User Experience

Creating Accessible Solutions in Healthcare

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I recently participated in an accessibility event with the University of Southern California (USC) Center for Body Computing and the Special Hope Foundation, which promotes the establishment of comprehensive healthcare for adults with developmental disabilities.A doctor's hand touching an iPad behind a transparent screen with information on a patient.

The Center for Body Computing has a rich history of creating technology that helps people with disabilities. Their goal was to bring together a diverse set of people and organizations to discuss possible projects that would influence the healthcare industry to create accessible, digital solutions.

I was invited to participate and contribute my expertise about accessible digital product design. IBM has made accessibility an integral function of its IBM Design Thinking and IBM Design Language, and has embedded accessibility into its training sessions for new designers. By placing accessibility at the forefront of the design and development process, IBM is delivering better user experiences for people with disabilities and the growing aging population.

Some of the key takeaways from the event included:

  • Synthesizing Treatment Outcomes – Matthew Holder, MD, MBA, an international leader in Developmental Medicine, explained the problems associated with cognitive and developmental care. Children with intellectual disabilities and other rare problems can be regularly misdiagnosed or not treated correctly by the health industry due to lack of information. Valuable insights into diagnoses and treatments are typically corralled into social circles and with specialists. This causes an unfortunate lack of understanding in the general population of doctors and misdiagnosis. For example, “a patient who comes into an emergency room and is banging his head against the wall may simply be constipated.”
  • Virtual Reality – Albert Rizzo, PhD, the director of Medical Virtual Reality at the USC Institute of Creative Technologies presented ways that virtual reality can be used – from games that motivate rehabilitation to digitalized, virtual psychologists that soldiers can speak with about depression and P.T.S.D. symptoms. One of the Institute’s goals is to use affordable technology so that it is accessible to the general health industry. Their setups typically involved an Oculus Rift, an Xbox Kinect, Raspberry Pi’s, and similar technology available to the general public at reasonable prices.
  • Gratitude and Empathy – Glenn Fox, PhD, USC Peak Performance Institute, talked about emotions. He explained that gratitude is a stronger emotion than empathy and can be elicited through acts of altruism. The group discussed projects that create empathy and bring members of the healthcare industry together in various formats with people who have disabilities.
  • Cognitive Computing and IoT – Lack of data, the broad spectrum of disabilities, and the many interconnecting symptoms within them form a high hurdle for digital solutions. However, by collecting data from various interfaces, such as sensors in the home or wearable devices, we will be able to immediately recognize problems in people of different abilities as they arise, such as if they have fallen, left a stove on or faucet running, or haven’t been active over a prolonged period of time.

Cognitive systems such as IBM Watson are primed to help the healthcare ecosystem – doctors, caregivers and families – better understand, and make more informed decisions, about our health, well-being and overall happiness.

Many possibilities and solutions are still to be discovered, but efforts such as this collaboration at USC will help to uncover ways for people who have disabilities to be included in mainstream healthcare technology.

As we charge forward with new technology for untapped markets, let’s remember that it takes very little effort to design accessible solutions for people with disabilities. We have the power to aid a large segment of our population, improve their quality of life and enable them to be productive members of society.

To learn more about IBM Accessibility Research solutions, visit

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