for Assistive Technology
Ekonomou1, Y. Kotsanis1,
S. ?oukouvinou2,S. Spaneas2
11B Konitsis Str.
Marousi 15 125
tel: 6125880-1, fax: 6125882
Social Work Foundation2
Ploutonos & Irodotou 1
14451 Metamorphosi, Attikis
tel: 2844675, fax: 2812782
19005 N. Makri, Attikis
tel: 0294 91206, fax: 0294 91407
More than any other category of users, children with special needs should have access to computer environments which are characterised by high interactivity, simple and clear user interface and alternative ways of accessibility. It was our effort to design and develop software with the above characteristics in order to assess and initiate handicapped users through and into computing with the help of assistive technology. The first application Find and Paint, evaluates cognitive abilities and computability while the second application, LogoMotor, introduces incrementally the user to the basics of the computer environment. Both programs have being designed within a Multi-Logo platform (the Hellenic version of Comenius Logo), utilising the dynamic tools of open-ended environments. Furthermore a special mouse, MotorMouse, was constructed in order to enable users with motor disabilities to access the computer. The outcome was impressive in that the resulting software can be used by non-handicapped users as well, contributing to the normalisation of the special software.
computer-based assessment, assistive technology, open-ended environment, logo, multimedia, software normalisation
The process of functional Assessment for people with Special Needs encounters many obstacles. The direct contact of the assessor with the person being assessed in order that his/her cognitive or other potential is evaluated and recorded, usually creates an inappropriate atmosphere. This particular, non-technological approach by assessment depends mainly in the talent and virtues of the assessor. On the contrary computer-based assessment, totally alters the situation described above as it transfers the focus of control form the assessor to the person being assessed.
The Social Work Foundation has been using computer-based assessment since 1989 in order to evaluate cognitive level and computability of people with motor impairments. Initially, questionnaires written for the computer were used and date bases were added to subsequent edition. The main characteristic of these programs was the adaptation of assessment questionnaires to a computer environment that could statistically processed, it lacked, however, the interactive properties that modern computer interfaces incorporate in the design of software.
An attempt was, therefore, made to create a user interface (environment) mode that would be free from the traditional presentation of multiple choice questions. This mode had to be friendly to the user, comprehensible and pleasant. Following this line of thought the Find & Paint assessment program was designed and developed.
During the last 15 years Assistive Technology has been trying to improve access to computer of people with motor disabilities through alternative ways at peripherals, special switches and keyboards, as small icons and standard keyboards do not provide the most appropriate options. At the same time, a large number of software programs was designed and developed in order to assist the activities and learning that the school curriculum involves and not to introduce the user to the functions of the computer. The lack of a programmable environment that could successfully teach the naive user basic computer functions (load, save, use of the windows environment and memory) is evident. Having been introduced to the basics of computer use, they could then move on to more detailed and specialised training.
The above mentioned observations lead to the conclusion that users with disabilities need software that is educationally of high quality and can motivate explorations compatible to their cognitive level and provides a friendly, programmable, multimedia environment.
Multi-Logo (the Hellenic version of Comenius Logo) was considered to meet the demands of a complete, preparatory system of information technology and it was decided to be implemented for this purpose. The tools contained in this environment can be divided to three levels, core, verbal, audio - visual tools and applications - microworlds and were considered to be the most appropriate for the design of such a program. This new program with the gradually appearing user-interface mode, the large visual buttons and the open-ended environment is LogoMotor.
Another problem that had to be overcome was the means of communication with the computer. The standard mouse restricted access to a large number of motor-disabled users so a special mouse was constructed, the MotorMouse. Finally, the whole environment was enriched with project cards in order to render basic training to the system more successful.
Find & Paint being a program whose name describes its functions, attempts to revalidate and record the users cognitive level and his/her computability through a pleasant activity of colour choice.
More specifically, the themes appear on the screen within frames and user has at his disposal a tool (core) with which he can choose colours to fill in the frames with the appropriate one for e.g. red for an incorrect theme, green for a correct theme, the same colour for two frames with identical concept etc.
The rational is simple but rather functional. Two programs addressing users with motor or cognitive disabilities have been designed and developed and are used at Social Work Foundation and Pammakaristos Foundation respectively, differing mainly in the cognitive demands they make on the individual being assessed.
LogoMotor was developed within the Multi-Logo environment, The design refered to the enlargement of the buttons and the reorganisation of the user interface as well as to the construction of the special MotorMouse for the improvement between user and application. The menu bar is placed on the top of the screen and consists of a series of cartoons with an indication of the function related to each options. By choosing a cartoon a series of other cartoon characters appear at the bottom at the screen who carry out a number of sub-function. The navigation system is placed down at the right hand corner of the screen. The basic options include: Help, Colours, Design Tools, Multimedia Libraries, Undo, Stop as well as a special visual counter in order to bypass keyboarding.
The mere enlargement of the buttons proved not to be enough for facilitating access to a considerable number of users with severe motor disabilities so the whole environment had to be assisted by an alternative means of access that had to be functional as well as affordable.
To meet that type of specifications a special peripheral was designed (shown in the above figure) where a 20 cm round plexy-glass sleeve was used to sustain the ordinary mouse which was attached in the centre. This way the mouse surface was increased and two switches to operate as the right and left buttons, at the mouse, were also attached to the system, on the top a second round plexi - glass was placed in order that the two switches could be pressed by touching it MotorMouse is at present being tested and is already used by a number of motor disabled individuals at Social Work Foundation.
The design of assistive technology software usually encounters a lot of obtancles which if are overcome the application is characterised by quality, popularity and wide acceptance by the users. Individuals with special needs are particularly seeking software which is functional, friendly, entertaining and at the same time do not substantially differ from the widely used software.
Both Find & Paint and LogoMotor are examples of software programs based on the idea of the normalisation of software, that is the development of software programs that can be satisfactionly used by a large number of individuals (with or without disabilities) and can be adapted to suit various cognitive abilities as well as ages.
Considerable effort was made to develop an environment and a communication system in particularly that could meet the needs of a large category of users. In this way software can play a significant role in the amelioration of disabilities and the integration of the individuals with special needs. Moreover, the technical specifications of LogoMotor provide the user with a thorough preparatory training before they begin a vocational training in Information Technology.
The research team of this kind of applications in the Logo-like computer environment has been involved in the design and development of software for people with special needs for many years (1986). During these years it has been observed that the suitable computer environments can drastically motivate users and at the same time establish a sense of security and satisfaction.
Finally, the open-ended environment of Logo has proven to function successfully both as an optimum between a programmable and an educational tool.