Numerous diseases and injuries can limit a person's ability to perform everyday tasks -- things like getting dressed, bathing, and eating. Anything that requires physical activity can be affected; even simple things like turning on the lights can become difficult or impossible. Until recently, the only way for a person with severe motor disabilities to perform any of these tasks was through a human caregiver. Assistive technology and automation have begun to take over some of these functions, but still impose many constraints, both in the tasks which can be performed, and in the operator interfaces for these tasks, which can impose significant overhead on even the simplest of interactions. The problems are particularly acute when considering microinteractions - short interactions with a device or control which, for normally-abled persons, frequently require little or no thought on the part of the person performing the task.
The goal of this dissertation is to improve quality of life for people with severe motor disabilities by using robot assistants and assistive technology to expand the set of tasks they can perform for themselves, focusing on normally unconscious tasks which are currently decidedly conscious when using existing interfaces to assistive technology. Doing so requires ensuring that the interfaces to these tasks are appropriate, intuitive, and efficient for the particular task. With these improvements, we have endeavored to bring the effort required for common microinteractions from being on the same level as any other task back to being almost unconscious to perform. To do this, we have characterized resource deficiencies caused by disability so that we can making up for them in the design of interfaces and automation technology, specifically leveraging environmental context, and by using the environment itself as a canvas for interfaces when appropriate. These techniques are wrapped up in a case study of microinteraction-optimized interfaces designed for a person with ALS in his home using data collected over the course of several months.
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