Closing the digital divide and enhancing participation in social and leisure activities for individuals with acquired brain injury through near field communication technology

Professor Rachel McCrindle, University of Reading

People with acquired brain injury (ABI) have neurological impairments that cut them off from society. ABI leads to reduced social contact and problems engaging with leisure activities. Today, technology, such as smartphones, is increasingly important for social and leisure activities and many daily functions are going online. This technology could help people with ABI re-engage in society and with their hobbies and to carry out daily activities more independently. However, many people with ABI find this technology too complex and difficult to use because it has not been designed for their needs. This study will explore whether near-field communication (NFC) technology can help people with ABI engage in their desired social and leisure activities by making smartphones and tablets easier to use. NFC technology can be used to instruct a smartphone to perform a function by simply holding the phone in the vicinity of an NFC tag. This is much easier to use for individuals with cognitive, visual, language and movement symptoms caused by ABI. For example, the NFC tags can tell the phone to send a text message to a specific person, activate reminders, navigate to a desired website, make a phone call, open calendars, set alarms, play music, radio or TV and speak instructions. Importantly, the person with ABI only has to learn to hold the phone near the tag of their desired activity.

The University of Reading has developed an application (a-BITS acquired Brain Injury Tag System) to use this NFC technology to support people with ABI. We will undertake a series of studies to develop and test this technology and explore whether it helps people with ABI do more of the activities that they want to do. Firstly, we will work with people with ABI and carers to test the current application and improve it. We will make sure that the app is easy and logical to use and can perform the functions requested by people with ABI. Secondly, we will undertake a study to investigate how people with ABI use the app and the impact it has on their lives. We will recruit 7-10 people with ABI and explore how smartphone technology could be used to enhance their daily social and leisure activities. Participants will include older people less conversant with technology as well as younger people who were ardent technology-adopters prior to their ABI. We will personalise the app based on this information and train them and their carers on how to use it. We will measure their activities and well-being before and after using the app for 6 weeks to see if the app makes improvements in their daily lives.

The results of the study will be published on our respective university websites, in journal articles, in newsletters for people with ABI and the local media. We will use the study to develop guidelines for accessible app use and to obtain more user feedback. This information will be used to develop further funding applications if these initial studies prove successful.