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Georgia Institute of Technology
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ITR/PE: Universal Access for Situationally Induced Impairments: Modeling, Prototyping, & Evaluation

As mobile computing continues to expand, users enjoy increased flexibility in terms of where and when they record, retrieve, and transmit information. As a result, the conditions under which computing devices are used are becoming more variable, less predictable, and in many situations less hospitable. With increasing frequency, computers are being used when lighting is inadequate, noise is unpredictable, or when the user is on the move (e.g., walking, riding in a vehicle). In addition, users of these devices frequently engage in multiple simultaneous tasks or interrupt ongoing activities to perform a secondary computing task. Individuals are recording appointments and replying to text pages during meetings, paramedics are completing forms while providing medical care, and physicians are reviewing operating room schedules while interacting with patients.

Both the environment, in which individuals interact with computers, and the need to attend to multiple tasks can result in increased demands on the user's cognitive, perceptual, and/or motor skills. When the working conditions, in combination with the user's tasks, result in demands that exceed the user's capabilities, the user experiences what we refer to as situationally-induced impairments (SII). Unlike disability-induced impairments (DII), SII are both dynamic and transient. This innovative research is particularly compelling due to the rapid adoption of mobile computing. As mobile computing becomes more common, SII will become a significant barrier to the effective use of these systems. At the same time, researchers have yet to systematically investigate the factors that lead to SII, the effects SII have on user interactions, and the similarities between SII and DII. This research addresses these issues. The outcomes of this research include a taxonomy of SII, new methodologies and tools to support the analysis of complex dynamic environments and tasks, insights into the benefits of making context-sensitive multimodal interfaces aware of the physical environment in which they are being utilized, and the first empirical investigation of the relationship between SII and DII. Thus, the research outcomes include knowledge, techniques, tools, and technology that allow researchers and practitioners to more effectively address the unavoidable SII that users of mobile computing applications encounter. New technologies, in the form of environment-aware mobile devices, are being developed that more effectively address the needs of individuals experiencing SII. A particular innovation resides in this team's use of scenarios in actual medical settings as the focus and laboratory for the research.

Sponsor: National Science Foundation

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