6.811: Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology

Course Information

6.811J/HST420J/2.S994: Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology (PPAT), jointly being offered by MIT EECS, MechE, and IMES/HST, is centered around a design project in which student teams work closely with a person with a disability in the Cambridge area to design a device, piece of equipment, app, or other solution that helps them live more independently. Over the course of the term, each team meets with its "client," iterates through multiple prototypes, and learns about the challenges and realities of designing technologies for people with disabilities.

Past projects have included an iPhone app for detecting clothing colors and patterns to help a blind person dress independently; a custom "no-spill" spoon for a person with a spinal cord injury to eat more easily; a bicycle with sensing and a haptic interface designed for a blind rider; an Android-based task reminder and sequencing system for a person with a brain injury causing deficits in working memory; a blind-accessible modification to an otherwise inaccessible home appliance; a customized mouse event handler for someone using only his eyes to control the mouse; and tablet apps to control various aspects of the user's environment.

We seek students from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines. Any experience in design is helpful, but not necessary. Three person teams are formed so that students complement each other's skill sets. Along with the project, the course includes guest lectures from clinicians in rehabilitation, human-computer interface experts, product designers, and people living with physical or cognitive impairments, as well as lab exercises in which students use and evaluate various assistive technologies.

This course is a good fit for students interested in public service, user-centered product design, working closely with a client with a disability (potentially in consultation with their caregivers and/or clinicians), and tackling difficult, real-world problems. In past terms it has received an average rating of 6.5 (out of 7) overall.

We have initiated collaborations with the MIT IS&T Assistive Technology Information Center (ATIC), MIT Public Service Center (PSC), and MIT Edgerton Center. We have also established partnerships with several client groups, including The Boston Home in Dorchester, The Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, and the The Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital in Braintree and Natick.

For Course 6 (EECS), students can use 6.811 as an AUS requirement or Department Lab. In Course 2 (MechE), 6.811 is a "Suggested Concentration" subject in the CIR track. In Course 16 (Aero/Astro), 6.811 can be used as an PAS elective credit by petition. We also encourage students from BCS, MAS, and everywhere else to join!

Please contact Staff at ppat@mit.edu with any questions.

Textbook (Optional):

Cook and Hussey's Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice (ISBN-10: 0323039073; ISBN-13: 978-0323039079)
Authors: Albert M. Cook and Janice M. Polgar

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