Evaluating technology for elders : towards a measure of attitudes
Burn, Anne-Marie O'Neill
Technology is ubiquitous in modern day society and has the potential to enhance one's quality of life. Numerous innovative assistive technologies are designed to aid elderly people in every day activities and enable them to maintain a measure of independence longer. One such assistive technology was the PAM-AID walking aid: a robotic walking aid designed to provide frail, visually impaired elders with the physical support of a rollator, coupled with the navigational assistance necessary for safe, independent mobility. A user-centred design approach was integral to the design and development of PAM-AID and the first part of this thesis, details the research undertaken to ensure that, as far as possible, PAM-AID met the needs of potential users. Studies were conducted with carers and elders to establish elders' requirements for PAM-AID. The results of these studies directly influenced the functional specification of the first PAM-AID prototype. Following an iterative design life cycle, further studies were conducted to evaluate the usability of the first and second prototypes and the results of these studies enabled informed design decisions could be made. Therefore, elders were involved at every stage of the design process, to ensure that PAM-AID was an efficient and acceptable technology to this user group. However, throughout this preliminary work, an interesting discrepancy in elders' attitudes began to emerge. It became evident that although elders thought that PAM-AID was a useful walking aid for other frail elderly people, they did not think that PAM-AID was beneficial for them personally. In other words, elders' attitudes indicated that they might not use or accept PAM-AID, even though they would clearly benefit from this innovative technology. Indeed, other research has shown that many assistive technologies are often under utilised or discarded by elders, even when the potential benefits of the technology are clearly evident. This was a pivotal point in the research programme, as it highlighted the importance of monitoring elders' attitudes to predict future use of and acceptance of assistive technology. Since no applicable tool exists for measuring individuals' attitudes to technologies such as PAM-AID, the main empirical work of this research programme involved the development of a psychometric scale: the Attitudes to Technology Scale (ATS). The inductive approach to development of this scale involved: the generation of items, the reduction of the items into meaningful subscales, as well as the demonstration of the scale's reliability and validity. Throughout its development, the scale was applied to a number of different types of technology such as ATMs, computers, microwaves, mobile phones, VCRs and the Internet. The scale has been used to investigate the effect of age and sex differences in terms of attitudes to technology. Thus, the ATS is unique in that it has been developed for use with ID1 types of technology and with individuals of ~ ages. The limitations of the scale have been noted and further work is needed to address these limitations. It is hoped that this scale will have both academic and commercial research applications, but above all, the ATS could be applied to continually monitor users' attitudes during the design and development of new technologies. It is proposed that the measurement of users' attitudes should be an integral part of the design life cycle, resulting in more useable and acceptable technology.