ASSETS 2010 Picks – #assets10

ResearchBlogging.orgWe did present at ASSETS 2010 as I previously said and I must say that I think this years conference was solid. Maybe the work presented was not completely within my frame of interest; indeed, there was Rehabilitation Engineering, Assistive Technology, Educational, and advocacy work there which are interesting but for me not directly relevant. However, there were a couple of papers that did in principle offer the promise (if not yet realised) of being transformative, and providing some good solid scientific understanding.

The first was Shari Trewin’s [1] work which undertook a study of screen reader users and then attempted to add that model to the CogTool system. This means that it may become useful for user prediction in the future, but more rigours models are currently still required. The work puts me in mind of IBMs aDesigner which is now part of the eclipse AcT Framework, but Trewin’s work seems to lend itself far more to task based analysis of user behaviour…

Designers often have no access to individuals who use screen reading software, and may have little understanding of how their design choices impact these users. We explore here whether cognitive models of auditory interaction could provide insight into screen reader usability. By comparing human data with a tool- generated model of a practiced task performed using a screen reader, we identify several requirements for such models and tools. Most important is the need to represent parallel execution of hearing with thinking and acting. Rules for placement of cognitive operators that were developed for visual user interfaces may not be applicable in the auditory domain. Other mismatches between the data and the model were attributed to the extremely fast listening rate and differences between the typing patterns of screen reader usage and the model’s assumptions. This work in- forms the development of more accurate models of auditory inter- action. Tools incorporating such models could help designers create user interfaces that are well tuned for screen reader users, without the need for modeling expertise.

BumpTop Desktop View

BumpTop Desktop View

Next up was some work on desktop metaphors for older users by Nic Hollinworth and Faustina Hwang [2]. This work is still at an early stage but it does seem to have some potential, a fact which is not lost on Google – as they have just purchased BumpTop; which is a 3D representation of a desktop using real life metaphors to help organise the work. Now Nic’s work has some difference to BumpTop and seems to be far more like the real world, making interaction by older users more intuitive…

Routine computer tasks are often difficult for older adult computer users to learn and remember. People tend to learn new tasks by relating new concepts to existing knowledge. However, even for ‘basic’ computer tasks there is little, if any, existing knowledge on which older adults can base their learning. This paper investigates a custom file management interface that was designed to aid discovery and learnability by providing interface objects that are familiar to the user. A study was conducted which examined the differences between older and younger computer users when undertaking routine file management tasks using the standard Windows desktop as compared with the custom interface. Results showed that older adult computer users requested help more than ten times as often as younger users when using a standard windows/mouse configuration, made more mistakes and also required significantly more confirmations than younger users. The custom interface showed improvements over standard Windows/mouse, with fewer confirmations and less help being required. Hence, there is potential for an interface that closely mimics the real world to improve computer accessibility for older adults, aiding self-discovery and learnability.


  1. Shari Trewin, Bonnie E. John, John Richards, Cal Swart, Jonathan Brezin and John Thomas (2010). Towards a Tool for Keystroke Level Modeling of Skilled Screen Reading Proceedings of the 12th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, 1 (1)
  2. Nic Hollinworth and Faustina Hwang (2010). Relating Computer Tasks to Existing Knowledge to Improve Accessibility for Older Adults Proceedings of the 12th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, 1 (1)

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