Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Shaun K. Kane

Second Advisor

Nikolaus Correll

Third Advisor

Clayton Lewis

Fourth Advisor

Michael Lightner

Fifth Advisor

Asta Roseway

Abstract

Wearable computing devices offer numerous opportunities to support individuals with disabilities, including, but not limited to, sensory substitution and augmentation, cognitive function, telemedicine, and learning and communication. With the rise of chronic illness – largely attributed to an increased lifespan compounded by population growth – technology that can support individuals to lead independent lives will be paramount. Wearable computing devices are unique in their ability to remain with the user while on-the-go, supporting individuals in multiple and changing contexts. However, to date, many wearable assistive devices, and assistive technologies in general, remain highly stigmatizing in nature due to their distinct or medical-looking form factors and unique interaction techniques – broadcasting personal information about one’s physical, sensory, or cognitive state that might otherwise go unnoticed. These socio-cultural implications can often lead to personal discomfort with using one’s device in various settings – with the realistic outcome of individuals often choosing to conceal, selectively use, or abandon their assistive device altogether. Recently, there has been a two-prong shift in the adoption and treatment of assistive devices: 1) the acquisition of mainstream devices with accessibility-enabled features, and 2) devices with highly customized designs and embellishments which highlight the device as opposed to masking it. One may view this shift as a natural extension of the disability rights movement aimed at pushing back on the societal structures that create barriers for individuals with disabilities. This manuscript explores this shift to understand the attitudinal and behavioral changes with respect to customized on-body assistive computing devices and how end users in these communities can be supported through design and Do-It-Yourself practice. It was discovered that the expressed perceptions toward novel on-body computing devices were significantly more acceptable when said computing devices were used for assistive applications. This research also uncovered the great lengths that some end users go through to customize or personalize their wearable assistive technology, in particular, hearing aids and cochlear implants, for the purposes of self-expression and to counter much of the socially-constructed discomfort that may accompany device use. Finally, we found that individuals value customization of assistive devices and that this is an important component to grant individuals agency, ownership, and pride in wearing a device commonly fraught with marginalization. The results suggest that customization can lead to increased adoption and confidence in assistive technology use and may generate greater societal acceptance and awareness toward disability as a whole.

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