Developing an Assistive Technology Roadmap

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By Rory A. Cooper, PhD, and James M. Joseph, MS

For over 25 years, The Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) has been a leader in creating, evaluating, and deploying assistive technology for daily living for people with disabilities. HERL, along with the University of Pittsburgh and the Department of Veterans Affairs, developed and conducted two national surveys, called the Voice of the Consumer, to help create a research and development roadmap to benefit those with disabilities, including those who receive O&P care.

 Respondents had to be at least 18 years old, citizens of the United States or territory, and users of any mobility assistive technology. They were recruited in person, via flyers, and in settings such as veterans and community events, healthcare facilities, and through advertisements, among others.

In one survey, participants were asked how important it was to them to carry out certain activities if technology could accommodate them. The second survey was conducted to determine where the participants obtained information about assistive technology.

The first survey included 1,022 partic­ipants. Most respondents identified four categories as critical/important that technology could help them with: To live without a caregiver or with less assistance; to go to work or school or be more productive at work/school; to meet all of their personal mobility needs (e.g., home, work, neighborhood); and to travel freely (e.g., vacation, cruise, airline, bus, taxi, train).

The second survey included 500 people with disabilities and assessed consumer sources of information for assistive technology. Analysis of the responses, segmented by information-seeking behavior, resulted in three groups. Group 1 can be described as engaged and preferred to receive and seek information about assistive technology from the internet, events, and conferences. Veterans comprised the majority of this group, it had the oldest members, and it had the largest proportion of people with spinal cord injuries. Group 1 was also mostly men, highly educated, and represented higher income than the other groups. In addition, the geography of this group was mostly suburban.

Group 2 represented a more disengaged cluster, and the lowest proportion of internet usage. This group contained respondents with lower income and education and was primarily made up of active military service people.

Group 3 represented the cluster in which respondents sought out information about assistive technology from family and friends, in addition to the internet. Group 3 also contained the highest female presence, and a high proportion of respondents were still working. The highest proportion of manual wheelchair users were included in Group 3, and most respondents resided in urban areas. For example, the group that preferred the internet to obtain health-related information is also our oldest group, which may be juxtaposed with the literature. Women in Group 3 also preferred the internet, but they also sought out friends and family for assistive-technology information.

Results of this study can be used to identify gaps in consumer knowledge of new assistive technology and inform the dissemination process to ensure that consumers are not only aware of new and innovative assistive technologies, but are also skilled in using the devices they choose. O&P EDGE


Rory A. Cooper, PhD, is a director of HERL at the University of Pittsburgh.

   James M. Joseph, MS, GySgt USMC (ret.), is a research associate and peer mentor in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling at HERL.