6.811 | Fall 2014 | Undergraduate

Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology

Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 6.811 Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology (PPAT) as it was taught by William Li, Grace Teo, and Prof. Robert Miller in Fall 2014.

PPAT is an interdisciplinary, project-based course in which small teams of students work closely with a person with a disability in the Cambridge area to design a device, piece of equipment, app, or other solution that helps the client live more independently. Over the course of the term, each team meets with its client, iterates through multiple prototypes, and learns about the challenges and realities of designing assistive technologies for people with disabilities. The course also includes lectures on principles of successful Assistive Technology design, perspectives from people with disabilities and Assistive Technology makers and users, design processes and human factors, and social, economic, and ethical perspectives on disability.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

  1. Understand principles and complexities of Assistive Technology design and engineering
  2. Learn about the challenges and realities of people with disabilities and become equipped as an advocate
  3. Gain experience managing a team-based design/engineering project and working with a real client

Meet the Instructors

In the following video, the instructors introduce themselves and share how their interests and experiences led them to become involved with the course.

Instructor Interview: Meet the Educators

Instructor Interview

In the following videos, William Li and Grace Teo describe various aspects of how they taught 6.811 Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology.

Student Interviews

In the following videos, students share insights about their experiences in 6.811 Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology.

Curriculum Information


Permission of instructor

Requirements Satisfied

6.811 satisfies one of two Advanced Undergraduate Study requirements, and one lab requirement in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.


PPAT has been offered every fall semester since 2011.


The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 10% Video documenting either client challenge or design process
  • 20% Mid- and final-semester presentations
  • 20% Online, open-source documentation and press release (including high quality photographs)
  • 30% 4 blog posts, attendance, discussion participation, lab check-ins (and mentor feedback)
  • 20% Client and peer feedback


The instructors used a rubric to assess students’ blog posts (PDF). Guest panelists used an evaluation form to assess students’ mid- and final-semester presentations (PDF). Clients used an assessment guide to provide students with feedback (PDF) about their work in the course.

Instructor Insights on Assessment

Instructor Interview: Assessing Student’s Learning

Student Information


40 students

Breakdown by Major

Many students tend to be from Mechanical Engineering or Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, but students from all majors are welcome. This course is a good fit for students interested in public service, user-centered product design, working closely with a client with a disability (potentially in consultation with their caregivers and/or clinicians), and tackling difficult, real-world problems.

Typical Student Background

During the Fall 2014 offering of the course, several students had siblings or other family members with disabilities. These personal experiences informed their work in the course.

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 11 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:


 2 hours per week

  • Met 2 times per week for 1 hour per session; mandatory attendance.
  • Lecture sessions included discussions and guest speakers. 


 4 hours per week

  • Met 2 times per week for 2 hours per session; mandatory attendance.
  • Teams engaged in hands-on learning.
  • Some of the lab periods provided time for teams to discuss and work on their projects with technical mentors.

Out of Class

 5 hours per week

  • Teams met weekly with their clients to understand their needs, define a problem that could be solved with assistive technology, develop evaluation metrics, and test multiple iterations of prototypes. The client meetings, design work, and documentation comprised the majority of work required outside of class.
  • Deliverables for the project included a written contextual inquiry report, a video documenting the client’s challenge or the design process, and midterm and final presentations.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples
Course Introduction
Demonstration Videos
Activity Assignments with Examples
Media Assignments with Examples
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights