Making computers more user-friendly for disabled

July 16th, 2008 - 3:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 16 (IANS) Efforts are underway to come up with a more user-friendly computer that responds to physically challenged individuals. Current designs are particularly frustrating for the disabled, the elderly and anybody who has trouble with a mouse.

A new approach developed by Washington University researchers would put each person through a brief skills test and generate a mathematically based version of the user interface optimised for his or her vision and motor abilities.

“Assistive technologies are built on the assumption that it’s the people who have to adapt to the technology.

“We tried to reverse this assumption, and make the software adapt to people,” said the study’s co-author Krzysztof Gajos.

Tests showed the system closed the performance gap between disabled and able-bodied users by 62 percent, and disabled users strongly preferred the automatically generated interfaces.

“This shows that automatically generating personalised interfaces really does work, and the technology is ready for prime time,” Weld said.

The system, called Supple, begins with a one-time assessment of a person’s mouse pointing, dragging and clicking skills. A ring of dots appears on the screen and as each dot lights up, the user must quickly click on it.

The task is repeated with different-sized dots. Other prompts ask the participant to click and drag, select from a list, and click repeatedly on one spot.

Participants can move the cursor using any type of device. The test takes about 20 minutes for an able-bodied person or up to 90 minutes for a person with motor disabilities.

Researchers tested the system last summer on six able-bodied people and 11 people with motor impairments. The resulting interfaces showed one size definitely did not fit all.

A man with severe cerebral palsy used his chin to control a trackball and could move the pointer quickly but spastically. Based on his skills test, Supple generated a user interface where all the targets were bigger than normal, and lists were expanded to minimise scrolling.

In contrast, a woman with muscular dystrophy who participated in the study used both hands to move a mouse. She could make very precise movements but moved the cursor very slowly and with great effort because of weak muscles.

Based on her results, Supple automatically generated an interface with small buttons and a compressed layout.

These findings were presented Tuesday at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence in Chicago.

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