PhD Defense: Designing and Implementing Accessible Wearable Interactions for People with Motor Impairments

Meethu Malu
06.04.2018 11:30 to 13:30
AVW 3450

Emerging wearable technologies like fitness bands, smartwatches, and head-mounted displays are becoming prominent. As these wearable technologies enter the mainstream market and ownership increases, it becomes critical to understand the potential impacts of these technologies and their accessibility to a broad range of users. Unlike mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets, these wearables, worn on the body or clothing, are always available and have the potential to provide quick access to information [1]. For instance, head-mounted displays (HMDs) can provide relatively hands-free interaction compared to smartphones, and wrist-worn devices like smartwatches and activity trackers can collect continuous health and fitness-related information of their wearer. However, there are over 20 million people in the U.S. with upper body motor impairments [2], such as lack of sensation, tremors or spasms, who may not be able to gain from the potential benefits these wearables can offer. For example, the small interaction spaces of some devices (e.g., smartwatches, fitness bands) may present accessibility challenges. Yet, few studies have explored the potential impacts of these wearables, evaluated their accessibility, or investigated ways to design wearable interactions to be accessible to people with motor impairments. To inform the design of future wearable technologies, my dissertation investigates three threads of research: (1) assessing the accessibility of common wearable technologies, including HMDs, smartwatches and fitness trackers; (2) understanding the potential impacts for people with mobility impairments of sharing fitness data from existing activity-tracking wearables; and (3) implementing and evaluating accessible interactions for common wearables, specifically HMDs and smartwatches. As part of the first thread of my research, I conducted two formative studies investigating the accessibility of two existing wearable technologies, HMDs and fitness trackers, for people with motor impairments. While these wearables offered many potential benefits, accessibility challenges ranged from problematic form factors, to irrelevant data tracking, to difficulty using the existing input mechanisms for information access. As part of the second thread of my research, I investigated the potential impacts of sharing automatically tracked data from fitness trackers with peers with similar impairments and therapists. Design opportunities to build tools to support sharing with peers with similar impairments and therapists were also identified. Towards the third thread of my research, I addressed the earlier issues identified with HMD accessibility by building custom wearable touchpads to allow people with varying motor impairments to control a commercial HMD. Next, I explored the touchscreen and non-touchscreen areas (bezel, wristband and body locations near the smartwatch) of smartwatches for accessible interaction and present design guidelines for the same. And, lastly, I implemented and compared bezel interactions with existing touchscreen interactions for accessible smartwatch input for people with motor impairments. The techniques implemented and evaluated in this dissertation will enable more equitable and independent use of wearable technologies for people with motor impairments.

Examining Committee:

Chair: Dr. Leah Findlater Dean's rep: Dr. Ashok Agrawala Members: Dr. Michelle Mazurek Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden Dr. Amanda Lazar