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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The ethnographically informed participatory design of a PDA application to support communication Davies, Rhian


Computer technology has been used successfully to assist people with severe physical deficits meet their communication needs. However, this success has not been met for people with cognitive deficits, such as aphasia. Aphasia is a language deficit resulting from trauma to the language centres of the brain. Aphasia can impact reading, writing, speaking, and/or the comprehension of spoken language. PDAs have a form factor and feature set that would appear to make them ideal communication devices. The first goal of this research was to address the communication needs of people with aphasia through exploring how a PDA could be used as a communication tool. The second goal was to adapt participatory design methodologies to better accommodate the needs of participants with aphasia. This research was conducted in three phases. In phase one, a researcher and participant with aphasia spent over 70 hours together, during which they: (1) gained a shared understanding of the communication strategies used by the participant, and (2) developed an understanding both of how a PDA could be incorporated into those strategies, and of the usability problems limiting the use of the PDA as a communication device. Through the field study, a shared context developed, and the researcher gained communication skills necessary to communicate successfully with the participant. In phase 2, an application to support the participant's communication strategies was designed using an ethnographically informed participatory design methodology, which leveraged the communication skills and shared context that had developed through the field study. In phase 3, the prototype application was evaluated in an experimental study, and in an informal field study based on the participant's use of the prototype in his daily life. This research was successful in adapting a PDA to better support the communication strategies of someone with aphasia. The evaluation of the prototype suggests many directions where future work would further increase the usability and usefulness of such an application. In addition, the field study highlighted other potential areas where computer technology could support the communication strategies of people with aphasia.

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