Development of personas to support Augmentative Alternative Communication device design and clinical decision making
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Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) aids are devices that help individuals with speech impairments communicate. Currently, the design and development of AAC devices does not follow a user-centered design philosophy. This affects the quality of life of individuals who are in need of AAC devices. Additionally, such individuals rely on speech-language pathologists (SLPs)--clinicians that diagnose, treat, and provide appropriate AAC device recommendations for people with speech impairments--to receive an AAC device that complements their needs and goals. Currently, the clinical model of AAC interventions focuses primarily on the physical attributes and disease symptoms of the individuals to make device recommendations, instead of taking into account the holistic needs of the individual. This further affects the quality of life of individuals, especially those with the degenerative and debilitating neuro-motor disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). In order to address these challenges, this research applies a persona development methodology derived from the field of interaction design/user-centered design. Personas are descriptive user-models of how different classes of the user population behave, think, work, act, and what underlying goals and personal characteristics motivate them. Persona development methodologies can be adapted to the address the needs of the AAC user population with significant physical challenges and communicative impairments. Three personas of individuals with ALS were developed from naturalistic observation sessions and interviews in order to 1) support technology designers to design improved AAC technology, and 2) aid SLPs in clinical decision-making while recommending AAC devices. The developed personas were successfully validated for both external and internal validity using two methods 1) an online survey completed by eight SLPs, and 2) interviews of seven individuals with ALS that were not involved in the development of the personas. The validated personas were evaluated for their utility in the AAC design domain by ten AAC developers and designers, through an online survey. The results were positive, indicating the ways in which personas could be useful to drive the design process of AAC systems. Finally, the personas were evaluated by twelve SLPs in a between-subject experimental study and a post-interview session to understand if they positively influenced the quality and relevance of AAC feature/functionality recommendations made to three ALS case studies. The results indicate that the SLPs found benefits to using personas as a supplementary guidance tool during clinical decision making. The SLPs particularly found the personas to be useful in an academic setting for novice SLPs and students that are transitioning to real world practice. The results of the two evaluation studies provide recommendations and discuss the ways in which the personas can be improved and adapted for use in two specific domains--the AAC design domain, and the clinical domain, in order to better convey the requirements of AAC user populations.