The influence of social context on the perception of assistive technology: using a semantic differential scale to compare young adults’ views from the United Kingdom and Pakistan

Background and aim: A Society's view of disability may influence the perception and use of Assistive Technology (AT) products. Semantic cues or cultural coding provide the viewer with a series of visual stimuli to be given or ascribed meaning. Previous research has shown cognitive approaches to visual perception and assignment of meaning vary between diverse cultures. This study reviews the influence of contextual settings on perception, to provide the basis for a debate on the societal perception of communicative content (semantic/meaning) of an AT product; and, the relevance of different cultural cognitive styles. The paper explores, from a cultural viewpoint, the overall understanding of disability internationally.

Method: A Semantic Differential (SD) scale was used to obtain views on the image of an attendant wheelchair from nine hundred and ninety-one (991) young adults from the United Kingdom (UK) and Pakistan (PAK), reflecting the individualist and collectivist societies, respectively. This survey follows a previous paper-based study using the same image and protocol. Comparing the two surveys, a consensus of views from the two groups was achieved.

Results and conclusion: The responses from the UK group were skewed towards a negative view of disability compared to the Pakistan group. This inferred greater social stigma associated with this AT product in the UK. The combined findings from both surveys provide insights into societal perception of AT products and disability. Areas for future research are suggested, including what visual components of an AT product (graphemes) appear to be associated with positive or negative responses for collectivist and individual societal groups.