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Spinal Injury: An In-Depth User Study

Introduction

In this paper I am going to carry out an in-depth study of one of my neighbors who suffers from spinal injury resulting from injuries sustained in a freak car accident in Virginia. The man who worked on the Department of Homeland Security prior to his retirement was incapacitated after the accident that claimed two of his colleagues when their car collided with a van on a busy highway and landed in a ditch. He lives in the next door apartment. He is currently residing in the house with his wife and a house help who nurses him since he is confined to a wheel chair following a combination of back and neck injuries sustained in the accident. The multiple injuries resulted to a partial paralysis of his spinal chord immobilizing his back bone from the mid section to the legs. As a result though he can move his hands, he lost total control of his lower body including the legs. His neck which also sustained slight injuries is a bit rigid hindering effective performance of certain tasks.

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The injury rendered him almost entirely dependent and has to rely on external assistance to perform most of the basic tasks like changing clothes, visiting the toilet, taking showers, and exercising which he has to do on regular basis according to his orthopedic physician. However, he is able to handle lighter tasks like feeding, reading, and operating his computers although with some difficulty due to rigidity of his neck and the shaky nature of his right hand that was slightly affected but is healing. He is also able to move around comfortably on his motorized wheelchair. In this paper, I will thus seek to examine his use of the emails which have been one of his greatest hobbies since his childhood as his wife tells me.

As a result of his right sided slightly twisted neck, he has to slightly adjust the monitor position to the right in order to achieve a better view of the emails. This is possible because the device is adjustable at its base helping him achieve greater comfort. This appears odd to any outsider but the flexibility of the monitor has led him to adapt to this style. And since he spends long hours on the computer exchanging emails and going through his inbox, the monitor position has to be adjusted periodically to reduce fatigue of his recovering neck. According to Verbeek & Slob (385), technological devices have an important influence on the user behavior.

In addition, he has a tendency of zooming out the screen so as to have a better view of his emails avoiding straining due to his limited position on the screen. In searching for important emails in his inbox he scrolls down the inbox checking for those that might be of his interest to him. When referring to the past messages he often use the next page tab on the inbox page despite the fact that there exist as search utility for the emails. To him this requires lesser effort to perform than using the available short cut which he says he is not accustomed to. Despite efforts by his wife to show him to access past email messages faster, he has resisted as he believes the method he uses is more efficient.

People’s beliefs in their capability to perform certain tasks efficiently influence the way they behave, feel, and think (Bandura 86). The beliefs also affect one choice of the selection of messages to read, to leave, which to ignore, and the perception towards them (Allen 39). Users will always choose search channels that are least costly and less effort demanding in their psychological or physical sense (O’Reilley 28). These behaviors might appear peculiar to the observer until one conducts an examination of his background.

I also found out that when using the internet explorer browser, he prefers using the classic view despite the new outlook having additional features. His background reveals that he grew in a conservative family and as a result he has also tended to be conservative in his operations. Peoples’ cultural background and socialization alongside their belief system affect the way they view web pages. In addition, people’s cognitive styles influence the way they represent and organize information in their emails. Looking at this kind of disability one get to understand the reasons why he came to adapt to this behavior.

On the other hand, it is evident that his computer prowess attitude was not shaken by the accident and the subsequent incapacitation. As a result he has continued to explore into ways of improving his computer environment to make it more suitable for him. Consequently, he has recently embarked on installation of voice recognition programs to compensate for his disadvantages in use of hands. These capture voice data and convert it into digital format hence enabling him to continue receiving and sending emails without straining his body. The voice recognition programs act as an alternative to the keyboard (science daily 1).

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To boost his freedom in accessibility of the computer and to ensure he has an interruptible access to his emails he has recently incorporated the ability switches. This works by scanning and direct detection to work on the keyboard. This has really eased his tasks on the computer which he is very fond of despite his incapacitation (Buzzle.com 1). He has been very proud of his new technology and would stop at nothing to talk about them and to demonstrate on their functionality to any of his visitors.

Other times he uses the onscreen keyboard that enables him to display a keyboard type program on the desktop from where he types his work from. This he says helps him to compensate for the lost capability of his hands and the back. With this, drafting of email becomes less tiresome and unlike other technologies it is less complex and more convenient for his use. It also enables the user interface to suite his taste e.g. changing the order of his keys (Gugie 1). I also noted with particular interest that he reads his messages from bottom moving upwards. His neck problem is partly the cause because it’s easier to access the least strenuous on the bottom. However, he told me that he prefers starting with older email messages. According to Dong & lee (1), the user’s visual perception is an important part of the way a user interacts with computer interface.

I also followed the way he analyses his email messages and discovered that he is holistic minded. He has a global perception of things as he tends to contextualize the email messages and the field as a whole. Equally conspicuous are his analysis of the messages and the establishment of relationship of the field and the objects. This is characteristic of holistic minded people (Nisbett 56). Holistic minded people for instance will get the concept of the content by systematically scanning throughout the page. To make the web pages suitable for them then the design of the content should be inclusive of the full content of the website placed strategically across the body of the particular text intended for them.

When you observe his reading pattern keenly you will come to discover that he has an interesting way of reading the Web pages. Of worth noting is his tendency to scan the whole page nonlinearly while reading an email message. This gives him a clue of what the story is possibly about. To cater for the needs of such a user, the content of the web page should be spread regularly across the whole page to allow him to grip the idea behind the story fast. This suggests that the design of the page influences their use of the web pages. The designer should also undertake to harmonize the balance of the background and the foreground of the webpage if he has to capture the attention of the holistic minded user.

The inter-textual relationship among all the areas of the text contents should be incorporated into the design framework if the designer has to meet his objective for such users (Nisbett, 16). I indeed made a notable observation that he had a lot of trouble digesting poorly structured texts and took a lot of time going over them to grab the actual meaning. Sometimes he would seek the help of his wife to help him decipher the meaning of the text. This really put him off in many instances causing him to shun away from several email messages which failed to meet his user criteria. Designers should therefore study such user behaviors and preferences in order to enhance broader usability of such content. The final implication is that the design of the web pages should be tailor made to suite the cognitive styles of the user in order to enhance their usability of the pages. As I mentioned earlier different users have different cognitive styles which must be catered for so as to make the textual content relevant to their varied needs.

Conclusion

His use of the email service indicates that the user’s background, his physicality, and his cultural orientation affect the way he access various devices. Thus, an injury can force someone adapt to a particular way of using a device or viewing a web page as in our case. Because the users’ cognitive style influences the web page usability, the web page designers should design the pages with the user’s cultural backgrounds, socialization alongside their belief system, and their physical status in mind. Cognitive styles also influence the way they represent and organize information in their emails. More research ought to be carried out to compare the perception of people on sources of information and provision of services (Kim, Yoo, Kwon & Sin, 1).

In addition, people’s belief in their capability to perform certain tasks efficiently influences the way they behave, feel, and think. The beliefs also affect ones choice of the selection of messages to read, which to ignore, and their perception towards them. Users will always choose to search channels that are least costly and less effort demanding in their psychological or physical sense. People’s mindset orientation also affects the away they perceive the email content and the page design is very important to them. Holistic minded people for instance will get the contents concept by scanning throughout the page. To make the web pages suitable for them then the design of the content should be inclusive of the full content of the website intended for them. In addition, the needs of the special users especially those with disabilities should be considered in order to enhance their usage of computers.

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To cater for the needs of such a user, the content of the web page should be spread regularly across the whole page to allow him to grip the idea behind the story fast. This suggests that the design of the page influences their use of the web pages. The designer should also undertake to harmonize the balance of the background and the foreground of the webpage if he has to capture the attention of the holistic minded user. The inter-textual relationship among all the areas of then text contents should be incorporated into the design framework if the designer has to meet his objective for such users. Designers should therefore carry out an in-depth research on various user behaviors and preferences in order to enhance broad usability of such content by the consumer. In addition, it is important that more devices to be designed to cater for the special needs of various disability situations such as the one presented by my neighbor.

Works cited

Allen, Thomas. Managing the Flow of Information. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977

Bandura, Albert. Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.

Buzzle.com. “Computer Devices for the Disabled”, Buzzle.com®. 2009. Web.

Dong, Ying & Lee, Kun-pyo. “A cross-cultural comparative study of users’ perceptions of a webpage: With a focus on the cognitive styles of Chinese, Koreans and Americans”. International Journal of Design, 2(2), 19-30, 2008.

Gugie John. “Physically Disabled Computer-User Accessibility Aids”, Associated Content. 2007. Web.

Kim, Kyung-Sun; Yoo, Eun-Young; Kwon, Nahyun; Sin, Sei-Ching Joanna, “Individual differences in source selection behavior: Profile analyses via multidimensional scaling” asis.org. 2009. Web.

Nisbett, Richard. The geography of thought: How Asians and Westerners think differently– and why. New York: Free Press, 2003

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O’Reilly, Charles. “Variations in decision makers’ use of information-sources – the impact of quality and accessibility of information”, Academy of Management Journal, 25(4), 756-771, 1982.

Science daily. “Device Helps Physically Disabled Turn on Computer”, ScienceDaily LLC. 2001. Web.

Verbeek, Peter-Paul & Slob, Adriaan. “User Behavior and Technology Development Shaping Sustainable Relations between Consumers and Technology”, Chapter 36, Springer Netherlands, 2006.

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