2004 Conference Proceedings

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Mark Friedman, Ph.D.
Allison Carey, Ph.D.
Diane Bryen, Ph.D.
Temple University
Institute on Disabilities
Ritter Hall Annex, 4th floor
Broad St and Cecil B. Moore Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Phone: 215-204-1356
Fax: 215-204-6336
Email: friedman@voicenet.com

Pilot field trials were conducted to test the usability of different electronic organizers as devices for people with cognitive disabilities to be more independent with 13 participants at four locations. The locations were: a self-advocacy organization (Speaking For Ourselves), parent advocacy group, and two sheltered workshops. The participants were all people with intellectual disabilities. This pilot was part of a larger five-year study funded by the National Institute on Research and Rehabilitation.

A total of 13 devices were utilized with 3-4 devices used during any one survey. Each set consisted of a Palm Pilot, Pocket PC, or other device and a Voice Organizer. The devices were split between Palm operating systems (Sony Clie NR70, Palm Tungsten, AlphaSmart Dana, Palm M130, Palm M500), Pocket PC operating systems (iPAC 3950, Dell Axim, Toshiba e330), proprietary systems (Sharp Wizard YO-520 and Nokia 9290) and voice organizers (Parrot, Voice Organizer 6260, and Voice Diary).

A survey protocol was developed. Each person was given the same two tasks to perform on each one of the 3-4 devices in the set. The first task was to turn on the device, find a specific phone number, which has been pre-programmed into the device, and dial the phone number. The second task was to enter a date (get the bus, start work) into the calendar. The third task was to respond to a pre-programmed alarm when it sounded during the survey.


At the end of the survey, participants were asked their overall favorite device. Results were:

Favorite Overall Choice
1. Nokia 3 times
2. Toshiba 2
3. Dell 2
4. Parrot 2
5. IPAQ 1
6. Dana 1
7. Palm M130 0
8. Palm M500 0
9. Palm Tungsten 0
10. Sharp Wizard 0
11. Clie 0
12. Voice Mate 0
13. Voice Organizer 0

Favorite by Features choices (How many times each device was chosen the favorite for a particular feature)

General interest: Toshiba 4, Dell 3, Nokia 2
Appearance: Toshiba 4, Dell 3, Wizard 2
Button Size: Dell 3, Parrot 3, Nokia 2
Screen Size: Toshiba 5, Dell 3, Clie 2
Font Size: Dell 3, iPAQ 3, Clie 2, Wizard 2

Analysis of the Devices

  1. Toshiba, iPAQ and Dell (Pocket PC)
    1. People seemed to like best. This appeared to be because of the brightness and large size of the screen and visibility. These screens had the highest technical resolution (320x320 Translucent).
    2. The overall style, screen color, design, and look appeared to be more appealing.
    3. The Pocket PC operating system had drop down menus that posed challenges for participants. At times these menus were hard to recover from.
    4. Favorite Features: color, screen size and brightness, appearance, style and "looks."

  2. Sharp Wizard (Proprietary)
    1. Some participants liked that it was small and buttons were easy to find.
    2. Features: Smallest unit, black and white with built in keyboard, proprietary operating system.

  3. Dana (Palm)
    1. People appeared to not like the Dana due to its large size and being seen as bulky with a full sized keyboard. The screen was black and white and hard to see due to low resolution.
    2. Features: Full sized keyboard, black and white, screen 160x160, Palm operating system

  4. Palm Tungsten (Palm)
    1. Pictures (icons) on bottom really worked well. Fonts were able to blow up larger than Pocket PC, pull out bottom was confusing to some participants.
    2. Features: Color, brighter screen, 320x320 Translucent, Palm operating system.

  5. Palm - M500 (Black and White) and M130 (Color)
    1. A small number of participants liked this device. Buttons worked well, they were concave (rounded inward) and participants could hold the stylus in their hand and push the buttons. Other devices had convex (rounded outward) and could not be pushed with a stylus. Pictures (icons) on bottom worked well. The Palm fonts were able to be enlarged larger than the Pocket PC's which was found very helpful. Screens were harder to see due to lower resolution.
    2. Features: M500 Black and white, M515 color, Screen 160x160, Palm operating system.

  6. Voice Recorders
    1. None of the participants appeared to want to use due to complicated use. Participants were fascinated by their speaking and voice recognition, particularly the Parrot, although they were too confusing overall.

Feature Analysis (Features that appeared to support usability)

  1. Screen brightest, resolution and translucence were felt by the participants to be the most important item for use. Screen resolution and type size are interrelated for readability. While the Tungsten had the same technical screen rating, the Dell, Toshiba, and iPAQ all had objectively brighter screens.

  2. Type size (font) - seemed to be very important for ease of use. Type size and screen resolution were interrelated. Some times participants rated the smaller fonts, found on the brighter Pocket PCs, as actually being the largest although that was not objectively the case. The Palm operating system was able to increase the font size larger than the Pocket PC's.

  3. Screen size - Screen size didn't seem to be as important as it might seem. Screen size was interrelated with screen color and brightness. All of the screen sizes were about the same.

  4. Buttons (mechanical) - Shape made a difference in ease of use. Concave were more easily pushed with the stylus. The shape and size of the buttons were all relatively the same and appeared to work equally well. It is telling to observe that the buttons on the Wizard and Dana were placed in unusual places on the keyboard and this was very difficult for participants to understand and identify. It was believed that the icons on the mechanical buttons and used for additional navigation on the Palms were thought to be particularly helpful.

  5. Icons - the Icons were very important as a guide to figure out the meanings of the buttons. They also helped participants recover (get back to a starting point) when they got lost in different applications.

Usability Analysis (ease of use for task)

  1. Learning Issues - There is a lot to learn in the beginning about how to operative the device, i.e. how to turn on, turn off, hold the device, use the stylus, tap the screen, and learning over time to do more complex tasks. This cognitive overload and "learner fatigue" could be a major factor in how participants could learn more complicated tasks later after learning the entry-level items.

  2. Readability of text was critical to use. It involves both screen brightness, resolution and type size.

  3. Recoverability - ability to get back to a starting point without help when lost is a key factor in usability.

Key Ideas

  1. Preference and usability were not the same thing. People liked the design, style, appearance, even when it did not appear to be the easiest device to use.

  2. Sometimes a participant chose a device as best even though it seemed to the researchers that they performed better on another device.

  3. Brightness of screen, resolution and color appeared to be more important to participants than size of type or screen size.

  4. Participants preferred Pocket PC's overall, even though popup menus often got in the way of performing/completing the task. The popup menus sometimes prevented participant's ability to restart from beginning (recovery).

  5. Reminders (beeps) were expected to be of significant assistance but NOT one person was able to respond. Perhaps this is an issue of training.

  6. Participants appeared to enjoy the tasks and the challenge. We often had to tell people to stop. Surprisingly, when people had trouble, they did not quit and wanted to continue working to accomplish the task.

  7. The device design significantly influenced people's interest and participation.

  8. The Palm software interface seemed easier to use and to find information although the Pocket PC (Dell, Toshiba, iPAQ) were overwhelmingly more popular. We attributed this to the brighter color screens and more attractive style and design that were available on the Pocket PC. Other features did not seem to be as important to participants' ratings. Perhaps these are the usability features most significant to participants.

Issues for the Future

  1. The question of how to match a device to a person based on based on individual characteristics was problematic. We would like to explore the idea of matching devices based on a chosen task.

  2. Training and practice over time could significantly improve participants' ability to perform use the device and accomplish tasks.

  3. Other specialized Palm and Pocket PC software could help participants accomplish tasks i.e. word prediction, enlarged fonts, brighter color schemes, alarm cues and scheduling reminders.

  4. Assisted usage, where the person with a disability is assisted in the use of the device by professional staff or a family member, could enable many people to benefit from the use of reminder devices.

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