A Collaboration Between Game Developers and Rehabilitation Researchers to Develop a Web-Based App for Persons With Physical Disabilities: Case Study

JMIR Rehabil Assist Technol. 2019 Sep 6;6(2):e13511. doi: 10.2196/13511.


Background: Individuals with a disability and their partners, who often provide care, are both at risk for depression and lower quality of life. Mobile health (mHealth) interventions are promising to address barriers to mental health care. Rehabilitation researchers and software development researchers must collaborate effectively with each other and with clinical and patient stakeholders to ensure successful mHealth development.

Objective: This study aimed to aid researchers interested in mHealth software development by describing the collaborative process between a team of rehabilitation researchers, software development researchers, and stakeholders. Thus, we provide a framework (conceptual model) for other teams to replicate to build a Web-based mHealth app for individuals with physical disability.

Methods: Rehabilitation researchers, software development researchers, and stakeholders (people with physical disabilities and clinicians) are involved in an iterative software development process. The overall process of developing an mHealth intervention includes initial development meetings and a co-design method called design box, in which the needs and key elements of the app are discussed. On the basis of the objectives outlined, a prototype is developed and goes through scoping iterations with feedback from stakeholders and end users. The prototype is then tested by users to identify technical errors and gather feedback on usability and accessibility.

Results: Illustrating the overall development process, we present a case study based on our experience developing an app (SupportGroove) for couples coping with spinal cord injury. Examples of how we addressed specific challenges are also included. For example, feedback from stakeholders resulted in development of app features for individuals with limited functional ability. Initial designs lacked accessibility design principles made visible by end users. Solutions included large text, single click, and minimal scrolling to facilitate menu navigation for individuals using eye gaze technology. Prototype testing allowed further refinement and demonstrated high usability and engagement with activities in the app. Qualitative feedback indicated high levels of satisfaction, accessibility, and confidence in potential utility. We also present key lessons learned about working in a collaborative interdisciplinary team.

Conclusions: mHealth promises to help overcome barriers to mental health intervention access. However, the development of these interventions can be challenging because of the disparate and often siloed expertise required. By describing the mHealth software development process and illustrating it with a successful case study of rehabilitation researchers, software development researchers, and stakeholders collaborating effectively, our goal is to help other teams avoid challenges we faced and benefit from our lessons learned. Ultimately, good interdisciplinary collaboration will benefit individuals with disabilities and their families.

Keywords: interdisciplinary health team; internet; rehabilitation; software design; spinal cord injury.