Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access

Enabling Environments Lab

Identifying and Overcoming Barriers

The Enabling Environments Laboratory identifies environmental barriers to activity and participation of people with and without functional limitations (due to disability or age) and develops enabling designs and technologies to overcome those barriers. It focuses primarily on physical spaces and virtual places in home and community settings.

Current Projects

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technologies to Support Successful Aging with Disability (RERC TechSAge)

Principal Investigators: Jon Sanford, Tracy Mitzner, and Wendy Rogers
TechSAge is a national research center focused on how universally designed technology can assist people with disabilities as they age. The center includes both research and development projects. Some TechSAge projects:

  • Identify User Needs for People Aging with Disability

    To obtain a better understanding of what technology supports are needed and how to design them, this project is determining the relationships between an individual’s function and 1) his/her ability to perform home-based tasks and 2) his/her use of interventions for these tasks.

  • Effects of Hearing Loss on Mobility and Participation of People Aging with Vision Disability

    Individuals with vision disabilities often rely on audio cues when performing activities, but they may experience hearing loss as they get older. This project explores the impact of hearing loss on use of compensatory strategies and assistive technology devices and on activity and participation outcomes. It will also develop guidelines for sound characteristics that can be effectively used with this population to facilitate device use and mobility.

  • TeleWellness Technologies

    This project is examining the potential for tele-robotic systems to support activity and social interaction of older adults. Studies will systematically assess tele-robot acceptance; determine effectiveness of tele-robot exercise interventions; and determine the characteristics necessary to enable older adults with hearing loss and age-related mobility limitations to control a tele-robot.

  • App Development to Promote Successful Aging with Disability

    This project is developing a series of mobile apps to meet consumer and clinician needs. Several projects have been identified; additional apps will be selected via an open call.

  • Cognitive Training Game

    Little is known about the effectiveness or usability of computer-based “brain games” for cognitive training for older adults with disabilities. In this development project we will use a previously developed game, Food For Thought, as a starting point to develop, study, and deploy a cognitive training game that is usable by people aging with mild/moderate motor disabilities, such as MS or Parkinson’s, who are experiencing age-related sensory loss.

  • An App for Locational Intelligence and Geospatial Navigation (ALIGN)

    The ALIGN mobile app will inform outdoor route planning by people aging with ambulatory disabilities who are also experiencing other functional losses. The app provides information about various characteristics of the route, including the presence of sidewalks and their condition, nearby public transit, the presence of traffic signals and acoustic signals, landscape overgrowth, and the steepness of the path.

  • A Mobile Application to Measure Gait Speed

    The purpose of this project is to develop a reliable, simple, and cost-effective mobile app to measure gait speed and demonstrate the feasibility of this measure as a predictive tool to identify risk of functional decline and activity limitation in frail elders with ambulatory disability.

  • SmartBathroom Technologies

    This project is developing and evaluating the effectiveness of a bathroom environment that continuously monitors a user’s functional status (e.g., gait, balance, posture) and based on the data, immediately adjusts environmental features (e.g., grab bar position, fixtures) to meet user needs.

  • Mobile Manipulator Robot

    This project is developing and evaluating a robotic system that learns and adapts to a user’s needs for assistance. By doing so, the robot will respond to situational needs with an appropriate level of assistance, thus enabling an individual to perform everyday tasks for him/herself.

The Virtual Home Modifications Education Assistant (VHMEA)

Principal Investigators: Robert Todd and Karen Milchus
The Virtual Home Modifications Education Assistant (VHMEA) is an online, virtual home that demonstrates the need for home modifications for people with disabilities. It allows users to encounter problems, solve them, and examine the results of modifications and universal design (UD) efforts. It is being developed as a tool for educators and students in building construction, design, occupational therapy, and rehabilitation disciplines; professionals in housing fields; users of the built environment; and for consumers with disabilities.

Development and Validation of the Universal Design Mobile Interface Guidelines Through a Mobile Health and Wellness App for Individuals Aging with MS

Principal Investigators: Ljilja Kascak Ruzcik and Jon Sanford
The purpose of this research project is to develop and validate a comprehensive integrative universal design strategy, the Universal Design Mobile Interface Guidelines (UDMIG) for an aging population that includes people aging with disabilities, through a health and wellness self-management application for individuals aging with multiple sclerosis (MS). People with MS are an ideal end-user population for universal design strategies as they represent a diverse user group with symptoms and limitations that vary widely from an individual to an individual, as well as within individuals over time.

Development of an App to Facilitate Airport Activity Planning and Navigation by Traveler's with Different Abilities

Principal Investigators: Elaine Liu and Jon Sanford
The purpose of this study is to develop and test a mobile planning and navigation application that will provide time and distance information that will enable travelers to make informed decisions about where to go and what to do at airports. The time- and distance-dependent nature of airport environments poses planning and navigational challenges for all traveler regardless of ability. Not knowing how far one might have to travel to a destination or how long it might take, particularly due to unknown factors such as security of check-in lines, not only act as stressors, but also limit where travelers spend their time. Working with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, this study will identify the types of planning and navigation needs that travelers with various abilities have at airports and use that information to develop a universal design mobile guide application design to take the worry out of airport travel.

Understanding the Effect of Design for Behavior Change on Older Adults’ Physical Activity Levels

Principal Investigator: Christina Harrington
There has been a recent emergence of mobile health technologies intended to encourage physical activity through  monitoring, coaching, and feedback. However many of these technologies see low and inconsistent usage rates or quick abandonment. The purpose of this project is to identify relevant design strategies that are associated with behavior changes in older adults physical activity in an effort to improve physical health.

Completed Projects

Determination of Grab Bar Specifications for Independent and Assisted Transfers in Residential Care Settings

Principal Investigator: Jon Sanford
The purpose of this project was to identify the spatial and configurational dimensions of grab bars that effectively support both independent standing and one- and two-person assisted toilet transfers of older adults living in senior housing. The current Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for toilet and grab bar configurations are based primarily on the capabilities of young people, and as such may not account adequately for range of comorbidities and secondary conditions that are common among older people with disabilities.

Enhancing Airport Wayfinding

Principal Investigator: Jon Sanford
As part of a larger grant sponsored by the Transportation Research Board, CATEA worked with a national team headed by Gresham Smith and Partners to evaluate the usability, utility, and effectiveness of a mobile software application to help older travelers and those with disabilities find their way in airports. The result of the project was a set of design recommendations for the development of mobile wayfinding applications.

Effects of Mobility Device and Environmental Facilitators on Activity and Participation

Project Directors: Frances Harris and Jon Sanford
This project, conducted as part of the Wheeled Mobility RERC, investigated the relationship between wheelchair type and environmental modifications as they impact activity performance and participation in three settings: home, workplace, and community. Project findings may inform clinician, policy, and implementation decisions about the effectiveness of different devices given a particular setting.

Community Barriers to Outdoor Wheeled Mobility

Principal Investigator: Jon Sanford; Co-Investigators: Fran Harris and Marie Latta
People who use wheelchairs encounter many real barriers (e.g., stairs) and perceived barriers (e.g., short street crossing time) outdoors that may impact their ability to participate in the community. The project conducted a survey to identify real and perceived environmental barriers to wheeled mobility in the community.  It determined the impact of environmental barriers on wheeled mobility performance, and determined the impact of barriers to wheeled mobility on community participation.

Accessible Aquarium Project

Principal Investigators: Carrie Bruce, CATEA; and Bruce Walker, Sonification Lab, Psych/GVU
Zoos and aquariums have a heavy emphasis on the visual experience and the sharing of information through visual methods. The Accessible Aquarium Project investigated how to make these dynamic environments more engaging and accessible to visitors with vision impairments by providing real-time interpretation of exhibits through innovative tracking, music, and narrations. The project developed cutting edge bio-tracking and behavior analysis techniques that track movements in an exhibit; investigated the strategies and technologies that zoo and aquarium staff use to convey educational information; identified the needs and preferences of visitors interacting with and learning from exhibits; and built and evaluated a real-time audio interpretation system.

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