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"But, I don't take steps": Examining the Inaccessibility of Fitness Trackers for Wheelchair Athletes

Patrick Carrington, Kevin Chang, Helena Mentis and Amy Hurst

The 17th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility (ASSETS 2015)
Lisbon, Portugal, October 26-28, 2015


Wearable devices have become very popular and offer many opportunities for consumers. However, despite their popularity only a small percentage of people in the United States have ever used a wearable device. Wearable fitness devices have demonstrated the capacity to improve overall physical activity, which can lead to physical and mental health improvements as well as quality of life gains. Wheelchair athletes who participate in adaptive sports tend to be very active and are interested in using wearable fitness trackers to capture their activity. Despite this potential and interest, we have observed low adoption among wheelchair athletes. We interviewed five wheelchair athletes and three physical and occupational therapists to explore fitness activities, experience with wearable technology, and potential uses for wearable fitness devices. None of the wheelchair athletes we interviewed had previously used any wearable fitness devices however four out of five were interested in tracking their physical activity. We present five thematic areas helpful for thinking about wearable computing systems and accessibility challenges that arise based on incorrect assumptions about the athletic community. We highlight opportunities for improving the impact and accessibility of fitness tracking technologies for wheelchair athletes. These opportunities include improving the analysis of data from existing sensors, instrumenting the custom equipment used by adaptive sport athletes, and revising the language used in the presentation of fitness data to create a more inclusive community of users.

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