Winter Quarter 2012

 Perspectives in Assistive Technology 

David L. Jaffe, MS and Professor Drew Nelson
Tuesdays & Thursdays   4:15pm - 5:30pm
Building 530 - Classroom 127

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Questions from
Andreas L. Larsson, PhD
Luleå University of Technology

  1. What would you say are the key differences between working on ordinary product development projects and development of assistive technology devices?

    In most situations a product developer would likely be a potential user of the device to be created and would therefore have a good idea of how it should work. However, an engineer working on developing an assistive technology product would most likely NOT use the device being developed and might not fully understand or appreciate the subtleties required of the design. So the engineer must rely heavily on the needs and preferences of the targeted population of individuals who will ultimately buy and use the device. While the designer has the expertise to develop a working device, the product's users define a successful product. If it doesn't meet their needs, it is a failure - even though it may be a technological work of art. Designers must therefore work closely with users in all stages of development - from conception to testing - to insure that a truly beneficial product is created.

  2. What do the students learn by actually working closely with persons with disabilities throughout the design process? (This is rarely the case in Swedish classes.)

    I would hope that students learn about the nature of disability; learn to observe and listen to individuals with disabilities (and their family) as they express their needs, desires, and preferences; and learn to include people with disabilities as an integral partner of their design team. Individuals with disabilities often have a lifetime of experience living with different capabilities. Students must address these kinds of differences in the design of specialized products that specifically serve consumers who are disabled (or elderly) - or to incorporate design features that would broaden the use of products for a wider market.

  3. How do students benefit from working with public and private sources in the community?

    In working with community agencies and commercial companies that serve individuals with disability, students get a comprehensive understanding of the needs of a particular disability group - such as veterans, people with low vision or blindness, or stroke survivors. Whereas a single point of view comes from an individual, the needs of a larger community are better articulated by an organization that represents a group. It is important to understand that two individuals who are blind may have very different needs. So, if a assistive technology engineer designs a device with advice from just one user, the resultant device may only solve the needs of that one user. A device designed with input from many users will better serve a wider range of needs and thereby help more people.

  4. Any random thoughts on education and assistive technology that you would like to share?

    I believe that assistive technology can be the basis for many socially rewarding student and research projects - not only in Mechanical Engineering, but also in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Human Biology. It is my desire to create a laboratory and form a collaboration of students and educators within these discliplines to address the technology needs of people with disabilities and the elderly.

Updated 09/22/2011

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