If you are like me, you may not have previously known what a Human Factors Professional is–by that name. According to the Board of Certification of Professional Ergonomics, a Human Factors/Ergonomics Professional is someone who “contribute[s] to the design of all kinds of systems, such as work systems and product/service systems. Using knowledge of people’s cognitive and physical capabilities, needs and limitations, HFE professionals take a systems approach to design for people. The goal is optimal human well-being and performance with overall system effectiveness.” Today, I will briefly cover the roles of Human Factors Professionals and AT Specialists in the field of assistive technology.
HFP and AT Devices
AT devices need to meet the functional needs of individuals with disabilities. That does not mean that one device will work for every person with a disability; rather, it means that it fulfills a need, or group of needs, and is versatile enough to be used by many individuals with disabilities in one capacity or another. Take AAC apps as an example. HFPs, along with Speech-language Pathologists (or a Speech Pathologist acting as a HFP), design an app using knowledge of cognitive and physical capabilities–as well as ergonomics–of people with disabilities, including a multitude of intellectual and developmental disabilities. The app is also designed to be customized to allow for core vocabulary words, as well as words and phrases important to the individuals family, daily life and culture. This approach allows the app to be functional at individual and broad levels simultaneously.
HFPs are key to designing any piece of AT. Their knowledge of engineering and human functioning make them valuable to companies seeking to make their available to as many people as possible. Their knowledge of these products and the human mind and body also make them valuable to AT teams. Devices need to be tested by the consumer before a purchase is made. A HFP from the company who made the device, or one that specializes in the area of the device (e.g., seating and positioning, computer peripherals, mobile apps), can help an AT team know if a device is worth trying for a consumer or if it better for someone with different needs.
New Devices and What I look For
In today’s tech hardware and software world, it is a race to put out the newest product and idea in order to maximize profit. Some ideas and products are great, while others might be nothing more than a clever idea. Whenever I see a new product, I check for how it was developed. Was the team or individual that created the new AAC app have help from an HFP, or Speech-language Pathologist (SLP), or both? Did the new wheelchair, cushion, or brace have input from an HFP that specializes in ergonomics and mobility? If these questions turn out to be a no (which is rare), then I don’t bother the device.
If you are in the assistive technology or disability fields, take a look at HFPs in your area and reach out to them. See how you can help each other in your respective services and responsibilities. Those with disabilities should do the same. I look forward to learning more about human factors as I continue my life long journey of learning and practicing in the field of AT.