Sunday, May 07, 2006

Turn That Lid, Fly That Plane

A Georgia Tech lab tests everyday objects to see if they're accessible enough for active duty in the lives of people with disabilities.

At the lab, researchers check out copiers to see whether wheelchair-users can easily reach controls. Fax machines are put through a battery of tests to investigate whether blind people can use them. And coffee jars are probed to determine if arthritic hands can unscrew the lids.

About half the work at the Georgia Tech Research Institute's accessibility division is now dedicated to such testing, while the rest is still spent on military projects. There's also a flight simulator jammed with complicated tracking devices in the office.

Testing Folgers and fighter pilots in the same lab may sound like a strange mix, but scientists say the work is quite similar. The research team uses the same methodology — primarily extensive checklists that focus on user experience — to tackle both military systems and everyday items.

Familiar with the military's rigorous standards for determining accessibility, the school's $7.5 million center is a good fit for investigating how to make products more accessible to the disabled, senior research scientist Brad Fain said.

I love creative multi-tasking, don't you? Good use of resources, too.