Empowering individuals with do-it-yourself assistive technology

Author(s): Amy Hurst and Jasmine Tobias

Description: The SIGACCESS community prides itself on directing the technology community’s understanding of disabled people and the role technology serves in their lives. Over the past decade, this community has diversified its view of assistive technologies and considered various ways that technology can serve individuals’ unique experiences of disability rather than generalizing across broad groups. Designing for the N of 1 is a unique and critical challenge distinguishing accessibility from other fields because all disability is individual. Perhaps the greatest impact of Hurst and Tobias’ paper is the insight that we can look to the creativity of disabled people themselves for novel and impactful solutions.

By centering the role disabled people play in acquiring and designing these technologies, Hurst and Tobias have inspired a diverse line of research. This paper was instrumental in starting a new direction of accessibility research and making accessibility a core topic intersecting other areas of HCI, such as design and digital fabrication. 

Paper year: 2011

Abstract: Unfortunately, a large percentage of Assistive Technology devices that are purchased (35% or more) end up unused or abandoned [7,10], leaving many people with Assistive Technology that is inappropriate for their needs. Low acceptance rates of Assistive Technology occur for many reasons, but common factors include 1) lack of considering user opinion in selection, 2) ease in obtaining devices, 3) poor device performance, and 4) changes in user needs and priorities [7]. We are working to help more people gain access to the Assistive Technology they need by empowering non-engineers to “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) and create, modify, or build. This paper illustrates that it is possible to custom-build Assistive Technology, and argues why empowering users to make their own Assistive Technology can improve the adoption process (and subsequently adoption rates). We discuss DIY experiences and impressions from individuals who have either built Assistive Technology before, or rely on it. We found that increased control over design elements, passion, and cost motivated individuals to make their own Assistive Technology instead of buying it. We discuss how a new generation of rapid prototyping tools and online communities can empower more individuals. We synthesize our findings into design recommendations to help promote future DIY-AT success.

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