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Journal cover: Journal of Assistive Technologies

Journal of Assistive Technologies

ISSN: 1754-9450

Online from: 2007

Subject Area: Health and Social Care

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Usability and abandonment of assistive technology

Document Information:
Title:Usability and abandonment of assistive technology
Author(s):Bodil Ravneberg, (Senior Researcher at Uni Rokkan Centre for Social Studies, Bergen, Norway)
Citation:Bodil Ravneberg, (2012) "Usability and abandonment of assistive technology", Journal of Assistive Technologies, Vol. 6 Iss: 4, pp.259 - 269
Keywords:Abandonment, Assistive technologies, Deaf people, Disabilities, Disability studies, Hard of hearing, Norway, Public service provision, Science, Signaling devices, technology and society, Usability, User satisfaction
Article type:Research paper
DOI:10.1108/17549451211285753 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to focus upon some important prerequisites for a qualitative good life for people who are users of signalling devices, prerequisites that at the same time represent barriers for communication, mobility and partaking in ordinary activities. It is also to discuss usability and user satisfaction from a new angle by combining disability studies with STS-perspectives (Science, Technology and Society) in order to grasp the connection between disability as a social phenomenon and technology as a social actor. The paper discusses reasons for abandonment of AT-devices (assistive technology-devices) and the shaping of action by technologies.

Design/methodology/approach – A qualitative approach is used by the way of semi-structured interviews with users and public and private service providers in the Norwegian hearing aid market. A bottom-up strategy is used for data collection. First, users of signaling devices were interviewed about their experiences on how to get and use devices. Then service providers were interviewed about important issues that users raised. A keyword analysis was used in order to highlight barriers for use in daily life. Users were recruited through their interest organization and at an AT exhibition. All the interviews were conducted at cafeterias or at work places.

Findings – The article points at lack of information at companies' websites, professional power, the construction of “end user”, routines of everyday life, as well as the matching of devices to age, gender and lifestyle along with attitudes of family, friends and neighbours as important barriers. The article shows how cultural norms and values about gender and disability are inscribed into the technologies. The end product, the polar bear, the watch or the wireless alert system, can be described as a “script” that is supposed to help the individual to perform actions, but as shown – can also limit actions or relations.

Research limitations/implications – The design of AT-devices as pointed at in this article not only deals with utility and functionality, but also with usability and human communication. More research on usability is needed, as well as on the user-expert relationship and how devices function in society as identity markers. In sum, more research on AT is needed in order to develop more knowledge on how to reduce individual risks and societal costs related to abandonment or non-use.

Practical implications – Although changes are taking place in AT services today, the article shows that issues of usability such as the aesthetical side of design, identity and user satisfaction are important but neglected issues by service providers and producers.

Social implications – Despite the ongoing, but slow process from a patient-oriented system to a more user- or customer-oriented AT system still represents a challenge for services as well as for the welfare state.

Originality/value – The article combines STS-perspectives, disability studies perspectives and Silverstone's integrative framework on how to get and integrate mainstream ICT-objects in private households, in order to discuss reasons for abandonment of AT-devices for people who are hard of hearing. The approach highlights what is special with the integration of AT devices into private homes, as compared to mainstream ICT-objects, and important reasons for abandonment are discussed that emphasize professional power, aesthetics, identity, as well as attitudes of others.

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