RESNA 26th International Annual Confence

Technology & Disability: Research, Design, Practice & Policy

June 19 to June 23, 2003
Atlanta, Georgia


Sumi Helal, Rick Davenport and William Mann
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center
on Technology for Successful Aging
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA


     The older American population (aged 65+) is projected to increase by 34% in 2020 and double by year 2030. As people age, many experience impairments and a decline in functional abilities i.e., dressing, bathing, managing money, preparing meals, shopping, or taking medications. Emerging smart phones are being explored for their ability to assist older persons offset this decline in health and self-care abilities, and to enable older persons with disabilities to continue to live independently at home. The authors of this study have partnered with Motorola to evaluate, design and build a more suitable smart phone for the older population.


As the American population ages, many experience impairments (sensory, motor, and cognitive) that impact their ability to carry out daily self-care activity tasks such as dressing, bathing, or getting outside, as well as home management activities such as managing money, preparing meals, shopping, or taking medications The decline in functional abilities we experience as we age can be offset by the use of assistive devices and the integration of the environments in which we live.  There is a need for technology to offset the declines in health and self-care abilities and enable older persons with disabilities to continue to live at home.

This paper outlines the activities of a one-year project on smart phones that will be completed in the Fall of 2003. Smart phones are a technology that embodies a computing platform within cellular phones, and that uses third generation wireless network (known as 3G) enable Internet style (packet-based) communication. Smart phones are envisioned by the authors to play a central role in enhancing the utility and effectiveness of future smart environments (also known as pervasive computing environments). Smart phones are being explored for their use as both a passive and active device that could support the elderly in almost all aspects of their daily lives. As a passive device, the smart phone could be used as a command and control device or a "magic wand" serving the elderly and enabling them to gain control over their environment. As an active device, the smart phone could be used as an intelligent agent or a "companion" caring for and guiding the elderly, and in general augmenting their fading sensory and motor abilities. Figure 1 depicts several use scenarios of the smart phone, ranging from a device to turn light on/off in a remote room; to remotely check on the kitchen stove; to see and verify identity of visitors at the front door; to lock/unlock front door; to call in a nurse or a handy person, to call in groceries or catered food; or to find out where the TV remote or car keys are hidden. The smart phone could also be used to scan prescription drug bottles and read their instructions; remind the elder to take his/her medications at the right times of the day or night; and even call in a refill automatically and arrange for home delivery. Smart phones can play a pivotal role in creating radically effective solutions for successful aging.


 While we are excited and committed to using the smart phone technology for elder care, we realize that several prerequisites must be met before the technology is practical and useful for this purpose. First, the smart phone in its current form and shape is not suitable for most elders. The current design of the smart phone is optimized for young and highly mobile people, whose needs are very different from those of the elderly. Hence, there is a need for design changes to render the phone more usable by elders.

Figure 1.  Smart Phone and Smart Spaces
This figure has a picture of a smart phone in the middle with 10 items in a circle surrounding the phone (each item is connected by a line to the smart phone located in the middle of the circle).


This study will first work on improving the usability of the smart phone through research that will identify design requirements for this population. We will (1) determine usability limitations of the current generation of smart phones (are they large enough, the buttons easy enough to operate, the menu system easy enough to navigate, etc). (2) we will make the necessary design changes, and build prototypes for testing with elders.  We will (3) develop and test applications for the Smart phones and build a software infrastructure to make possible these and additional scenarios.

The researchers will partner with Motorola to redesign numerous features of the smart phone. Figure 2 depicts the first commercially available smart phone in the North American market, the Motorola i85s phone. We propose to work with Motorola to redesign several aspects of the phone including its interface ergonomics and its sensory accessories. In Figure2, we allude to several such ergonomic and accessibility aspects. The keypad is especially important to redesign to allow visually impaired elders to press keys easily and reliably. The vertical and horizontal spacing between keys and the font size of the key labels will be studied. Additional ways to augment the keypad using the display will be researched. The display size will also be examined and guidelines for application interface design will be developed. Such guidelines will streamline application developers' efforts and will ensure usable application GUIs on the smart phone. We may also conclude that the display size and the image resolution in pixels may have to be enlarged. Through surveys and interviews with the elderly, we will examine the acceptability and effectiveness of the new design in terms of its user interface. In addition to the ergonomics and the usability of the smart phone, we will also design and prototype a set of attachments to integrate other devices, local transmitters, and sensors into the phone.

                                                                 This figure has a picture of the Motorola i85s Smart phone with 7 captions surrounding the phone. 


This study was funded by Motorola

 iDEN group 8000 West Sunrise Blvd. Plantation, FL 33322 and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

University of Florida Point of Contact:

Dr. Sumi Helal, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Computer & Information Science & Engineering Department
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611
Phone: (352) 392-6845,
Fax: (352) 392-3238

Figure 2. Sample Ergonomic Redesign

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