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User Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction 12: 139^169, 2002.

# 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

User Models and User Physical Capability


Engineering Design Centre, University of Cambridge, Trumpington Street, Cambridge
Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, New Museums Site, Pembroke Street,
Cambridge CB2 3QG, UK
(Received 1 September 2000; accepted in revised form 8 April 2001)

Abstract. Current interface design practices are based on user models and descriptions derived
almost exclusively from studies of able-bodied users (Keates et al., 1999). However, such users
are only one point on a wide and varied scale of physical capabilities.
Users with a number of different physical impairment conditions have the same desire to use
computers as able-bodied people (Busby, 1997), but cannot cope with most current computer
access systems (Edwards, 1995).
It is important to identify the differences in interaction for users of differing physical capability,
because the border between the labels able-bodied and motion-impaired users is becoming
increasingly blurred as the generation of computer users inexorably becomes older and physically
less capable. If user models are to retain their relevance, then they have to be able to reect users
physical capabilities (Stary, 1997).
Through empirical studies, this paper will show that there are very important differences
between those with motion-impairments, whether elderly or disabled, and able-bodied users when
they interact with computers. It attempts to quantify where those differences occur in the inter-
action cycle with the use of a very straightforward user model, the Model Human Processor
(MHP) (Card, Moran and Newell, 1983), which describes interaction purely in terms of
perception, cognition and motor component times. Although this model is simplistic compared
to the more recent sophisticated models, it affords a simple and valuable insight into interaction
cycles and offers a building block on which to base more comprehensive models. This work is
predicated on the idea that the use of this model in detailed analysis of the basic interaction cycle
will provide a means for studying motion impairment at both an individual and general level.
Keywords: model human processor, motion-impaired users

1. Background
User models aim to provide a quantitative description of a user such that predictions
of behaviour can be made. Effectively, the intention is to provide a set of mathemat-
ical equations that represent the interaction process. In this respect they act as
engineering models of the interaction process. The purpose is to provide criteria
to enable optimisation of the design process, in this case for motion-impaired users.

The interaction of the various elements within the model and the layout of the
feedback paths should give a clear indication as to how usable a nal system should
be and can also highlight possible strategies for improvement and optimisation.
The success of the resultant improvements depends on whether the end-user
matches the user type dened for the modelling process. This is still typically a young
able-bodied male. However, whilst it could be argued that such users used to dominate
the typical user prole, that can no longer be considered to be the case (Newell, 1995).


The population is growing older inexorably. By 2020, almost half the adult popu-
lation in the UK will be over 50, with the over 80s being the most rapidly growing
sector (Coleman, 1993). Associated with the ageing process are decreases in physical
capability, such as reduced hearing and vision. Arthritis, Parkinsons Disease and
Alzheimers all have associated decreases in motor capability. These may be the
extremes of ageing, but everybody is subject to the ageing progress and it starts
shortly after adolescence, merely getting more pronounced as one gets older
(Kirkwood, 1999). As computer usage spreads throughout the population and
especially as the generation who grew up with computers at home enters middle-age,
physical capability of the user will become an increasingly important issue. Con-
sequently, the prole of the user base that must be accommodated is changing
(Stephanidis, 1997).
There is also a growing need to facilitate access to computers for disabled users.
Increasingly legislation is being introduced that prohibits discrimination on the
grounds of disability and sets out the requirements for employers to make employ-
ment accessible to all. Examples include the 1996 Disability Discrimination Act
(DfEE, 1996) in the UK and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).
Another important factor is that computers are moving away from the desktop
and out into the real-world. Even users that would be classied as able-bodied
in the carefully controlled environment of an ofce can become environmentally
impaired once they move to areas that are noisy or subject to perturbations, such
as vibration (Newell, 1995).
As the user base and environmental circumstances change, traditional user model
results will become increasingly strained and user modelling techniques and interface
design methods must change to reect this (Stary, 1997). One method of ensuring
that users who do not conform to the able-bodied stereotype are not excluded from
the use of computers, is to adopt the principle of designing interfaces for Universal


Designing for Universal Access requires the use of engineering design problem-
solving practice (Blessing et al., 1995):