The Stakeholders Forum on Communication Enhancement (SFCE) posed a challenge to the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC) when it came time to gather data as the focus of the SFCE, the Demand-Pull Project, had to do with augmented communication for communication aid users. This article discusses the methods used to get around this communication obstacle as well as the positive feedback.
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This year's Demand-Pull project, the Stakeholders Forum on Communication Enhancement (SFCE), presented a somewhat unique challenge to the methods we typically use to capture the voice of the end-user – in this case, the augmented communicator. Realizing that even the most experienced communication-aid users average 15 words-per-minute under most circumstances, our challenge was to facilitate their full participation in face-to-face (FTF) discussions, the method currently used for capturing the consumer voice for the project.
This year, in addition to collecting data in FTF discussions, we proposed the idea of utilizing computer-mediated communication (CMC) for the collection of data. CMC allows time for participants to respond while not foregoing the ongoing interactions of the group. It seemed to us that using a CMC-based panel, along with an improved version of our currently used FTF method, would provide a vast amount of quality information for developing our white papers, while at the same time allowing for full participation of all consumers.
Putting theory into practice
For each FTF group, a script of discussion questions was developed and distributed approximately two weeks prior to the meeting. As mentioned, this accommodation gave participants the option of storing responses, or parts of responses, beforehand, and acted as an expedient in overcoming temporal demands suggested by previous research. It also answered our concomitant concern during the panels about perfecting a strategy that would enable us to optimally integrate AAC end-users in FTF interactions with other stakeholders at the next stage of the Demand-Pull process, the Stakeholder Forum.
At the Forum, a similar protocol was followed. Consumers were sent the script of discussion questions via e-mail prior to the meeting. Discussion moderators often addressed questions first to the consumers, so that their prepared answer could be stated first. This allowed users to speak (that is, to output their saved responses) before the topic changed focus.
The consumer scorecard on T2RERC
The two-day Stakeholder Forum, held in June, had twelve augmented communicators participating in its groups, mixed in with other Stakeholders who were not communication aid users. General comments from Forum participants included: "the fact that everyone, almost without exception, actively participated was helpful." Stakeholders commended us on the high level of participation, only suggesting that more consumers could have been included.
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