Exploring how people search for information about assistive technology
The internet has opened up the way people can search for and access information. Yet the availability of information on AT is fragmented, and can be difficult to find due to the different types of AT. The disparate nature of information about AT is an accessibility issue for people with disabilities looking for critical information. In addition, it makes it difficult for all AT stakeholders. This includes healthcare professionals who want to help patients, entrepreneurs interested in building technologies for disability innovation, and policymakers who need to make decisions about AT needs and provision.
In addition to this, there is a growing interest in HCI, and how digital technologies can be developed to support information behaviour. Applying this kind of technology to AT information finding would be valuable for many people. It could improve content analysis, retrieval models, interactive interfaces, and more. But to understand how HCI could support information seeking about AT, it is important to understand more about what people are searching for in relation to AT, and what they need to know.
Information seeking and assistive technology
To explore this subject further, PhD student Wen (Frances) Mo undertook a scoping review report.
“Information seeking is something we do every single day, for AT, it’s not so easy to find information. And you have to bear in mind that some users looking for crucial information on AT have disabilities, which can make information seeking harder. Eventually I hope we can gather enough research about information seeking in the AT field so we can develop designs and better technologies for people with disabilities.”
More than one billion people in the world need some form of AT for their daily lives.
The globally ageing population means this figure is increasing steadily. As such, more people will be searching for information on what AT is appropriate for their needs online. Yet Mo’s report finds that not much research has been done on information seeking for AT, and that information about AT is not necessarily easy to find. One of the reasons for this is the variety of AT needs. While more work has been done to make information seeking easier for blind and visually impaired people, there is less out there for people with other AT needs. Mo says that more needs to be done for people with all other AT needs, which could mean anything from those with autism spectrum disorder to people with multiple impairments.
Mo’s paper also found that there is even less research on collaborative information seeking for people with disabilities. Collaborative information seeking is when a group of people are making plans together – for example to book tickets to an event or travel somewhere – and they each search for information about it. Little is known about how people with disabilities participate in collaborative information seeking – and how easy it is for them to do this, or whether they rely on help from those without disabilities.
“Researching the information seeking trends for people with disabilities has shown me that there aren’t many research papers focused on this area,” Mo said. “More research needs to be done so we can design technology to make information seeking about AT better. This is important for all kinds of stakeholders too, who need to make decisions about AT. They need to know what people need and what they are looking for, so they can respond accordingly.”
For her PhD, Mo is going to work with people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease (ALS/MND), to look specifically at how they search for information about ALS/MND. By focusing on one group of people, Mo can explore the nuance of a specific disability, the subsequent AT needs, and thus information that is sought in relation to this. In-depth interviews will help her understand where the lack of information is and what specific problems these individuals experience in relation to finding information. Based on this, Mo plans to create a solution for how technology and HCI can help to solve those problems.