Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

A thesis submitted to The Technological University Dublin in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, May 2015.


High product costs and device abandonment negatively affect people with disabilities who require Assistive Technology (AT), and poor product design is a root cause. The purpose of this research is to develop and demonstrate a participatory design framework for customisable AT, which addresses the need for low-cost assistive products that satisfy a broad range of consumers’ needs. This framework addresses two main gaps in the literature. First, user involvement in the design process of medical and rehabilitative products helps create products that are more effective but, although methods to involve users exist, there are currently scant techniques to translate the research data into design solution concepts. Second, adaptive mass customisation offers a way to reduce a product’s cost by making it useful to more people and adaptable to a user’s changing needs. Although the creation of one-off, tailored AT devices is discussed in the literature, there are no methods to support the development of customisable or adaptable AT.

Two-phases of participatory design research are described in the thesis, and make up the body of the design framework. First, a Delphi study is used to facilitate AT professionals working with individuals with disabilities in reaching a consensus on important design issues relating to a specific type of AT. An adapted morphological matrix is then presented as a novel way of applying the results of a Delphi study to concept generation. The second phase facilitates the involvement of AT users with disabilities in a series of participatory design workshops to create a final product design and prototype. The research approach was exploratory and Assistive Technology Computer Input Devices (ATCIDs) were employed as a sample technology domain to develop and substantiate the framework. Three key contributions resulted from this work; a wide range of problems and design issues related to ATCIDs; a method for using touch panel technology as a customisable ATCID; and, most pertinent due to its transferability, a participatory design framework for customisable AT with recommendations for participatory design practice involving individuals with diverse disabilities.