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The focus on achieving person-centeredness in technologies and practices will be implicitly interwoven into all of APaCT’s research activities. Research and data collection methods will be designed to obtain personal stories and capture real-life issues in the lives of people with disabilities, which motivate the individual research projects. Students will develop computational methods that incorporate user needs and preferences, and these methods will be integrated into technologies as they are developed. Several of these methods will be taught as part of an IGERT core course on Human Factors and Person-centeredness, which will have associated course Projects providing hands-on application of these techniques. projects will focus on creating universal solutions for person-centered technologies and practices.
APaCT’s research activities will focus on building intellectual collaborations that will make fundamental advances within and among multiple disciplines. IGERT fellows will participate in one or more of three interconnected and interdependent research thrusts, led by faculty from participating disciplines from both CSULB and ASU. These research thrusts, interconnected at the technology, adaptation and policy aspects of disability research, include Human-Centered Design, Socio-Personal Dynamics and Socio-Technological Practices. A brief description of these research thrusts along with same projects follows:
IGERT fellows will participate in the development of technology solutions that not only will result in the design of assistive and rehabilitative devices, but also will provide general guidelines on incorporating person-centeredness into the components of design, development and adaptation. Sample project areas include:
Integrating Versatility with Simplicity in Product Design
Products and services for individuals with disabilities are often developed with a “one size fits all” approach, forcing the individual to adapt, compromise, and sustain discomfort or even injury. In order to address the diverse physiological, cognitive, emotional, social and cultural needs of all members of society, designers and engineers must work cooperatively with people with disabilities and other relevant individuals to develop cross-disciplinary product design methodologies.
Behavior Modeling for User-centered Design of Assistive and Rehabilitative Technologies
Although the human body is characterized by a very complex structure, research on specific components of functional performance (for example, human hand control) has shown that its large number of postures and movements can be described by a few coordination patterns. Thus, to provide efficient and effective assistance for an individual with a disability, it is imperative to use knowledge of human behavior to optimize technology for interacting with the individual. Advances in theories related to human behavior will enhance the person-centeredness involved in creating unique assistive, rehabilitative, and universally accessible devices.
Computational Models for Adaptive Technologies
Adaptivity, the automatic tailoring of solutions for diverse and changing user needs, is a key requirement for the development and implementation of complex assistive devices. The ability of a device (or technology) to adapt to an individual’s needs carries a number of practical challenges. Recent developments in computational methods have the potential to provide a different approach to technology design – one that ensures complete inclusion of people with disabilities into today’s information society.
While technologies, interventions and adaptations for disabilities are being developed at an increasingly rapid rate, the use of complex technological solutions by specific user groups is still a challenge for universal design. For example, 'smart homes' that recognize user activities for assessment and assistance have not seen widespread use, primarily because the user requirements for this type of technology are very diverse, and a single universal design may not address all requirements. The oxymoron of developing a universal design for person-centered approaches raises questions addressing the balance between personalizing to an individual (through adaptation) and generalizing to society. Sample project areas include:
Enhancement of Individuals' Functional Skill Use, Community Participation, and Inclusion
Individuals with developmental disabilities, especially children with autism spectrum disorders, often experience challenges in communication, socialization, and getting around. A component of this project will focus on developing and testing the effects of adaptation-based assessment and intervention processes at an individual level. Technology must be designed to provide enhanced degrees of independence, autonomy over life and life actions, better access to employment and other meaningful aspects of life in the community. This is the key to community participation and inclusion.
Closing the Equity Gap in Science Education: From Policy to Practice
With an increasing percentage of people with disabilities seeking university-level education nationally, it is important to ensure that students with disabilities are engaged and empowered in academic environments. Responsive educational systems are grounded in the belief that a diverse group of students (by culture, language or disability) can excel in academia, and promote equity, access, participation and outcomes for all students.
Person-Centered Technologies and Practices for Mediating Structure for Assessment and Instruction
The design of next-generation assistive and rehabilitative technologies for assessment and learning (both in education and healthcare contexts) needs to address the needs of individuals with disabilities within specific environmental contexts.
The technical viability of person-centered design approaches must be matched equivalently by ethical, social, economic, and policy viability. APaCT will expose trainees to the integration of research in the sciences and engineering with corresponding research in the social sciences on issues related to science and public policy. This will facilitate the dissemination and uptake of person-centered technologies as well as their success. Representative projects are briefly described below.
Technological ‘forms of life’: ethical, legal, and social dimensions
This research will identify and analyze the ethical, legal, and social dimensions of person-centered technologies and practices, and develop appropriate guidelines and methods for dealing with technological designs and implementation. Further, fields such as bioethics and neuroethics have explored how contemporary research in biotechnology, genetics, and neuroscience are transforming life, and the social, ethical, and political questions that these transformations raise. Relatively little of this literature has directly confronted disability even though individuals with disabilities are deeply involved at the cutting edge of many fields of medico-technological innovation.
Putting ability to work: accommodations and employment
According to the 2008 American Community Survey, the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities between the ages of 18 is nearly 70%, making this the largest underemployed demographic. Success depends on motivation, independence, self-determination, self-advocacy, self-examination, academic preparation, technology solutions, and social skills. Technological adaptations hold great potential for enhancing the quality of life and productivity of people with disabilities, but poverty is a significant barrier to accessing such technology. The financial incentives available to employers, and the cost issues associated with adaptations and accommodations are key areas of study.