Domain: Research

Themes: Inclusive Educational Technology

Building a mobile survey collection tool to gather information about disabilities and assistive technologies

Information about disabilities and AT usage is largely collected through population based surveys. In developing countries, internet access is either expensive or unreliable, meaning that population based surveys are often paper based. Since population based surveys collect data covering many different themes, a survey for one individual runs over dozens of sheets of paper. A separate survey must be completed for each member of a household, and there are thousands of households that need to complete the surveys.

The issues with paper based population surveys are vast. In particular, they take a lot of time, which limits the number of individuals and households that can reasonably be visited. This has a knock on effect on the accuracy and availability of data available for decision makers to plan for population needs, such as AT requirements.

To improve both the process and the information available, a better system is needed for conducting population surveys.

Using mobile technology and artificial intelligence

In response to this, PhD student Sahan Bulathwela has partnered with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to develop a mobile application that can collect and process information in different conditions across the world.

“This is a mobile app that will allow enumerators to go into the field and collect data without internet access, the data feeds into a central data repository, which also cuts down on the costs of data entry and data cleaning. And you save a lot of paper in the process. After all, most population based surveys have hundreds of questions that have to be answered by each person.”

As well as logging survey answers, the mobile app has a number of additional features built into it that will help to improve the process overall. This includes an ability to register all members of a household on one device, and the use of QR codes to move information from one device to another, to make logging information quicker.

In terms of collecting information about disabilities and AT needs, the app can work alongside other third party apps being developed by AT start-ups and labs. These can measure things such as an individual’s vision or hearing.

Importantly, the mobile app and backend application that centralises all the information both provide data protection by design. The database in the device is encrypted, and the central database at UCL is set within a protected infrastructure. Only authorised personnel can download the data, identifiable fields are automatically scrubbed from downloads, and there is a log of who downloads the data, when and from where. The whole system is GDPR compliant.

Next steps

The application is due to be used for a six week population survey in Africa, which will be its first use in a real world situation. Bulathwela hopes that the application will then be rolled out for use in other population based surveys across the world.

“One of my goals in life is to push forward education and accessibility, and much of the work I do revolves around the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, which is about inclusive and equitable education,” Bulathwela said. “Solving issues like this through the smart use of technology and AI can really help sustainable development as a whole. This app is resource saving, and improves data integrity and data cleanliness – while overcoming operational constraints and allowing for the responsible processing of data”.

Funded by: AT2030