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Universal Access to Information Technology for Older Adults with Visual Impairments

The ubiquity of information technologies in today's society generates a critical need for all citizens to be empowered to access and manipulate information electronically. Technical innovations, such as the graphical user interface (GUI), have facilitated computing as an integral part of daily living. While GUIs and other information technologies provide the means by which to enhance, enrich, and extend the independence of older adults, their exclusive reliance on the visual interaction paradigm drastically limits accessibility for anyone in this group whose visual channel is compromised. The GUI interactions of older adults who have visual impairments attributed to Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of uncorrectable vision dysfunction in older Americans, are of particular interest in the scope of this dissertation. The solutions provided for this population are not straightforward, as the users represent a range of visual dysfunction and coping skills, and do not abandon their visual sensory channel in lieu of auditory interfaces. Research investigations are required to sufficiently anticipate the interaction of individuals with the constantly evolving interaction paradigms introduced through the emergent trends in information technology, including mobile computing which in turn create designs that are inclusive of a greater number of users.

This dissertation explores the relationships between functional ocular characteristics of older adults with visual impairments and their performance on complex interactions with icons (e.g., visual search and drag and drop task in the presence of distracters) using both desktop and handheld computing platforms. The icons used in this task were playing cards, in order to introduce a level of familiarity and comfort for the participants. Several levels of icon set size, inter-icon spacing, and icon size (a.k.a. collectively as screen density) were examined in the context of the task. In addition, supplementary auditory feedback was provided in half of the conditions. Platform was also of interest, as half of the participants performed the drag and drop task with a desktop computer, and the second half using a handheld PC. This research surveys the extent to which these visual and non-visual screen augmentations impact the performance of users with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) the leading cause of blindness in for aging Americans. Furthermore, significant interactions are anticipated between the interface conditions, the stage of ocular disease, perceived visual function, and clinically acquired measures of visual function. The examination of the traditional HCI performance metrics in conjunction with assessments of ocular function can lead to powerful conclusions. That is, the result may contribute substantially to a framework of interaction thresholds for individuals with visual impairments, which in turn inform the practical application of these findings into inclusive design.

The experimental research that informs this work is a collaborative project with the College of Optometry at NOVA Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale Florida. Working closely with a team of optometrists, research scientists, optometry residents, and optometry students, 30 participants with AMD and age-matched controls underwent a series of clinically-acquired visual function assessments and a battery of computer tasks and surveys. Results of this study will further knowledge in both the HCI and ophthalmologic sciences.

Committee Members:
Julie A. Jacko, Ph.D. (Advisor, GT ISyE)
François Sainfort, Ph.D. (Co-Advisor, GT ISyE)
Brani Vidakovic, Ph.D. (GT ISyE)
Marie Thursby, Ph.D. (GT College of Management)
Joe Pizzimenti, M.D. (NOVA Southeastern University, College of Optometry, Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
Andrew Sears, Ph.D. (UMBC, Baltimore, MD)

Principal Investigator: V. Kathlene Leonard, Ph.D.

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