Technology is increasingly being promoted as a means of addressing age-related cognitive and sensory impairments and enabling seniors to live more independently. Pen-based devices such as Personal Digital Assistants and Tablet PCs are appealing platforms for these endeavors because they are small, mobile, and powerful. Relative to the mouse, pen-based devices have been shown to be particularly beneficial for older adults. However, in terms of garnering wide-spread adoption, the mouse has historically dominated, leading researchers to focus chiefly on identifying and addressing its age- and motor-related limitations. In contrast, pen-based limitations for older users have been relatively unexplored. This thesis begins to fill that gap in the literature.

Our first experiment, an empirical evaluation of pen-based target acquisition across the adult lifespan, identified three main sources of pen-based target acquisition difficultyËœmissing-just-below, slipping, and driftingËœand demonstrated how these difficulties vary across task situation and age. In addition, this work showed that including older adults as participants can help uncover general pen-interaction problems: the missing-just-below and drifting difficulties were evident in both younger and older users alike.

We next developed seven new target acquisition techniques to improve pen-based interaction, specifically addressing the three difficulties identified, and particularly targeting older adults. Our techniques built upon existing mouse-based techniques developed for older users and pen techniques for younger users. In total, we conducted three experiments to evaluate the seven new pen-based techniques: Reassigned and Deactivated (for missing-just-below), Tap and Glide (for drifting), and Steady, Bubble, and Steadied-Bubble (for slipping). Through these evaluations, we established where our proposed designs were successful at reducing errors, and where further refinement is needed.

Finally, we reflected on our findings across studies to identify age-related, contextual, and technological factors which contributed to our results. These factors help illuminate the underlying reasons for pen-based targeting difficulties and shed light onto areas still needing attention. Overall, the results of this research support our main thesis that the accessibility of pen-based interfaces can be improved for older adults by first examining the sources of age-related acquisition difficulty, and then using the results of this examination to develop improved techniques.

Full Thesis:
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Thesis Advisor:
Joanna McGrenere

Award Date:
January 1, 2010

University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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