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Brain Inj. 2005 Jun;19(6):389-401.

Making electronic mail accessible: perspectives of people with acquired cognitive impairments, caregivers and professionals.

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Teaching Research, Western Oregon University, Oregon 97401, USA.


The primary objective of this study was to better understand the technology needs, barriers and strategies of individuals with acquired cognitive impairments (ACI) in order to design and modify technologies with potential for alleviating the diminished independence and social isolation common in this population. The authors hypothesized that (1) higher rates of computer use would be reported by younger, more highly educated individuals with ACI, those with less severe injuries and those with previous computer experience; (2) A low percentage of survey respondents would own their own computers; and (3) People with ACI would experience social isolation and report low frequency of connecting with important people who live far away. A total of 133 individuals with ACI, professionals and care providers completed the survey. To gain more specific information, seven focus groups were conducted with 66 individuals with ACI and 20 care providers. Finally, 10 current email users participated in structured conversations, detailing their strategies for using email. The survey revealed that 80% of subjects with ACI reported owning a computer. Age and education were not predictors of computer use, but individuals whose ACI was the result of more severe injuries were less likely to use computers. As expected, respondents reported that maintaining contact with distant loved ones is problematic. The focus groups and conversations provided more detail about the communication needs of the population and the relative advantages and disadvantages of email compared with telephone and mail. Participants also identified barriers to email use they had encountered or feared they would encounter when using email. A number of accommodations to overcome these barriers were suggested. The results of the survey, focus groups and conversations confirmed the utility of email and other technologies for people with ACI and the need to make these technologies more accessible. The results and suggestions provided by the focus groups and interviews are being used in the design of Think and Link, an email interface for use by individuals with ACI.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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