Publications | Hyperhome Resource: A Technical Information Manager For Home Modification Services To Older People

Edward Steinfeld, Arch. D.
Scott Shea, B.P.S.
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center
StateUniversity of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY, USA

(published in RESNA '93 Proceedings-June 12,1993)


The provision of home modification services to older people requires access to technical information on a wide variety of topics. Microcomputer applications can be very useful in helping service providers obtain and use this information. However, existing applications have limitations in scope and flexibility. They are useful primarily to search an existing product database. HyperHome Resource takes a different approach, one that focuses on information management rather than providing a database of information that cannot be changed.


For older people, home modifications must address a much wider array of concerns than the traditional focus for younger people. Not only is support for ADL important but, to insure independent living, a number of other environmental concerns must be addressed. Creating an enabling environment for the older person with a disability can include:

•security improvements such as upgrading locks, adding outdoor lighting, or securing windows.
•fire safety improvements such as eliminating overloaded electrical circuits and installing smoke detectors,
•accident prevention and health measures, including repairing stairways, improved lighting, and repair of floor surfaces,
•accessibility and usability interventions including construction of entry ramps, installation of grab bars, and garbage removal,
•caregiver support modifications, particularly those that reduce the burden of caring for people with dementia,
•construction related services such as emergency repairs, weatherization, maintenance and general rehabilitation.

Due to the wide scope of services technical information is needed in the "front end" of service delivery, assessment of problems and recommendations for action. In these activities, constant reference is made to checklists and assessment forms, catalogs of products, guidebooks and construction manuals. Computer applications can help to increase productivity when searching for information and help automate the matching of needs to recommendations. They can also help to convey expert knowledge to programs that do not have professional staff in either rehabilitation technology, environmental design or building construction.


A microcomputer application has been developed to help home modification service providers assist the older population. The program is an aid for managing the diverse technical information on products and environmental design ideas that is needed to deliver high quality services. This application allows users to customize databases to the specific needs of the services they provide.


There are two existing microcomputer tools that are currently available to access technical information for home modification. A review of their a need to take a different approach.

HyperAbledata3 is a large database that is used to search for solutions to the varied needs of people with disabilities. It is inexpensive but requires a large capacity mass storage device. Although very useful for doing product searches, it focuses solely on assistive technology and does not include information on general construction products such as security devices, construction details such as handrail installation, design ideas like bathroom renovations or home maintenance actions like rodent elimination.

Ease4 is designed specifically to help occupational therapists deliver home modification services. It guides a rehabilitation specialist through two assessments, an ADL assessment on the individual and an environmental assessment on the home. The data is automatically compared to identify discrepancies in fit between person and environment. A database of products and design ideas is then searched to generate specific recommendations. The Ease product is a well integrated tool that could be of great value to a therapist. It focuses mostly on accessibility and safety issues but it can be customized for other issues if they can be tied to ADL concerns. New product data bases, data on design ideas and information on local vendors can be added. It's cost is much higher than HyperAbledata and it requires extensive training.

Both systems have two major limitations: the lack of product illustrations, and the lack of a user interface to add or remove information.

Written descriptions and technical data on products are not sufficient for making recommendations. Appearance play as major role in consumer acceptance. Moreover, it is desirable to show clients photographs and sketches of recommendations to assist them in prioritizing needs. Although HyperAbledata has some graphics and is improving in this area all the time, there are still a lot of gaps. Ease is completely text based.

Individual home modification projects can vary from eliminating roof leaks, to renovating a bathroom, to reducing wandering out of the house. There is no comprehensive source of technical information on all the necessary subjects. Good service providers, through experience, continually identify new approaches, new products and new ideas all the time . Both applications are "closed systems" that can be modified only through the development of new versions. Ease can only be customized by the company. Incremental changes cannot be made as the information becomes available.

Ideally, a service provider should be able to modify their database at any time. This applies to assessments and expert knowledge as well as product information. For example, if a new, superior assessment methodology is available, the service provider should be able to make use of it immediately without abandoning the technical information in the database.

HyperHome Resource is designed to overcome the problems of closed systems. Rather than a database of information, it is actually a "technical information manager". Like "personal information managers" that keep track of appointments, contacts, notes and to do lists, allows service providers to create their own custom database.

The program is written for Hypercard, the hypermedia database tool that comes with every Macintosh computer. The basic elements of a Hypercard database are "cards" and "stacks". Cards can contain a mixture of graphics, sound and text. Access to them is obtained through a menu card. Stacks are sets of similar cards.

HyperHome has two basic stacks, problems and recommendations. The stacks are organized into sections with 5 types of problems and recommendations. Scrolling windows allow the user to scan through items rapidly. Access to the database entries is obtained through "buttons" and other icons on the cards. By pointing and clicking with a mouse or other interface device, one can go forwards or backwards through a stack, jump to different locations or access different stacks. The most important button however, links each problem to related recommendations. Each recommendation may be linked to many different problems. This linkage builds intelligence into the database.

An edit menu card allows the user to add new cards and remove old cards easily as well as edit links between problems and recommendations. New stacks can also be added to reference additional types of information that one may wish to add, for example, lists of local suppliers and contractors. Problems and related recommendations can be printed out in a report for any client.

Graphic images are scanned into a separate data base. This gets around Hypercard's limited graphic resolution. From the recommendation card, users can activate a button that opens a window to the related image. These images can be photos, line drawings or even rough pencil sketches.

Supplementary information can be attached to a recommendations card. By pointing and clicking on a button, a comment window is opened. This window can be used to record any type of information desired, including product availability or feedback from previous use of the product or idea.


There are several advantages of the information management approach. Only the information needed has to be included, reducing storage space to a minimum and increasing search speed. As a commercial product, the price does not reflect the cost of developing the database. Permission does not have to be obtained for use of information in the database that comes from a proprietary source, unless the database itself will be sold to others. The database can be expanded and edited in "real time".

There is also a major advantage to using Hypercard. As with HyperAbledata, only the script for the database will have to be distributed. Anyone who has a Macintosh computer will be able to use it without purchasing expensive software.

One major problem with the program is that all data entry has to be done by the user. As we develop our own comprehensive database further, we may be able to distribute it with the script. Another possibility is developing a means to port information from HyperAbledata and other computer databases into HyperHome Resource. A third option is sharing stacks among service providers.

We hope to add more features to make it more useful in everyday practice. Currently, an assessment is completed by hand and the results compiled as a list of problems. The problems are then used to search the database for solutions. We took this approach to keep the database independent from assessments. Individual users can thus utilize any assessment method and still make use of the program. In the future, we hope to add assessments with an editing feature that would allow the user to customize them to their own preferences. Items in the assessment tool could then be linked to problem cards in the existing database.

In summary, HyperHome Resource is a technical information manager that overcomes some of the limitations of existing microcomputer applications used for home modification. It is open ended and can support graphics with ease. The user interface is simple, requiring only a few minutes of training to master. The availability of the comment window allows users to supplement recommendations with any related information they desire. Although we have not yet made plans for distribution, we expect the cost (without databases) to be very low.


Funding for this project was provided by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (grant no.H133E1000892), W. Mann, Project Director.

Edward Steinfeld, Director
Center for Inclusive Design &Environmental Access
School of Architecture and Planning
SUNY/ Buffalo Buffalo, NY 14214, USA (tel.)716-829-3485 x327 (fax)716-829-3861 


1 Steinfeld, E. "The Scope of Residential Repair & Renovation Services and Models of Service Delivery" in Lawton, MP an Hoover, SL (Ed.), Community Housing Choices for Older Americans. New York: Springer Publishing Co., 1981

2 Pynoos, Jon, Evelyn Cohen and Claire Lucas. The Caring Home Booklet: Environmental Coping Strategies for Alzheimer's Caregivers. Los Angeles: Long Term Care National Resource Center at UCLA/USC, 1988.

3 Trace Research and Development Center, U of Wisconsin-Madison

4 Ease is developed and distributed by LifeEase, Inc. St. Paul, MN.

Other Articles Available for Free

Automated Doors: Towards Universal
Architectural Barriers to Normalization: The Acoustic Environment of Group Homes

Hyperhomes: A Technical information Manager for Home Modification Service to Older People
Bathing For Older People with Disabilities
Enabling Home Environments: Strategies for Aging in Place
The Concept of Universal Design

Close Window

2005 Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access