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Assistive Technology Transfer Update

 

Title: Accessing user input, online and in-person
Author: Carly A Panchura
Published: 2001
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 3 Issue 2 (Summer)

Abstract

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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Full Text

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
Three panels were held to collect data on user needs in the field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). The first was an on-line panel, consisting of 22 people, including two international participants, which ran for about six weeks beginning in October 2000. The second panel was an FTF discussion between six augmented communicators, held in Buffalo, New York in November of 2000. A third FTF discussion involved seven participants and was held in Downey, California in January 2001.

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
At the end of the panel sessions, consumers were surveyed regarding their ability to fully participate in the discussion. On a scale of 1 to 5, the rankings given the process by online participants averaged 4.5. They also stated that they liked the amount of time we allowed for each response, and appreciated their ability to go back and read what others had said earlier. However, "the nonverbal cues seen while a person is talking with their device can give a person more insight than any word that is typed online ever could." The scores awarded by participants in the face-to-face groups, regarding their full participation at the panel, averaged 4.2 at the Buffalo panel and 5.0 at the Downey panel. Many stated that they enjoyed the patience shown them by the group, and liked seeing others participate who had similar strengths and weaknesses to theirs. One person felt that preparing her answers beforehand was the most helpful factor in allowing her to fully participate.

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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