D4: A cognitive demands checklist for AAC technologies and apps

D-4 checklistTeam Leader: M. Fried-Oken, J. Mooney & S. Bedrick
Consumer Team: P. Kolden, J. Staehely

Gerry is a 24 year old survivor of a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). He cannot speak clearly, he is easily distracted, has reduced memory skills, and has poor hand coordination.  He enters a crowded and noisy coffee shop with a friend. His favorite drink, a mocha latte, has recently been programmed into his AAC device and he hopes he will remember where the icon is located. Using visual perception and language processing skills, he locates and presses the ‘Food and Drinks’ icon.  This takes him to another page with words listing mealtimes; his literacy skills help him identify ‘breakfast’, and press it. His selective attention and visual scanning skills for small icons are not reliable; speed of information processing is slowed. The cashier becomes noticeably impatient. Getting distracted, Gerry finally locates ‘hot drinks’ and presses it. He has difficulty alternating his attention  between icons and the word list. He attempts to  press ‘coffee’ but his shaking hand hits ‘home’ instead, navigating him all the way back to the start. Beginning to fatigue cognitively, his sequencing skills deteriorate.  Try as he might, he cannot find his way back to ‘hot drinks’.   In the end, the AAC device states, “Water please”. Gerry thinks, “What a waste. Next time I’ll just stay home instead.”

Challenge: The cognitive demands of AAC technologies/apps range from lexical knowledge to visual scanning, attention to working memory, sequencing to executive function. Children and adults with CCN need to learn and remember how to use AAC technologies in multiple environments, each with their own set of cognitive demands, to participate fully in their daily activities. Most research on cognition and AAC investigates what the user brings to the task and how to improve the skills of people who have challenges. This project will instead analyze the technology, asking, “What does the device or app demand from the user?”

Goals: We propose to develop, evaluate and distribute a Cognitive Demands Checklist (CDC), a valid and reliable tool to help developers with the design of AAC technologies and to assist clinicians with the person-technology match. Our goal is to make the final product web-based, available to the public and free of charge.

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