Document Type



This item is available under a Creative Commons License for non-commercial use only


2. ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY, Computer hardware and architecture, Interdisciplinary

Publication Details

Recent Advances in Assistive Technology & Engineering (RAatE), University of Warwick, UK.


Introduction: Electronic Assistive Technology (EAT) aims to empower individuals with disabilities by reducing the environmental and societal barriers they encounter. Power wheelchairs aid mobility, communication aids allow for more efficient conversation, environmental controls permit greater autonomy, and personal computers provide access to information, social networking and educational activities. In order to control EAT, a computer input device is necessary. Mice and keyboards are typically used but in certain cases, Special Access Technology (SAT) is required. SAT refers to adapted and alternative computer input devices that are utilised when mainstream software and hardware are not suitable. Examples are switches, joysticks and screen-scanning software. Unfortunately, high costs can hinder access to many types of assistive technology (AT), including SAT, and even when this is overcome, device abandonment can occur. Abandonment has been linked to inappropriate product design leading to devices that are difficult to use, fail during use, and have poor aesthetics resulting in the user feeling stigmatised. This research proposes and explores ways of improving the design process of AT. It focuses on user participation and ties in the theory of mass customisation as a tool for increasing market size and improving the adaptability of AT.

Method: This paper describes the first of two phases which compose a framework for the participatory design of customisable AT. The practical development of a SAT hardware device scaffolds the research process. This initial phase involves professionals working with AT users who have disabilities and employs a Delphi study to establish consensus on important design issues relating to a specific type of AT, in this case SAT. An adapted morphological matrix is also described and shows how the results of the Delphi study can be practically applied during the concept generation phase of the product design process.

Findings: A panel of 14 professionals participated in the Delphi study, with 64% (n=9) working in the Republic of Ireland, and 36% (n=5) in Northern Ireland. Occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech & language therapists, AT trainers and engineers took part. The process resulted in consensus on; 1) prevalent parts of SAT that malfunction, 2) primary reasons for SAT malfunction, 3) characteristics of a client which are associated with SAT selection, 4) client needs regarding SAT use and training, 5) desirable traits of SAT, and 6) clinicians’ frustrations with SAT.

Conclusion: The study reveals a wide range of problems related to SAT and also highlights the complexities of finding the right type of SAT for a particular individual. Each list of design issues resulting from the six questions provides different insights and drives the concept generation phase. The study demonstrates that a structured approach aids in the efficient generation and application of expert users’ knowledge during the design process of customisable AT.