The Participatory Design of a Talking Photo Album for Adults with Complex Communication Needs

Communication is an essential part of life and an important part of communication is the ability to tell stories. These stories can include every day events up to momentous life occasions. Through stories people build relationships, learn new information and can argue their point of view.  However, people with complex communcation needs (CCN) cannot access their stories easily. At present voice output communication aids are not suited to sharing stories; it is difficult to create a story, store it, retrieve it and narrate it (Waller 2006). People with CCN often rely upon a carer to enter stories into the device, but this is time consuming and results in static, monologue output as the story text tends to be stored under a single key. Another way of sharing stories is through photographs, with some use being made of “speaking photograph ablums”; allowing voice recordings to be linked to individual photographs. However, non-speaking individuals still have to rely on speaking helpers and the playback still miimics a monologue.  

The problems surrounding the “talking photograph album” were addressed within a particpatory design project which is investigating ways to include people with CCN in the design of technology.. The project followed participatory design guidelines being developed at the School of Computing at the University of Dundee (Prior 2010).

Six adults with CCN and a support worker were enabled to participate in all stages of the design using innovative design methods; these included magnetic white boards, etran boards and powerpoint designs.. Participants were initially invited to choose the focus of the project; they  expressed a desire to share their stories and their photographs but indicated that they currently require assistance in doing this.The participants then helped design the software from low level paper based designs through to a fully working piece of software.

The results from this work showed that it has been possible to design the software so that the users can be aided in creating much of the photograph linked story independantly. The adults with CCN greatly enjoyed taking part in the developing a system for themselves and were able to contribute fully as participants, providing evidence that adults with a wide variety of intellectual and physical impairments can take a meaningful role in participatory design when they are given appropriate support and where careful consideration is put into the planning of the design process to faciliate interaction.