A Mobile App to Promote Adapted Exercise and Social Networking for People With Physical Disabilities: Usability Study (Preprint)

Academic Article



    People with physical disabilities (PWD) experience several unique challenges that prevent them from participating in onsite exercise programs. Although mobile apps can provide a ubiquitous channel for delivering convenient exercise services within the community, no exercise apps have been designed for people with disabilities who experience certain functional limitations.


    The aim of this study was to examine the usability of a mobile exercise app in PWD.


    A sequential explanatory mixed-method design was used to holistically test usability in 4 core areas: effectiveness (ie, ease of use), efficiency (ie, operation speed), perceived satisfaction, and usefulness. Participants completed 7 face-to-face usability tasks and 1 structured interview. Equipment included a computer tablet that came preinstalled with the exercise app. The app included exercise videos that focused on several components of fitness: aerobic capacity, muscular strength, functional strength or balance, and range of motion. The app contained 3 different versions of the exercise program: (1) a program for people with the ability to use the upper and lower limbs, (2) a seated program for people with the ability to use only upper limbs, and (3) a program designed for people with hemiparesis. The app also included educational resources in the form of infographics aimed at addressing key social cognitive theory constructs included social support, outcome expectancies, self-efficacy, and barriers or facilitators to exercising. Participant characteristics and quantitative usability data were descriptively reported. Qualitative data were analyzed using thematic analysis.


    A total of 12 PWD tested the usability of the exercise app and completed 96% (69/72) of the usability tasks on the first attempt. Operation speed varied among users, which prompted the development team to make minor revisions to the app. Qualitative results demonstrated 3 overarching themes: facilitates exercise adoption, positive experiences of videos, and easy to learn. Participants noted that the app circumvented several barriers to exercise associated with leaving the home (eg, inclement weather conditions, exacerbations of health conditions or disability symptoms, difficulties with transportation, and social support).


    The mobile exercise app provided a simple platform that was effective, useful, and appreciated by PWD. Participants also perceived the app as easy to use and felt it was a valuable tool for assisting PWD to obtain regular exercise. Study findings also offered insight into the participants’ preferences for mobile exercise apps that can aid future research and development projects. Future exercise trials are needed to determine the true impact of mobile app technology on lifestyle physical activity in people with disabilities.


    Clinicaltrials.gov NCT03024320; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03024320 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/75hNLgRFH).

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    Author List

  • Lai B; Wilroy J; Young H-J; Howell J; Rimmer JH; Mehta T; Thirumalai M