This paper discusses work carried in the context of a study addressing the design and development of a wearable communication aid for people who are illiterate and cannot speak. People with such disabilities often depend on electronic augmentative and alternative communication devices for interpersonal communication. A central theme of the paper, however, is that such products, and products intended for people with disabilities more generally, have characteristics that inadequately attend to users’ needs—in particular many devices pay insufficient regard to the psychological and sociological impact the devices have upon their users. The paper briefly discusses an empirical case study targeted to design and develop the Portland Communication Aid (PCA). The process of establishing user requirements, and in particular the notion of designer-facilitated participatory design, is discussed. The resulting prototype of the PCA is briefly explained along with a discussion of the importance of product semantics in the design of assistive technology.
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