And yet, as Csikszentmihalyi and
Rochberg-Halton6 wrote, these objects
become infused with meaning through
use and association. “Humans display
the intriguing characteristic of making and using objects. The things with
which people interact are not simply
tools for survival or for making survival
easier and more comfortable. Things
embody goals, make skills manifest,
and shape the identities of their users.
Man is not only homo sapiens or homo
ludens, he is also homo faber, the maker
and user of objects, his self to a large
extent a reflection of things with which
he interacts. Thus objects also make
and use their makers and users.”
as technology designers, we desire to
improve the human condition through
our intentional acts of design, then our
central concern should be the ways in
which technologies are woven into human webs of significance.
In order to elicit a more holistic perspective on the usability of artifacts
for a blind individual, we extended the
study of human-machine interaction
from the workplace into the home, as
have other recent researchers.
2, 4 Drawing on traditional ethnographic meth-
Limitations and workarounds.
efficient than using
devices as alarms.
attention to her
use of tactile
Does not want
to call attention
She cannot quickly
read CD covers;
in worst case
search through all
Labels do not fit on
read one at a
time; efficient and
only Braille labels.
Sighted people do
not know how to
CDs to friends.
Ja WS does
than the intended
might have been
hit by mistake.
on tactile watch
on Talking Watch
Watch is “clunky”
for a cD
of the cups.
to create print labels
for CDs for friends.
Creating labels is
often does not
Labels allow control
from cup into
things down with
Difficult to tell
if a cup is right side
up when held
by flat handle.
uses free hand
to feel orientation
of cup before
Cannot see where
the bowl is in
relation to the sink.
of other utensils
uses free hand to
keep cup level and
unable to access
and read messages
available only via
Finds a friend to
to her; inefficient
calling others to
getting help for
Cannot read print
even if she can
Braillenote as a
notebook to store
Saves notes and
phone numbers and
helps plan the day.
uses floppy drive;
reliable but slow
only other data
ods used in the social sciences,
8, 18 this
research examines the situated, physical interactions between people and artifacts, as well as the meanings people
attribute to specific technologies and
the personal perspectives they bring to
their interactions. As Bell et al.
“The potential situated meanings of
domestic technology are fluid and
multiple, connecting with a range of
discourses, such as work, leisure, class,
religion, age, ethnicity, sex, identity,
success. Meaning may also be embodied in artifacts through the historical
contexts of use.”
Though undertaking this investigation from the comfort of our university
lab would have been convenient for us
as researchers, doing so would have
undervalued the importance of place
in evoking the meaning of everyday
things. Homes are not just shelter, but
places where people dwell, where one
finds the “‘lived relationships’ that
people maintain with places.”
intention was that by observing and
interviewing in our informant’s place
of dwelling, deeper associations of
significance would be evoked related
to the objects found there. As the ethnographer Keith Basso1 points out,
“places possess a marked capacity for
triggering acts of self-reflection, inspiring thoughts about who one presently
is, or memories of who one used to be,
or musings on who one might become.
That is not all. Place-based thoughts
about the self lead commonly to
thoughts of other things—other places, other people, other times, whole
networks of associations that ramify
unaccountably within the expanding
spheres of awareness that they themselves engender.”
Breakdowns and workarounds. We
are interested in both the success and
failure a nonsighted person experiences in interaction with technological artifacts. We are particularly interested in
understanding the task failures, what
Winograd and Flores21 called “
breakdowns” in that they reveal what is often
invisible during successful artifact use.
Task failures are unsurprising, given
that many of the artifacts used daily by
people who are blind have been constructed in a coevolved biological and
social world in which sight is the norm.
Task failures are also not failures in the
sense that they are merely the stopping