Content and Feature Preferences for a Physical Activity App for Adults With Physical Disabilities: Focus Group Study

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Olsen SH, Saperstein SL, Gold RS Content and Feature Preferences for a Physical Activity App for Adults With Physical Disabilities: Focus Group Study JMIR Mhealth Uhealth 2019;7(10):e15019 DOI: 10.2196/15019


Background: Hundreds of thousands of mobile phone apps intended to improve health and fitness are available for download across platforms and operating systems; however, few have been designed with people with physical disabilities in mind, ignoring a large population that may benefit from an effective tool to increase physical activity.

Objective: This study represents the first phase in the development process of a fitness tracking app for people with physical disabilities interested in nontraditional sport. The aim of this research was to explore user preferences for content, appearance, and operational features of a proposed physical activity app for people with physical disabilities to inform the design of a mobile phone app for increasing physical activity.

Methods: Four focus groups were conducted with 15 adults with physical disabilities who currently participate in nontraditional, non-Paralympic sport. Data collected from the focus group sessions centered on content, functionality, and appearance of apps currently used by participants as well as preferences for a future app.

Results: Participants (mean age 35.7, SD 9.2 years) were mostly white (13/15, 87%), and all were currently participating in CrossFit and at least one other sport. Five main themes were identified. Themes included preferences for (1) workout-specific features that were tailored or searchable by disability, (2) user experience that was intuitive and accessible, (3) profile personalization options, (4) gamification features that allowed for competition with self and other users, and (5) social features that allowed increased interaction among users. Participants expressed a primary interest in having a fitness app that was designed for people with physical disabilities such that the features present in other fitness tracking apps were relevant to them and their community of adaptive athletes.

Conclusions: The results showed that features related to user experience, social engagement, and gamification are considered important to people with physical disabilities. Features highlighted by participants as most desired, from a consumer perspective, were in line with research identifying attributes of quality apps that use behavior change techniques to influence positive physical activity behavior change. Such insights should inform the development of any fitness app designed to integrate users with disabilities as a primary user base.


Partial funding for Open Access provided by the UMD Libraries' Open Access Publishing Fund.