Designing User-Centered Mobile Health Initiatives to Promote Healthy Behaviors for Children With Disabilities: Development and Usability Study

JMIR Form Res. 2021 Sep 16;5(9):e23877. doi: 10.2196/23877.


Background: The gap between research and its practical application in community settings limits its impact on public health. Closing this gap has the potential to improve the well-being of underserved groups, such as children with disabilities. Mobile health has the potential to improve access to community resources and support for underserved populations, thereby encouraging improved health behaviors.

Objective: In this feasibility pilot study, we describe the development of the mobile app Jooay. Jooay was developed in partnership with stakeholders to facilitate access to leisure and physical activity community programs for children and youth with disabilities. We also reflect on the lessons learned throughout the implementation process that are relevant for improving the health behaviors of children with disabilities.

Methods: We used a participatory action research approach to develop the app. We also administered a survey to current Jooay users and analyzed various app usage indicators to explore use patterns, user feedback, and preferences. Finally, we critically appraised the implementation process through a best practices for implementation research framework.

Results: We developed a product that responds to users' identified need to find information and follows accessibility and user-centered design standards. The analysis of usage data revealed that access to the Jooay app is concentrated in urban areas. Perceptions, attitudes, and information needs varied according to the type of user. The use of the mobile app changed over time, and usage decreased after the app was downloaded, indicating a need for the sustained engagement of app users. Users found value in the ability to identify activities that they would not otherwise know about. However, app use alone was not sufficient to improve participation. Although the app was developed based on users' active input in multiple iterations, we encountered challenges with survey recruitment and attrition, suggesting the need for more seamless and engaging means for collecting data within this population.

Conclusions: Interactions between users and the app can sustain user engagement and behavior change. We will improve the app's next iterations by using the information gained from this study to conduct a larger study to assess the relationship among social and material deprivation, urban design, and access to inclusive and adaptive leisure programs. This study will inform the improvement of app listings to improve the use of Jooay by different user groups and promote health through mobile apps for marginalized groups.

Keywords: children with disabilities; digital health; implementation research; inclusive leisure participation; mobile health; mobile phone; physical activity promotion.