbal or visual language, make use of symbols or require the participants to conceptualize and think creatively. These techniques might therefore not be usable or have to be adjusted for people with impairments (Lazar, Feng and Hochheiser, 2010). A critical issue is that for each user group, adjustments to techniques have to be thought of, while the main principles behind the adjustments are not always clear. The main goal of this workshop is to extract exactly those principles in order to set up guidelines for doing participatory design with users with impairments that affect cognitive functions and communication.

Braddock, D., Rizzolo, M.C., Thompson, M. & Bell, R. Emerging technologies and cognitive disability, Journal of Special Education Technology, 2004, 19(4): p. 49-56.

Henry, S.L., Law, C., and Barnicle, K. Adapting the design process to address more customers in more situations. Proc. UPA Conference 2001,.

Koskinen, I., Battarbee, K., & Mattelmäki, T. Empathic Design, User experience in Product Design. IT Press, Helsinki, Finland. 2003.

Lazar, J., Feng, J.H., & Hochheiser, H. Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction. John Wiley & Sons Ltd., Chichester, UK. 2010.



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