29th Annual RESNA Conference Proceedings

Critical Processes in the Universal Design of Grocery Retail Workstations: Applying the CATEA Process Model for Product Design Partnerships

RL Grubbs, MA, MED and David Ringholz, MID


Disability advocates, designers and researchers have advanced the concept of universally designed workstations as a way to address the problem of unemployment among people with disabilities of working age. In this paper, we provide a brief description of our work on critical human centered design (HCD) processes used in design and development of universally designed grocery retail workstations in partnership with National Cash Register (NCR). These critical processes include cultivating and nurturing product design partnerships, conducting primary and secondary market research and analysis, stakeholder involvement, conducting research and evaluation studies, sampling and recruitment, data collection and analysis, prototype design, refinement and testing. A brief overview is provided regarding these critical processes and how they have emerged from our CATEA Process Model for Product Design Partnerships, human centered design process and practices of tech transfer.


Job accommodation, retail workstations, ergonomics, human centered design, product design partnerships


Our Center, The Rehabilitation Engineering Center on Universal Design and Workplace Accommodation (WorkRERC), is located within the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) at Georgia Institute of Technology. The WorkRERC is charged with the task of assessing need, designing, developing, prototyping and evaluating new universally designed workstation technologies for work environments where these workstations do not now exist. Universally designed workstation technologies appear to be an effective strategy for addressing at least three conditions found in today's retail workplaces; the variations in the physical functioning of employees, age related changes in function, and the need to reduce extensive workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, grocery retail employs over 5.5 million Americans and is among the top ten occupations with largest job growth over the next decade (US Department of Labor).


follow d-link for descriptionGraphic 1: CATEA's Process Model for Product Design Partnerships d (Click image for larger view)

Grubbs and Bernard provide a description of CATEA's Process Model used in the development of product design partnerships (1). As the diagram below illustrates, CATEA's Process Model for Product Design Partnerships simultaneously reflects three interrelated elements necessary in the development of new products; human factors, technical factors and business factors. The Model depends on the participation of a commercial partner from the outset. The Model causes us to focus on the relationships and interactions necessary to cultivate and nurture technology alliances. Commercial partners provide important market research, expertise in design, fabrication and distribution. Because they are involved from the beginning, commercial partners are more willing to invest time and resources in the development of a new product. Academic partnerships with commercial product developers strengthen our ability to create and transfer useful technology. While the importance of creating and maintaining partnerships is obvious, little is known about how initial contact with potential partners is made and how creating the partnership "on paper" is accomplished. Even less is known about the outcomes of these partnerships.

Principles of universal design checklists, such as the one available from The Center for Universal Design at NC State University (2), are useful for keeping various factors in mind when designing UD products. But according to Vanderheiden and Tobias, what designers want and need is examples of good universally designed products (3). Little is known about how universal design principles and human centered design processes are utilized in the design of retail workstation technologies. Ringholz reviewed the available literature in this area and found it limited (4). ISO 18529 provides a series of steps for human centered design (5), but identified steps must be "fleshed out," in order to be applied to technology r&d and product r&d tech transfer cycles, as identified by Lane (6).


Cultivating and nurturing product design partnerships occur prior to determining new technology applications. Professor Ringholz made the initial contact with NCR. NCR recognized the partnership as a unique opportunity, because of their research on accessibility and usability as part of their Human Factors Engineering agenda. What followed was several discussions of accessible and universal design and needed applications in retail workstations. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was prepared and scope of work outlined. A proposal was submitted to NCR and contract negotiations followed. As a result, NCR and Georgia Institute of Technology, Office of Technology Licensing, agreed to retain ownership of existing intellectual property and establish co-ownership of property developed as a result of the partnership through a two-way out IP agreement. NCR corporate culture in human factors r&d closely resembles that of CATEA's Model, contributing to compatibility.

Primary and secondary market research and analysis occurs during the technology application phase of tech transfer and the initial phase of ISO 18529, human centered design (HCD) process (5). NCR, because of their market knowledge, provided market intelligence and conducted secondary market analysis on existing products. Findings were discussed in team meetings with NCR and served to focus concept generation. An adjustable modular checkstand design was proposed and a mockup constructed.

Stakeholder involvement occurs during all phases of tech transfer and all ISO HCD process steps. Characteristics of primary users of checkstands were identified, including, experienced and non-experienced checkers with and without disabilities. Grocery shoppers with and without disabilities were identified as secondary users of the grocery retail workstation. Other identified stakeholders included grocery industry organizations (FMI, UFCW), government regulatory agencies (OSHA), retail HR managers, facility managers, manufacturers/cabinet makers and NIDRR. Primary and secondary users were involved in the pilot study. Other identified stakeholders will be involved in subsequent research.

Using qualitative and mixed methods in study designs occurs during technology r&d phase of tech transfer and during HCD step two. Quantitative and qualitative research or mixed methods research is useful to both identify variables for study and then describe the relationship among these variables. Working with NCR, we designed a pilot study using a two-phase, sequential mixed methods design to obtain quantitative results from a purposeful sample and then follow up with participants to probe and explore those results in depth. The purpose of this pilot study was to collect information that could be used to design, develop, test, refine and evaluate universally designed grocery retail checkstands that maximize independence and participation of people with disabilities in the workplace. The goal of the study was to describe and document the unique and diverse variations in functional reach, stature, stamina, and mobility that emerge as experienced and inexperienced checkers encounter the conditions imposed by current grocery checkstands and then evaluate how functional differences between participants effect their comfort and performance in typical retail checkout tasks.

Sampling and recruitment is related to study design and occurs during tech r&d phase of tech transfer and HCD step two. In the case of the pilot study, purposeful sampling techniques were used to maximize physical variation in functional reach, stature, stamina, and mobility and to reflect the current employment population in grocery retail . Based on review of limited literature and discussions with NCR, it was determined that the pilot study would involve males and females of working age (18-65), from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Ten categories of physical function based on reach, workstation height, line of sight, comfort and fatigue were identified and included in the pilot study. The 10 categories included, 6'0" and taller, 5'0" and shorter, poor stamina, difficulty with reaching lifting and carrying 5lbs, difficulty manipulating small objects, inability to use one upper extremity/amputee, difficulty sitting, difficulty using lower extremities, difficulty with balance and head movement, and pregnant. For the pilot study, efforts were made to recruit and screen 40 participants, based on inclusion/exclusion criteria mentioned above--2 males and 2 females in each of the ten categories, except pregnant, all of whom were female. Descriptive statistics on participants form the pilot study are presented in Table 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Table 1: Pilot Study Functional Categories and Number of Pilot Study Participants in Each (n=43)
>6'0" or taller <5'0" or shorter Poor Stamina Difficulty w/ Reach Lift Carry >5 lbs Difficulty Manipulating small objects Amputee Difficulty Sit Stand LBP Use Wheelchair Scooter Difficulty Balance/ Head Mvt Pregnant
7 4 4 5 3 3 4 5 4 4


Table 2: Gender of Pilot Study Participants (n=43)
Female Male


Table 3: Age of Pilot Study Participants
Raw Score 1714
Mean 40.8
Median 39.5
Mode 25.0
Standard Deviation 13.6
Range 20-70


Table 4: Ethnicity of Pilot Study Participants
Asian/PI Black African American Hispanic Latino Native American Caucasian


Table 5: Employment and Retail Checker Experience of Pilot Study Participants (n=43)
Currently Employed Have Retail Checker Experience Years of Checker Experience
Yes No Yes No Range 0.5-15 years
22 21 20 22 Raw Score 45.25
    Mean 4.1
    Median 3.0
    Mode 3.0
    Standard Deviation 4.4


Pilot study participants with various functional limitations were recruited and screened using CATEA's Consumer Advisory Network (CAN). The CAN is a registry of more than 1000 people with disabilities who have agreed to participate in research and evaluation studies. User Insight, a local marketing research firm, assisted in announcing the study to attract participants who were tall, short or pregnant.

Data collection and analysis occurs during tech r&d phase and is outlined in HCD step 3. We videotaped participant trials and analyzed them using Dartfish software, which facilitates the location and tracking of critical variables, including reach distance, participant center of mass and item location. Preliminary results indicate that workstation height affects user comfort and performance. Content analysis of qualitative data (observations and interviews) is yielding a set of stakeholder (primary and secondary users) requirements (customer requirements or CRs). For example, checkers want a full range of modular component adjustability, controlled by the checker, with independently adjustable features like the monitor, cash drawer and keyboard and adjustable credit card swipe and check writing platform for shoppers. Checkers and shoppers both want more space. Checkers using wheelchairs want to be able to maneuver and have adequate knee clearance and shoppers want more space between checkout isles. The cash drawer operation is problematic for users who are seated, are pregnant or have balance issues. CRs must be prioritized, so a follow-up survey of study participants is being developed.

Prototype design, refinement and testing occurs in the product r&d phase of tech transfer and is covered in HCD steps five and six. The design team will utilize the results of the results of qualitative and quantitative data analysis to build, refine and test at least two prototypes. Prototypes testing will occur at NCR using NCR point of sale software and hardware. Refinements to prototypes will be made and then testing will occur in "live" grocery retail locations. Additional refinements will no doubt be made and specifications for the final design will be prepared. The partners will commercialize the final design.


Critical human-centered design processes must be understood to be applied. In this paper, we attempted to provide a brief, cursory overview of the critical processes that have emerged from the application of CATEA's Process Model for Product Design Partnerships. These critical processes can be mapped to ISO HCD steps and tech transfer principles. They include cultivating and nurturing product design partnerships, conducting primary and secondary market research and analysis, engaging stakeholders, designing and conducting studies using mixed methods, sampling and recruitment, data collection and analysis, prototype design, refinement and testing. While CATEA's Model provides a framework for forming and maintaining these partnerships, an understanding of critical processes applied within this framework is useful.


This work is part of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Workplace Accommodations (WorkRERC) and is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) Grant # H133E020720.


  1. Grubbs, RL, & Bernard, RL. (2005). An emergent model for mobility product design partnerships; A process for ongoing stakeholder participation in wheelchair mobility product design. In proceedings from the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) Annual Conference, Atlanta, GA, June 25, 2005. Arlington, VA: RESNA Press.
  2. Connell, BR, Jones, M, Mace, R, Mueller, J, Mullick, A, Ostroff, E, Sanford, J, Steinfield, E, Story, M, & Vanderheiden, G. (1997). The principles of universal design, Version 2.0. The Center for Universal Design, NC State University, Box 8613, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695.
  3. Vanderheiden, G.C., & Tobias, J. (2000). Universal design of consumer products: Current industry practice. Madison, WI: Trace Research and Development Center. Retrieved on 1/13/05 from http://trace.wisc.edu/docs/ud_consumer_products_hfes2000/index.htm .
  4. Ringholz, D. (2005). Functional characteristics of users in tasks associated with grocery retail checkout: A literature review. 2005 HFES Conference Annual Proceedings.
  5. Human centered design processes for interactive systems. International Organization for Standardization (1990) ISO 18529.
  6. Lane, JP. (1997). Technology evaluation and transfer in the assistive technology marketplace: Terms, process and roles. Technology and Disability, 7, 5-24.


RL Grubbs
Georgia Tech's Center for Assistive Technology & Environmental Access (CATEA)
490 Tenth Street
Atlanta, GA 30318


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