ERCIM News No.28 - January 1997

A Tool for Hospitalised Children and a Communication Tool for Users with Disabilities

by Kristian Simsarian and Kristina Höök

Two projects are being developed at SICS, to create new tools for users with disabilities. They involve using some aspects of agent research and building on top of existing interface, network and virtual reality technology.

One project concerns constructing a system that can be installed in hospitals. There are situations where it is desirable to aid bringing children out from isolation when they have undergone debilitating treatment or illness. This project will involve an interdisciplinary team that includes researchers, technicians, medical personnel and pediatric counsellors. To implement the project we are using experience from the development of the DIVE system, (Distributed Interactive Virtual Environment), as well as general work in collaborative computer environments. The results will enable us to build a system that can link geographically distributed computers, as well as allow for a unified environment for interaction. Building on research results and products in the fields of networking, virtual reality, and videoconferencing, the proposed system will allow remotely located participants to connect to each other via graphical, audio and video links. This will allow interaction through play and educational environments in the computer medium. The system will be used by children that would otherwise have had little social contact because of their situation in the hospital. The contact for this project is Kristian Simsarian, SICS

The second project, named Convene, is concerned with enhancing communi-cation between users with disabilities. The information society may provide disabled users with a powerful means for interaction, but unless the tools are carefully designed, these users may be excluded entirely from this form of communication. Starting from a simple text-based MUD (Multi-User Dimension) environment, the aim is to provide a multi-modal interface that can be adjusted to individual users. By multi-modal we refer to combinations of text, speech, graphics, sound, etc, that are generated or interpreted from the same basic representation. Different combi-nations of modalities may be more or less suited to a particular user or group of users. In addition, we aim to provide agents in the MUD-environment that can function as mediators, allowing slow users to communicate better, or aiding users in navigating and searching. The design of these agents will be based on studies of users and their problems, thus making the users' needs and problems in communication situations central to the project. Again, these agents will be adaptive or adaptable to users as it is known that individual differences have a great impact on how well users can understand and make use of complex information spaces. The Convene project will be lead by Kristina Hook in the HUMLE group at SICS.

In January 1997, a one-day workshop will be held at SICS. The workshop costs are sponsored by two Swedish national funding agencies and will be entitled The application of Virtual Reality and Agent technology for persons with disabilities. The workshop will bring together Swedish researchers in either the area of virtual reality or agents to discuss current work, as well as explore future possibilities. The number of participants will be limited, but we would welcome a few non-Swedish guests. If you are interested in participating and contributing, please contact the authors.

Please contact:
Kristina Hook - SICS
Tel: + 46 8 752 1500

Kristian Simsarian - SICS
Tel: + 46 8 752 1500

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