2004 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 


Mamoru Iwabuchi(1), Kenryu Nakamura(2), Sheryl Burgstahler(1), Patricia Dawden(1), Norman Alm(3)

(1) DO-IT, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
(2) Faculty of Education, Kagawa University, Takamatsu, Japan
(3) Applied Computing, University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland, UK


This system presents a personal profile which helps care givers understand the person's support needs. The content of the system was investigated based on a survey of care documents at a special school, which suggested that individually dependent information, such as physical aspects of the disabilities, communication, and feeding, require more than a text explanation. The prototype uses multimedia for these types of information and is hosted on mobile devices, such as a cellular phone and a PDA with a wireless communication card, so that the use of the system can provide flexible access in terms of time and place.


At present, there are a number of different types of technology available for communication for people with disabilities (e.g., Beukelman & Mirenda, 1998; RESNA, 2000). Assistive technology supports both the information input and output of people with disabilities. For example, for receiving information, a hearing aid can help people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and a screen-reader can help people who are blind or have low vision. On the other hand, for giving information, a communication aid can help non-speaking people to express their ideas. There are also technical contributions of web accessibility and universal design, which make information easy to access for disabled people (Figure 1).

Technical assistants for people with communication difficulties

Figure 1 Technical assistants for people with communication difficulties

However, there are still many people who have communication difficulties even with those technologies. In particular, people who have intellectual, multiple, or severe motor disabilities often have unsuccessful conversations because of their poor explanation skills due to insufficient communication experience or slow communication rate.

In addition, some types of information are difficult to convey by text alone, such as optimum body position, type of movement, or correct timing of movements. Supporters who are unfamiliar with the personfs needs and routines often must use trial and error, which causes of anxiety even for experts with knowledge and experience about disabilities. Current information technology, such as third generation cellular phones, makes it possible to incorporate multimedia into mobile communications, and this new capability may be useful in conveying such support information. There have been some systems proposed as well as our prototype, which provided multimedia information (Gowan et al., 2002; Hine et al., 1998, 2002; Iwabuchi et al.,2003). However, in order to use the technology effectively and efficiently, it is important to identify for which aspects of support multimedia information is particularly useful compared with text-based information.

Difficulties in conveying care information with text alone

A survey was conducted with 24 teachers who have produced explanatory text of 56 students at a special school. Five categories of support information were highlighted: (1) physical aspects of the disabilities, (2) dressing, (3) communication, (4) helping in the bathroom, and (5) feeding. The teachers were asked to note where they found it particularly difficult to express how to appropriately support the students with disabilities. They noted 102 instances of this in total. Twenty-seven teachers who were not acquainted with the students were then asked to read the documents and note where they found it difficult to understand. They noted 871 instances in total. Thus 47.0% of the explanatory text of the writers was found difficult for the readers to understand. However, for the writers of the text alone it was only 14.8% of the total noted by the readers. This suggested that text failed in conveying information in some of these categories. Which category was more difficult to convey by the text? An analysis of variance test was carried out and it was concluded that the text did less well at explaining physical aspects of the disabilities, communication, and feeding and was more successful at explaining about dressing and helping in the bathroom. This may be because the information about the first three areas is heavily individual-dependent, whereas the other areas are more likely to be similar for most people.

Design of the prototype

As established above, when asking for assistance, many people with disabilities face communication difficulties which are due to the limits of how much information can be conveyed in text, by lack of social experience, and by speech impairment. We have developed a prototype gelectronic name cardh system which works as shown in Figure 2. An electronic intermediary system such as this, which uses multimedia for exchanging information, may help to alleviate some of the difficulties outlined above. However, that multimedia information might have a negative effect on privacy must be considered. For example, a video of dressing or helping in the bathroom is hardly suitable for use in public. The result of the survey discussed above fortunately suggests that dressing and helping in the bathroom do not require multimedia information. The prototype currently contains individual-dependent information about communication, feeding, medicine, physical support, and personal preferences. The categories were chosen according to the findings of the survey described. Further investigation of possible formats for this kind of system, such as vCard (Internet Mail Consortium, 2003), could widen its application to other electronic and information technology devices in the future. The developed prototype can be hosted on mobile devices, which makes possible flexible use in terms of time and place. The name card can be created by typing at an editable homepage of the system. A cellular phone with a camera attached enables the user to add easily visual data by emailing a still image or movie clip as an attached file.

A sample electronic name card which contains multimedia information

Figure 2 A sample electronic name card which contains multimedia information


An electronic intermediary system was investigated, which stores multimedia information as a profile of a person with special needs. For practical use, it is utterly important to consider the issues of privacy and security. In terms of privacy, this study fortunately suggests that dressing and helping in the bathroom, which is not suitable for public use, do not require multimedia information. In terms of security, the usability of the system has to be improved to give maximum control for the user. It is then necessary to discuss who can access and who can create the information. In addition to the choice of personal information categories, it is also important to investigate a effective and efficient way of presenting the information using multimedia. The content and its presentation might differ from one person to another based on the userfs type of disability, age, gender, and so on. Culture also might have an influence on this. These questions are discussed in this collaborative project conducted in Japan, the US, and UK. We believe that the system conveys more precise information on a personfs support needs than text-based methods and helps to alleviate misunderstandings and reduce accidents. This will benefit the person, their family, and everyone withwhom they come into contact.


Beukelman, D.R., & Mirenda, P. (1998). Augmentative and alternative communication: Management of Severe Communication Disorders in Adults and Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Gowans, G., Alm, N., Astell, A., Campbell, J., Dye, R., Ellis, M. (2002) CIRCA (Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid). Proceedings of 18th International Conference of Alzheimerfs Disease International, Barcelona, Spain, October 23-26, 2002.

Hine, N., Beattie, W., & Arnott, J. (1998). Architecture of portable multimedia augmentative and assistive communications system. In S. Blackstone (Ed.), Proceedings of the ISAAC 1998 International Conference (pp. 461-462), Toronto: International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

Hine, N., & Arnott, J. (2002). A multimedia storytelling system for non-speaking people. In S. Vintergaard (Ed.), Proceedings of the ISAAC 2002 International Conference (pp.87-88), Toronto: International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

Internet Mail Consortium. (2003). vCard and vCalendar. Retrieved from http://www.imc.org/pdi/

Iwabuchi, M., Nakamura, K., Fujiwara, Y., Alm, N., & Burgstahler, S. (2003). An electronic name card system on a mobile device for people with disabilities and elderly people. Proceedings of the HCI International 2003 Conference (pp. 243-244).

RESNA. (2000). Fundamentals in Assistive Technology. Arlington: RESNA.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.