2001 Conference Proceedings

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Design, Development and Evaluation of a Multimedia Program About Assistive Technology Using a 3D Environment and Device Simulations

Bernard Fleming, Jo Fleming and Robert Cunningham
Interdisciplinary Human Development Institute
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky 40506
E-mail: flemingb@ihdi.uky.edu 

ORCCA Technology, Inc.
Lexington, Kentucky 40507
E-mail: orcca@orcca.com


This project is designing, developing, and evaluating an interactive multimedia program to provide essential information and training on a wide range of assistive technology (AT) devices and systems for persons with disabilities, their families and advocates, and professionals who provide AT services. This training program incorporates a variety of instructional strategies and technologies including user-controlled, computer-based simulations of assistive devices and 3D rendered objects which can be viewed and manipulated by the user. A number of accessibility features are also incorporated into the program. The program allows the user to obtain information and training on: 1) the features and technical characteristics of a selection of assistive devices; 2) basic principles of operation of these devices; 3) technical requirements and compatibility information; and, 4) potential applications and typical uses of these devices.


The National Council on Disability Study on the Financing of Assistive Devices and Services for Individuals with Disabilities (1993) pointed out that in spite of the positive impact that AT has had on the lives of many individuals with disabilities, it is clear that awareness, understanding and access to AT are still too often the result of where a person lives, their economic class and racial heritage. It has also been found that there is a lack of expertise in AT among persons with disabilities, family members, professional service providers and advocates (Morris and Button, 1995). Although the situation is improving greatly, there is a scarcity of qualified AT service providers (Galvin and Wobschall, 1996). Service providers are not easy to locate and, for those few who are available, there are great demands on their time (Langton, 1991). The Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) provides public education, awareness programs and a variety of AT related services at numerous centers throughout the U.S. In 1998 these centers provided direct services to 100,000 persons and indirect services to 300,000. In spite of these large numbers, the ATA estimates that fewer than 5 percent of people with disabilities in the United States have accessed their services in their first 11 years of operation. A U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment Report in 1988 indicated that technology can indeed have a powerful impact on consumer outcomes if personnel have the training and skills to use the technology, an education that provides vision and understanding of developing technology, support for experimentation and innovation, and time for learning and practice (Behrmann, 1995). A number of other reports provide additional evidence for the need for expanded and improved AT training and information (McGregor and Pachuski, 1996; Goodman, 1997; Behrmann, 1993; Kanny et al., 1991; Vanderheiden, 1987; National Council on Disability; 2000). The interactive, multimedia program described in this paper is designed to provide a low-cost, easily disseminated, convenient and effective alternative for the many individuals who need essential information and training on the operation and uses of AT devices but do not have access to the necessary AT expertise or equipment.


The program uses a metaphor of a community-based Assistive Technology (AT) Center. For purposes of providing a realistic experience, the entire environment, including AT devices, is rendered in three dimensions using 3D Studio Max (Kinetix). Within the AT Center are four rooms, each dedicated to a specific area of AT: an Adaptive Computer Technology Room, a Communications Technology Room, an Environmental Adaptations Room, and a Mobility and Seating Room. Within each room the user is presented with a selection of 3D objects depicting the assistive devices. Interactive multimedia provides an effective means to learn about these AT devices and systems. The program uses a unique set of presentation and interaction technologies which enhance the learning experience through: interactive user control of the program content and sequence of presentation; viewing photographic images and 3D objects; viewing 3D animations of device configuration and functioning; user manipulation and 3D viewing of modeled objects using QuickTimeVR technology (Apple Computer); digital video presentation of uses of devices; user-controlled, and operational simulations of a selection of assistive devices. Multimedia authoring and programming of the device simulations was accomplished with Authorware 5.1 Attain (Macromedia). Accessibility features include captioning using QuickTime (Apple Computer) text tracks, narration for all on-screen text, video description using QuickTime audio tracks, and hotkeys for navigation buttons. Audio narration can be toggled on or off by clicking an on-screen icon.

In the prototype only the Adaptive Computer Technology Room and associated AT have been completed. In this room, 25 broad categories of alternative input and output devices and software are presented. Knowledge statements were identified for each of the categories of devices and incorporated into the instructional design of the program. These knowledge statements were reviewed and evaluated by a panel of 14 experts in the field of adaptive computer technology. For all areas rated (knowledge statements, example products and related technologies) the panel determined that 90.1 to 98.1 percent of the items were considered essential as written. Revisions to some items were suggested by the panel and incorporated in the final version of the program.


The figure above illustrates the Adaptive Computer Technology Room. On the left side of the room is a standard computer workstation. In the center is a shelf containing a variety of adaptive computer software. On the right is a shelf containing a representative variety of adaptive computer hardware. The user chooses one of these three components and then can choose to examine any of the objects at the computer workstation or on one of the shelves. As the cursor moves over the objects, each object is highlighted and the generic name for the object appears, for example, Expanded Keyboard, Dynamic Braille Display, Speech Recognition software, or On-Screen Keyboard software.

For an example, if the user chooses the Expanded Keyboard object from the hardware shelf, the screen shown above appears. The image of the example keyboard (Intellikeys) is a geometrically and technically accurate 3D QuickTimeVR object which can be manipulated and viewed from any perspective. Along the bottom of the screen are six action buttons and a "Print" button which will display PDF (Adobe) files which can be printed to obtain a printout of essential information presented in the program. The most current information on accessing PDF files by screen readers will be included in the program by linking to the program's Web site. The six action buttons allow the user to select among: "Definition"; "Category Features"; "Products and Sources"; "Uses and Examples" which include images and video of typical uses of these devices; a "Try it Out!" section which presents the opportunity to interact with a simulated Expanded Keyboard with three programmed overlays; and a section containing "Related Technology". This same interactive screen design is used for each device presented in the Adaptive Computer Technology Room.

The figure above shows the screen which appears when the user selects the "Try it Out!" button for the Expanded Keyboard. The user operates the Expanded Keyboard by clicking and dragging one of three different overlays to place on top of the image of the expanded keyboard. When the user clicks on a symbol or key on the keyboard overlay the appropriate action on the computer monitor screen occurs. This action could also include generation of an accompanying sound.

The figure above shows the screen which appears when the user selects the "Try it Out!" button for the On-Screen Keyboard software. The user operates the On-Screen Keyboard with the mouse and text is entered on a simulated word processor and displayed on a simulated computer screen. The user may experiment with three modes of operation: direct selection with switch activation, direct selection with the dwell feature, or row-column scanning activated with the mouse button.


The value and usability of the prototype program has been evaluated by 247 professionals, students and consumers at multiple locations across the United States including university classes, inservice training sessions and assistive technology conferences. Interface design, multimedia components, need for product, value of the product for their work, and potential instructional effectiveness were evaluated. A 1-5 Likert Scale was used. Mean scores ranged from 4.44 to 4.76 for all variables. These results indicate high scores in each of the five dimensions confirming that the content and format were acceptable to the evaluators. Participants were also asked to rate the program in comparison to traditional techniques typically used to teach about AT. In summary, 42 percent of the evaluators indicated that the program should be used in conjunction with traditional techniques, 15 percent indicated the program would be just as effective as traditional techniques and 42 percent indicated that the program would be more effective than traditional techniques.


Behrmann, M.M. (1993). Assistive Technology Issues for Virginia Schools-Final Report. George Mason University.
Behrmann, M.M. (1995). Assistive Technology Training. In: Flippo, K.F., Inge, K.J. and Barcus, J.M.. Assistive Technology: A Resource for School, Work and Community. Brookes Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD, 1995.
Galvin, J.C. and Wobshall, R.A. (1996). Assistive Technology-related Legislation and Policies. In: Galvin, J.C. and Scherer, M.J. Evaluating, Selecting, and Using Appropriate Assistive Technology. Aspen Publishers, Gaithersburg, MD, 1996.
Goodman, S. (1997). United Cerebral Palsy Association - Policies Related to Assistive Technology Devices and Services for Infants and Toddlers Report.
Kanny, E., Anson, D. and Smith, R. (1991). A survey of technology education in entry-level curricula: quantity, quality and barriers. Occup. Ther. J. Research 11: 311-318.
Langton, A.J. (1991). Critical Issues Impacting the Use of Assistive Technology. Center for Rehabilitation Technology Services, Columbia, SC.
McGregor, G. and Pachuski, P. (1996). Assistive Technology in Schools: Are Teachers Ready, Able and Supported? J. Spec. Ed. Technol. 8(1): 4-15.
Morris, M.W. and Button, C. (1995). Access to Assistive Technology: A Public Policy Status Report. Impact 8 (1): 2-3.
National Council on Disability. (2000). Federal Policy Barriers to Assistive Technology. Washington, D.C.
Vanderheiden, G.C. (1987). Service Delivery Mechanisms in Rehabilitation Technology. Am. J. Occup. Ther. 41 (11):703-710.


This project was funded by the Administration on Developmental Disabilities: University Affiliated Programs-Training Initiative Projects and National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant #R43HD36927-01.

Bernard Fleming, PhD, ATP
Interdisciplinary Human Development Institute
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky 40506
E-mail: flemingb@ihdi.uky.edu

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