Industrial - Bachelors

The Connect Project

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A three tiered Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) system that uses predictive speech, a physical controller, and AI-driven micro-learning to provide a versatile and accessible solution for individuals with language or communication difficulties.

Research Report

The following research report was conducted over the span of 7 weeks during 2023 as part of the QUT DNB311 ID 7: Capstone unit.
This report explores the transition into adulthood for people in Australia with disabilities and the adverse consequences the existing systems present, specifically the potential flow-on effects of communication difficulties. The research presented consists of a literature review as well as primary research from parents of people with disabilities, support workers, and industry professionals.

It is greatly suggested that this report be read for greater context for this product intervention.

Research Report
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Currently in australia…

The transition from childhood to adulthood for people with disabilities presents a formidable set of challenges, particularly in the realm of communication skill development. Effective communication skills are not merely a luxury; they are fundamental for fostering social interactions, a sense of belonging, and bolstering self-esteem. Neglecting the cultivation of these skills can precipitate adverse consequences for this vulnerable demographic.

The World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Functioning (ICF), conceptualises the interconnections and factors of disability.
As described by the CDC (2020), “The ICF measures a person’s level of functioning, in terms of body functions and structures, activities, and participation, as an interaction between their health condition/s and environment and/or personal factors.”

The ICF identifies the direct relationship between disability and the importance of support infrastructure, as it is integral to every aspect of a person with a disability’s existence and well-being.

The looming date of when a person with a disability turns 18 is impending but not immediate. When a person turns 16, the process of transitioning into disability adulthood begins as parents and guardians no longer have access to the medical records of the person. This initial stage makes it apparent that the date when their child will be considered a legal adult is all the more intimidating and essentially sets it up as an impending crisis date, rather than one to be celebrated.

A key concern regarding when a person with a disability turns 18 includes a conclusion to educational studies affecting their long-term routines, daily interactions, people in their life, daily stimulation and engagements, and daily family respite. Additionally, concerns regarding the short and long-term future of the individual and what their life will look like, including support, financial aid, respite, programs, etc.

When a person with a disability turns 18 and goes through the process of disability adulthood, so much of their life, and the lives of those around them, is impacted. Essentially, there is a complete reset of routine and activities simultaneously as there are changes in support programs and financial support, typically leaving the individual and families to self-fund and seek these supports. Often this leaves the person with a disability isolated and with significantly less support and services than when they were considered a child, making this population some of the most vulnerable in Australia.

When comparing the prevalence of people with disabilities to the population, it is very concerning to see how many people aged 18-35 disappear, despite the population of this age group having the most growth.

The reduction of disability prevalence for this demographic may be due to the unique challenges for those transitioning from childhood disability to disability in adulthood, as people under 25 with disabilities have the highest rates of learning difficulties, communication difficulties, social and behavioural difficulties, and mental health (AIHW, 2022,). The potential of these difficulties having flow-on effects for causality is very high; for example, if a person has learning difficulties, this could make it very difficult to develop communication skills which would then impact their ability for social and behavioural interaction, thus negatively impacting their mental health.


australian Bureau of Statistics, 2022

Areas of opportunity for design intervention

The following 4 areas of intervention opportunities have been determined from data on people with disabilities, parents and guardians, support workers, and disability professionals, as detailed in the research report. These areas of opportunity include inadequate support systems, adulthood and client retention in support programs, challenges with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) accessibility and integration, and communication skill neglect.

Design process Header


The informed areas of opportunity were then used to develop the following initial intervention concepts. These concepts focused on the potential for communication development and expression to encourage self-confidence and independence.

design direction

Following feedback from tutors and peers, the overall direction from the initial concepts was to integrate the AAC Phone Attachment and AI Wearable Speech Monitor. This system design would provide a holistic approach to the immediate need to communicate but allow the opportunity to continue the development of communication skills relevant to the user.

Limitations were outlined to establish clear boundaries for what is required of this type of concept, these included connectivity, data security, user ergonomics, and the size of internal components. Other notable considerations were the mechanical interactions, user anthropometrics regarding grip and hand size, portability, grip, designing for disability, and the comfort of interaction.

Design iteration

Noting the limitations of the design concept, development into product form, function and interaction were pursued. Physical and digital sketches as well as low-fi prototyping out of foam were actioned. Two design directions were created to act as a remote control for quick access to the communication aid app on the smart device.

Design 1: A smart device attachment that uses wireless connectivity, either through internal wifi or Bluetooth, to remotely interact with the communication aid app whilst also doubling as a smart device grip and stand.

Design 2: An a-line attachment that directly connects to the smart device using USB-C, that has a key interaction element of the lower section using a coil springed twist function to toggle interaction.

design intervention

The Connect Project Header


The Connect Project is a comprehensive AAC system that uses technology, predictive speech, a physical controller, and AI-driven micro-learning to provide a versatile and accessible solution for individuals with language or communication difficulties, ultimately enhancing their communication capabilities and overall quality of life.

This AAC system is made up of 3 elements: the Connect Communication App, the Connect Controller, and the AI micro-learning modules. This aims to address the need for modern AAC technology, as well as encourage communication skill retention and development.

Connect: Communication App Header

The Connect App is a mobile application created for people with speech or language difficulties. It uses predictive speech technology to anticipate and suggest words or phrases to assist users in forming sentences or responses more efficiently.

Control: Connect Controller Header

The Connect Controller is a hardware device attached to the back of a smart device, making it easier for users to interact with the Connect App and control their communication interface. It provides a tactile and accessible way to engage with the system.

Learn: AI + Microlearning Modules Header
The Connect AI analyses user data and communication errors to create personalised micro-learning modules for the individual user. These modules assist in the continued nourishment of communication skills.
The Connect AI analyses user data and communication errors to create personalised micro-learning modules for the individual user. These modules assist in the continued nourishment of communication skills.

Product video

Ash Fenton

Ash, an Industrial Designer, employs systems thinking for product intervention. With experience at BMW Group, QUT Design Academy, Vuly Play, Detech Engineering, and roles as a Product Expert for Dyson, LG Electronics, and Nikon Australia, their background in Interactive and Visual Design lends a unique perspective on the crucial interplay between interaction and systems.