a case study, your goal will be to expand and generalize theories (analytic
generalizations) and not to enumerate frequencies (statistical generalization).” He further points out, “
Scientific facts are rarely based on single
experiments; they are usually based
on a multiple set of experiments that
have replicated the same phenomenon under different conditions.”
We do not claim that our results generalize to all people in any particular
group, not even provisionally. Neither
do we claim that Sara is typical of any
group, such as people who are blind
or people with physical disabilities.
However, there is nothing so particular
about Sara that precludes these results
from applying to others who might be
similarly situated within their physical
and social worlds.
Our focus on a single individual
across a range of tasks and artifacts
allowed us to seek coherence in the
themes and patterns that spanned
many aspects of her life, something
we might have missed had we instead
looked at a small range of tasks and artifacts across several individuals. Also,
the range of tasks, including those involving both computational and non-computational artifacts, increases our
confidence that we captured the key issues characterizing Sara’s interaction
with technology. Enabling more access
to technology may in fact require that
we look at increasingly specific populations so as to tailor technologies more
closely to people’s needs. However, our
case study, with its rich data across a
variety of interactions, provides a set of
hypotheses that can be used comparatively in other studies.
Our second conclusion reiterates
that it is the combination of functionality and socially situated meaning
that determines who will use technology and how it will be used. Simply
replacing one interaction mode, such
as the display of text on a screen with
a functionally equivalent mode as in
speaking the text aloud, is not necessarily equivalent from the point of view
of user experience. This is because
functional equivalence might not account for the meaning of the mode of
interaction for particular users in specific contexts. Efforts to provide multimodal support for people with perceptual and/or motor disabilities10, 22 are
encouraging, not simply because of
the increased physico-cognitive support they provide. Rather, multimodal
support offers the possibility of using
different modalities on different tasks
and in different contexts, but only if
the designer allows this degree of user
control of interaction mode.
Paradoxically, increasing and universalizing access to technology might
require attending to the specific and
situated meanings of technology use
by particular populations in particular settings. Because technologies
invisibly embed taken-for-granted assumptions concerning trade-offs in
functionality, usability, and situated
meaning, developing an understanding of these trade-offs for particular
people and populations can improve
technology access for increasing numbers of people.
We thank Sally Fincher for initial project brainstorming, key bibliographic
references, and feedback on drafts;
Genevieve Bell for helping overcome
challenges in subject recruitment and
for suggestions on carrying out ethnographic fieldwork; Lisa Tice for utilizing her professional network to help
with recruitment; Mark Blythe for providing information on his protocols;
Skip Walter and Eli Blevis for feedback
and encouragement as we were completing our fieldwork; Donald Chinn
and Carol Hert for support throughout; and Youn-kyung Lim for her many
suggestions for improving the reporting of these results. And thanks most
especially to Sara for her benevolence,
sincerity, and willingness to share her
life and to Laurie Rubin for her inspiration, motivation, and support.
This is a revised version of an earlier paper presented at the Ninth Interactional ACM SIGACCESS Conferences on Computers and Accessibility
(Tempe, AZ, Oct. 15–17, 2007); http://
www.sigaccess.org/assets07/ and appears at http://portal.acm.org/citation.
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Kristen Shinohara ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Ph. D.
student in the Information school of the university of
Washington, seattle, Wa.
Josh Tenenberg ( email@example.com) is
Professor in Computing and software systems in the
Institute of technology of the university of Washington,
tacoma, tacoma, Wa.