Self-Advocacy Web Site for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Self-Advocacy Online is an educational- and networking Web site for teens and adults with intellectual- and other developmental disabilities. Created by The Research and Training Center on Community Living, it is intended for people participating in organized self-advocacy groups.

The site contains three sections: a “Learning Center”; a search tool for finding self-advocacy groups; and “My Page” for within-site e-mail messages and discussion forums.

Site Registration

The site registration form has a few simple fields.  Fun, instructional videos explain each step.  The first video automatically pauses until activated by the user to indicate readiness for instructions about the next field.

To register, users are required to accept the site’s “Terms of Use Agreement”. While I understand protecting intellectual-property rights, and applaud protecting users’ privacy, the agreement is not written in language understandable by the site’s intended audience.  It could have been prefaced by a bulleted, plain-language summary of its principles.

Learning Center

The Learning Center has two modules, “Living a Healthy Life” and “Getting Organized”.  They are slide presentations combining text, pictures and voice narration.  Small chunks of content use simple analogies and examples.

Search Tool for Self-Advocacy Groups

The Self-Advocacy Group Search Tool can be used via a drop-down list of states, a Zip Code field, or an image map of the United States.  Contact- and other information is listed for each group.

Discussion Forums / Messaging

The “My Page” section, the only one that requires registration, has a list of friends and access to within-site messaging.  Discussion groups have a simple interface that makes it easy to create, to join, and to read/write messages within them.  At the time of this writing, there are low numbers of groups, users and messages.

Accessibility Highlights

Evaluation of a few pages using WebAIM’s WAVE revealed compliance with accessibility guidelines.  The site also has many accessibility- and usability features for people with intellectual disabilities.  Highlights:

  • a bright, simple, uncluttered page layout;
  • large-size text, short in length, and written in plain language;
  • scalable menu-button text that is not image based;
  • Learning Center Modules
    • voice narration begins automatically;
    • contextually-relevant images are synchronized with the voice narration;
    • visual- and/or audio prompts throughout draw attention to content and to slide navigation; and
    • a simple-to-use video player has only one button (play/pause).

Accessibility Problems

  • There is no text-size switcher / enlarger.
  • With browser-based controls, text size can be enlarged a little on the site without breaking down its page layout, but problems occur with larger text sizes.
  • In the site navigation menu, the current page is indicated by menu-button color, but in no other way.
  • Videos are not closed-captioned.
  • Search Tool Application
    • Form labels are missing.
    • The listings of self-advocacy groups all use the same link text, “More Information”, to related records.  This is a problem for screen-reader users.
    • Links to external Web sites open them in a new window without warning.
  • Learning Center Modules
    • Keyboard or single-switch based navigation is not enabled. This is a problem typical of such Flash-based applications.
    • At one point in the “Living a Healthy Life” module, the voice narration instructs the user, “After each item, click the green ‘Next’ button'”. Though there is such a button at the bottom of the slide, the written instruction at the top says to, “… click the orange ‘Go’ button,” and the one that appears afterward is an orange ‘Go’ button.

Overall Impression

Self-Advocacy Online, despite the minor problems listed above, is a wonderful demonstration of accessibility and usability for people with intellectual disabilities.  In particular, it is obvious that considerable instructional-design effort went into the modules of The Learning Center.

The subject chosen for the site is very important to people with intellectual disabilities; self advocacy has been a recurring topic in my interviews for The Clear Helper project. I hope additional funding is received to develop additional content for the Web site, to market it, and to help it become a thriving community.

Self-Advocacy Project Funding

The MacArthur Foundation – 2008 – – $72,000 – Digital Media & Learning Competition Award Recipient:

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Self-Advocacy Online is an educational and networking website for teens and adults with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, targeted at those who participate in organized self-advocacy groups. In supporting greater networking, peer exchange, collaboration, and communication to a general public, Self Advocacy Online will extend the reach of and interaction among people with disabilities so that they can more effectively speak up for themselves and make their own decisions.

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NEC, Active Voice Messaging Division – 2006 – $35,000

To The University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration (ICI)  –  Minneapolis, MN

For Self-Advocacy Online (SAO), a research and development project to bridge the “digital divide” for persons with intellectual disability (ID) and related cognitive disability (RCD). The project will test, validate and recommend standards for accessible websites for persons with ID and RCD, as well as provide a national, maximally accessible website for self-advocates with ID and RCD that exemplifies the validated standards and provides needed content on self-advocacy. and

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One thought on “Self-Advocacy Web Site for People with Intellectual Disabilities

  1. It is great to find this site. I had mild brain injury 20 years ago, but was left with post traumatic hydrocephalus and a CNS shunt and cognitive issues among 10 surgeries. I’ve pioneered apps & methods to make up for my limitations, and a few years ago also spoke to Clayton Lewis at the Coleman Institute in Colorado. I ended up pioneering new methods in drumming (drum circles) for the brain as this brought me so much benefit, and I did not pursue my plans & proposal for a new Cognitive Accessibility platform for mobile phones.

    I currently am using an HTC Android phone and have been quite resourceful with this device. It’s been on my agenda to publish new web content on my apps and experiences, but I can never find the time. I’ve also had 5 shunt surgeries in the past 5 years, and have faced a lot of challenges from these. More recently, I dropped my phone and broke the faceplate, and ATT sent me a replacement phone. But it appears neither HTC nor Android have any organized means of backing up and reinstalling the phone’s contents to a replacement device as did my earlier Blackberry – which by the way, was terrible for its data apps, but was more of a PDA.

    So I have asked ATT accessibility to provide support in backing & setting up my replacement phone, and so far they have not responded. It seems the idea of using a smart phone as a cognitive aid is an OPTIONAL decision & use – and the USER is all on their own. I find this perspective disturbing in 2012 – and with 20M+ (no doubt 75M if you count aging seniors) Americans affected by cognitive disability. It would seem Section 208 of the Rehab Act would be the prevailing legal authority of this area of accessibility. But maybe you guys here know more on this.

    If you guys know of any effort, legislation, or organizations who might be able to move cell phone carriers and phone manufacturers into making the use of these devices more seamless, particularly the continuity of their operation and maintenance.

    Thank you.

    Stephen Dolle
    Dolle Communications

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