6.S196: Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology

Article by the MIT News Office highlighting PPAT student teams developing assistive technologies

As of spring 2013, the Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology course has been assigned a permanent course number of 6.811 at MIT. Please use 6.811 when registering for the PPAT course.

banner for course with wheelchair, MBTA sign (credit to Dan4th on Flickr), mouth paintbrush, and accessible tablet

  • Lectures: Monday and Wednesday (and occasionally Friday), 1pm-2pm in 3-333
  • Labs: Monday and Wednesday, 3pm-5pm in 32-044
  • 6.S196: Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology (PPAT) is an interdisciplinary 12-unit subject centered around a design project in which small teams of students 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.

    Fall 2011 projects included an iPhone app for detecting clothing colors and patterns to help a blind person dress independently; a specialized "no-spill" spoon for a person with a spinal cord injury to eat soup more easily; a customized seat cushion for a wheelchair user; a bicycle with sensing and a haptic interface designed for a blind rider; and an Android-based task reminder system for a person with a brain injury causing deficits in working memory.

    Fall 2012 projects included a light-touch- and voice-activated button for calling nurses; a vibrating bracelet to inform of incoming text messages and calls; conversion of a coffee-makers' inaccessible touchscreen interface to accessible use via machine vision; an app to control an adjustable bed; and a wheelchair-mounted phone call management system usable from within an alternative and augmentative communication system.

    Along with the project, the course includes guest lectures from clinicians in rehabilitation, human-computer interface experts, product designs, and people living with physical or cognitive impairments, and lab exercises in which students use and evaluate various assistive technologies.

    We seek students from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines. Any experience in design is helpful, but not necessary. Teams of two to three students will complement each other's skill sets.

    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. Last fall, it received a 6.6 out of 7 rating overall (see Course VI Underground Guide Evaluations).

    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.

    The course will be led by Prof. Seth Teller (EECS), with contributions from Prof. Rob Miller (EECS) and a number of guest lecturers and panel members from the community.

    Starting Fall 2012, EECS students can use 6.S196 as an AUS or as a Department Lab. In MechE, 6.S196 is a "Suggested Concentration" subject in the CIR track. We are looking into other types of credit for Aero/Astro students. We also encourage students from BCS, MAS, and everywhere else to join!

    Please contact TA David Hayden or Professor Teller at ppat@csail.mit.edu with any questions.