RESNA 26th International Annual Confence

Technology & Disability: Research, Design, Practice & Policy

June 19 to June 23, 2003
Atlanta, Georgia


Carly Panchura, B.S. and Steve Bauer, Ph.D.
RERC on Technology Transfer, Center for Assistive Technology, University at Buffalo


The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC) has teamed with the Smith-Kettlewell RERC for Blindness and Low Vision to conduct a Demand-Pull Project on Technology for Visual Impairment. The project will identify priority technology needs in the field and then seek out new and emerging technology solutions from Federal Laboratories, research centers, government contractors and other technology developers to address these needs. The T2RERC will then foster and facilitate technology transfer partnerships between manufacturers and technology developers to design, test, and commercialize the most promising technologies. This paper describes the process undertaken for a market based technology needs-identification.


This project is the fourth in a series of demand-pull efforts to transfer technology (e.g. devices, materials, software) into an assistive technology (AT) marketplace. The concentration on technology for people with a visual impairment (low vision or total blindness) completes the sensory cycle with the past three projects being mobility, hearing and communication. Each project begins by identifying consumer and market need through consumer panels, interviews with manufacturers and researchers and the development of a comprehensive industry profile. Four technology "areas" are selected corresponding to high priority consumer and market needs. A Stakeholder's Forum is convened to validate these market needs and establish "requirements" for technology solutions to address these needs. Problem statements are written summarizing technical requirements for these solutions and the market opportunities these solutions represent. Problem statements are introduced to technology developers (e.g. universities, federal labs) through a variety of outreach activities. Technology proposals are submitted via the T2RERC website and screened. For promising proposals, a transfer plan is developed and implemented. Once a technology is transferred, the T2RERC continues to work with the developer to expand commercialization.


Technology needs are identified through an analysis of information derived from consumer panels and expert interviews. Consumers have in-depth and personal knowledge and experience of activities and environments where these needs occur, products they have personally used to meet these needs and product strengths and shortcomings. Manufacturers and researchers typically have a broader but sometimes less personal knowledge of these issues but a deeper understanding of markets and technology.

In September 2002, four moderated panels were held with a total of 40 participants with either total or partial vision loss, two in Buffalo and two in San Francisco. Purposive sampling methods were used to select participants from target population with criteria based on human attributes (i.e. degree of visual acuity and visual field loss) and technical attributes (e.g. experience with adaptive technologies, navigation aids, method of computer access). Sub-population factors included age and experience in education and employment settings. The sampling frame is populated to approximate target U.S. disability populations (1). Key questions posed to consumers included:

In November 2002, interviews with 8 researchers and 10 manufacturers were conducted. Expert sampling methodology was used to select interviewees with sampling frame criteria based on human attributes (i.e. experience with consumers of varying visual function) and technical market needs (e.g. experience in wayfinding, information access, etc.). [1] Sub-population factors included experience with rehabilitation, education and vocation. Key questions (in abbreviated form) posed to researchers and manufacturers include:


Convergence of information from consumer panels and interviews will result in the selection of four technology areas to be the focus at the Stakeholder Forum in April, 2003. Presently there are a number of areas surfacing as priority needs:

Access to Computer Applications - including email, websites, programs, games and educational software. Need compatibility with mainstream software applications and current operating systems, ability to scroll through documents (i.e. spreadsheets) without getting disoriented. Need better speech output (prosody, language processing should recognize the context and shape the speech output for appropriate use of abbreviations (whether St. = Saint or Street). Need consistency in input commands for different applications.

Consumer Products - Accessible consumer products, including ability to identify products (by packaging and labeling) and ability to read instructional information and usage instructions. Consumer electronics (e.g. VCR, CD players, interactive television, home security systems, toys) should be available with speech output, and hard goods (e.g. canned food, fire extinguishers) should be easy to identify and use.

Independent Transportation - Ability to drive independently (i.e. vehicles that drive themselves with obstacle avoidance, shortest path, reasonable speed and acceleration).

Information Handling - access to printed materials (documents, menus, signs); electronic documents (books, forms) and websites (graphics, spatial information, formatting, and colors). Solution should be small, portable/cordless, consistent, inexpensive, quiet, safe and comfortable to use. Technology should provide ability for writing, reading text (continuous feed) and reading math, programming code and graphics without error (proper reading of symbols, code, columnar information, better focus, language options, and ability to accurately customize options). Related technologies include screen readers, screen magnifiers, CCTVs and tactile graphics.

Public Terminals - Public terminals such as automated teller machines, vending machines and ticket machines should be fully accessible. Requires identification of the user interface needs and availability of appropriate input and output capabilities (i.e. large character or speech output).

Wayfinding - Need accurate navigation and signage information including landmarks, architecture details (indoor and outside, i.e., stairs, restrooms), business addresses, street maps, emergency warnings, transportation schedules, etc. When walking, driving or using public transportation, the visually impaired require access to the safest, most expeditious pathway. Related technologies include the global positioning system, canes and audible and tactile signage.

Wireless Communication - Mobile phones and personal digital assistants should be fully accessible, durable and provide accurate location and direction information. Accessories should be completely wireless with no tethering to earpieces, additional displays, etc., and menu and programming options should provide easy access to all device functions.


Primary market research (e.g. panels, interviews) and secondary market research (e.g. industry profile) were used to identify four technology "areas" corresponding to high priority consumer and market needs. These technology areas will be the foci of structured discussions at the Stakeholder Forum on Technology for Visual Impairment in April, 2003. Establishing high priority consumer need and market potential at early stages in the project helps ensure that technology solutions found in later stages of the project will be welcomed and adopted by AT manufacturers. Please visit our website at for Forum results, including a copy of the Proceedings and an updated list of problem statements.


1. Stone, V.I., Bauer S.M. (2001). Training Module 4: Primary Market Research. RERC on Technology Transfer. [Online.] Available at:


This is a publication of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the Department of Education under grant number H133E980024. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Education.


Carly Panchura;
Center for Assistive Technology;
University at Buffalo;
515 Kimball Tower,
3435 Main Street;
Buffalo, NY 14214-3079;
Tel 716-829-3141 ext. 152;


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