Interviewing People with ID about Web Site Accessibility

I will soon be conducting more interviews with people with intellectual disabilities.  I have three primary areas of interest:

  1. the sites they find inaccessible and accessible, which I am conveying as “easy to use”;  (I will explore the reasons.)
  2. which site features do they find helpful or not, “like and dislike”; (The answers may help me choose for which sites I should create tutorials.) and
  3. what they would like to learn about using the Web.  (This is to help inform me about the subject matter of future tutorials.)

These are the questions I will be asking of people:

  • Which sites are hard to use but you really want to use?
  • Which sites do you find easy to use?
  • Which parts of Web sites do you like, and which do you dislike?
  • What would you like to learn to do on the Web?

To obtain this information, I am visiting self-advocacy groups, and meeting in person with people with intellectual disabilities.  I anticipate having a computer available at each interview so people can show me as well as tell me.  I will be recording responses in narrative form.

Later in the project, as I design the site, I will need people to test it regularly and give me feedback every step of the way.  I have not yet figured out how best to organize that, but I am open to suggestions.

Note: The W3C has a good article about Involving Users in Web Projects for Better, Easier Accessibility.  I shall rely upon it to help guide my project.

INMD: Summary of Final Report on Web Accessibility for People with ID

In October, 2009, Inclusive New Media Design (INMD) published its final report on including people with intellectual disabilities (ID) in the World Wide Web.

It describes INMD’s effort to identify the best ways of encouraging Web designers to build Web sites accessible to people with intellectual disabilities.  It also examined the effectiveness of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to achieve such inclusion, and identified the factors that influence Web designers to embrace accessibility efforts.

Training & Actions Taken

INMD ran accessibility training workshops with Web designers and people with intellectual disabilities. It collected data about the work and the accessibility practices of Web designers.

As a result, participants took or planned action related to ID inclusion, and shared their knowledge with others. Action taken included:

  • “adapting use of imagery to support text;
  • using large fonts and simple text;
  • re-checking previous work for ID accessibility;
  • passing on information at work, or through blogs.”

Adaptations According to Disability Level

INMD’s success in contributing to inclusion was primarily for people at the mild end of the ID spectrum. While participants acknowledged that related adaptations could be beneficial to all people, they also recognized that adaptations for people with severe- or profound intellectual disabilities may be intrusive to non-disabled, Web site visitors.  Thus participants indicated they would be less likely to accommodate that segment of the population in their future work.

Barriers To Accessibility

Participants saw the WCAG as too complex to understand and to implement, though they did acknowledge their value.  They feared too much attention may be paid to meeting the guidelines rather than focusing on true accessibility.

Participants identified barriers to accessibility for people with ID and for other people with disabilities:

  • “the attitudes of decision-makers, who may not share participants’ commitment to an accessible web;
  • the nature of the projects they work on;
  • an absence of understanding of the accessibility needs of ID audiences;
  • an absence of guidance about how to address these needs, for example within the WCAG guidelines.”

Potential Accessibility-Barrier Solutions

The impairment diversity of people with ID, and their related accessibility requirements and assistive technologies, account for such absences, as does the paucity of expertise about ID among the WCAG working groups. This caused the INMD to conclude that:

  • “WCAG guidance needs to be exceeded to address ID accessibility needs
  • Information about how to do this, and on ID accessibility, needs to be made widely available, for example through the development of an online resource.
  • Key decision-makers in the web design process  –  clients, line managers, copy writers, editors – play an important role in ensuring maximum accessibility.
  • In order to achieve inclusive new media design and ID accessibility, it  is necessary to engage with these stakeholders of web design in future action research.”

Recommendations on encouraging ID-accessible design included:

  1. “Develop an online resource about  ID accessibility: including  tips, how-to videos, examples of good practice and of user interaction; information about how to exceed WCAG guidelines; and the facility to build a community of web professionals committed to ID accessibility.
  2. Engage with intellectually disabled web users: most participants cited user testing as the most beneficial aspect of our workshops. User testing put a human face on the issues discussed with participants, and addressed their lack of understanding about ID audiences and their accessibility needs.
  3. Engage a diverse range of stakeholders:  decision-makers affect accessibility practice. Further research needs to engage with a more diverse range of stakeholders – line managers, copy writers, policy makers – in order to make ID accessibility happen.
  4. Develop research with people at the severe/profound end of the ID spectrum: people at the severe or profound end of the ID spectrum are more likely to be left out of the web, because accessibility measures which address their needs are more intrusive to non-disabled audiences than measures which address mild ID, or sensory or physical impairment. Therefore further action research is needed to attempt to achieve their digital inclusion.”

View the INMD final report (PDF).

An Evangelist of Web Accessibility for People with Cognitive Disabilities

A project by Inclusive New Media Design in England is evangelizing Web accessibility for people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities, which it also refers to as “learning disabilities”.  It has been running workshops to train Web designers and developers, and to include people with cognitive disabilities as testers.

Its Web site has a section of tips on making Web sites work for people with cognitive disabilities, which includes links to examples of Web sites designed for the population, and information about assistive technology.

Its Web site has several nice features I plan to incorporate into the future “Clear Helper” Web site.

  • a design using HTML 5 and CSS 3;
  • a Flash-based, text-to-speech applet on every page;
  • CSS-based switching of page-background coloring (light / dark);
  • large font sizes;
  • breadcrumbs for site navigation;
  • contextually-relevant icons;
  • presentation of content in multiple formats (text, audio, video); and
  • embedded, closed-captioned videos.

I anticipate learning much from this great resource.

WebAIM: Insights into Cognitive Web Accessibility

My idea for the future Clear Helper Web site, and the reason I named it “Clear Helper”, is that it will offer tutorials intended for people with cognitive disabilities.  My current thinking is that each tutorial will be offered in three modes: text-only, text with pictures, and video.  Visitors to the site, presumably, would choose the mode easiest for them to follow.

So it was with interest that I reviewed the notes from a brief, related study conducted by WebAIM, and reported by Jared Smith, Associate Director of WebAIM.  The notes were from a presentation entitled “Insights into Cognitive Web Accessibility.”  It was of a user test that attempted to measure the efficiency, the effectiveness, and the satisfaction of participants (N = 8, grade 6 – 12 students with cognitive- or learning disabilities).

Among the findings, detailed in the presentation notes, were that participants did better with: larger text; images paired with text; short line lengths; and video-based instruction.  Insights included recommendations to “make your page LOOK easy” (“simple and intuitive”); “provide error recovery mechanisms”; and “keep visual aids clean, simple, and complementary to the content”.

I will keep these findings and recommendations in mind when designing the tutorials on the future Clear Helper Web site.

Defining Cognitive Disabilities In Relation To Web Accessibility

WebAIM has a good article that defines cognitive disabilities in relation to Web accessibility.  The article is entitled, naturally, “Cognitive Disabilities“.

  • Section / Page 1 discusses why classifying cognitive disabilities by functional disability, rather than by clinical diagnoses, is more useful in terms of Web accessibility.  It then discusses the functional limitations some people experience.
  • Section / Page 2 talks about how to accommodate these functional limitations, and offers some good, specific site-design / accessibility suggestions.
  • Section / Page 3 attempts to demonstrate how people with cognitive disabilities may have trouble with Web site content.  It presents an activity in which it asks the reader to follow a set of instructions, and shows how difficult that can be for anyone.

An important point this article makes is that “In many cases, the techniques for more making web content accessible to people with cognitive disabilities are nothing more than techniques for effective communication.”

Public computing options for people with cognitive disabilities

New research has just been published in the Journal of Disability & Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, Volume 4, Issue 5.  The article, entitled “Public computing options for individuals with cognitive impairments: Survey outcomes,” examines the availability and the accessibility of public computing for people with cognitive disabilities living in the United States.

The researchers found that, of the facilities surveyed, libraries had the highest percentage of access barriers.  This is disappointing.  Public libraries are a great source of free access to the Web.  If people with cognitive disabilities can’t use them, or have significant trouble using them because of access barriers, then their access to the Web is problematic at the outset.

Conversion of Text into a Symbol-Based Alternative

As mentioned in the previous posting, one feature of Web browsers intended for use by people with cognitive disabilities is the conversion of Web site text into a symbol-based alternative.

Produced by Widget Software, the image below is intended as a small demonstration.

demo of text to symbolic language

There are also Web sites, such as The Children’s Society, that accompany the text of their pages with a symbol-based alternative.

Widget Software, through its Symbols Inclusion Project, does have some material on Evidence and Practice related to the use of symbols in the classroom.  Yet I can find no information on its site that refers to basic research on the development of a symbol-based alternative to text.

There has been such research, especially within the area of augmentative communication.   However, it is my impression that none has produced significant evidence in support of text-to-symbol replacement on the scale used by the Web browsers and the Web sites designed for people with cognitive disabilities.

Widget Software advertises its library of symbols represents over 29,000 words.  The text-to-symbol conversion is one symbol for each word.  Upon what research does it rely to show that these symbols accurately convey  syntax, for instance?  More investigation into this matter will be the subject of a future blog post.

Note: About Widget Software and its products, no endorsement is intended or implied.

Web Browsers for People with Cognitive Disabilities

So far, I have found three Web browsers intended for use by people with cognitive disabilities.  Each use text-to-speech (TTS) technology, display of Web sites in a simplified format, and/or the conversion of Web site text into a symbolic representation.

  • WWAAC is the result of a Pan-European effort funded in part by the European Commission.
  • EdWeb was developed by The School of Informatics, University of Manchester, England.
  • Communicate: Webwide is a commercial product produced by Widget Software.  Of the three Web browsers, this is the most up-to-date product.

I expect that these Web browsers work best with Web sites that adhere to accessibility standards.  Their conversion of Web site text into a symbol-based alternative will be the subject of the next blog post.

Note: No endorsement is intended or implied for any of these products.

Icon-Based, Web Site Navigation

I have been considering the use of a consistent set of icons throughout the future “Clear Helper” Web site to facilitate the navigation of it.

One ideal for such icons is that the messages or the concepts they convey are proven, through research and extensive testing, to be consistently understood by the users of them.  Accomplishing that is beyond the scope of this project, but may be an avenue for future, grant-funded research.

Another ideal would be the development of a set of navigation icons for use across Web sites.  I had hoped there was already an effort underway.    At the time of this writing, I have not found one.

Listed below are a few sites that attempt to use a set of icons for site navigation, particularly for people with cognitive disabilities.  The success or failure of the sites’ navigation is best judged by the reader.

  • The Consumer Corner section of the California Department of Developmental Services Web site has a clip art and text based navigation menu on the right of its pages.
  • Symbol World, for site navigation, uses very large icons accompanied by short text labels.  Most appear to be unique to page content, rather than being part of a consistent navigation set.
  • Children’s Society, on the right side of its pages, uses a common set of navigation icons.  Hovering the cursor over the icons produces related sound effects.
  • Symbol Rainforest uses photographs as navigation aids.  The use of photographs may be an answer to the criticism that icons are a poor substitute for realistic representations.  (Note: The Symbol Rainforest Web site can not be viewed in Firefox, but can be viewed in Internet Explorer.)
  • Check the Map uses a navigation strip of icons on the bottoms and on the tops its pages.  Most of the icons immediately make sense to me, but the home icon is odd.  Perhaps it would be better represented by an outline of a house.
  • Moorcroft School has a large navigation strip of icons (clip- and line art) on the bottoms of its pages.

None of the Web sites listed above use what I have in mind for navigation.  I do like the combination of navigation icons and related sound effects on the Children’s Society Web site, and will consider doing something similar.

Note: The “Icons” section of a WebAIM article on “Creating Accessible Images” is germane to the creation of Web site navigation icons.

Note: With the exception of The Consumer Corner, the sites listed above are either examples set up by The Widget Software Company or use symbols provided by it.  No endorsement is intended or implied.

Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist

One of the two purposes of this blog is to document my effort to create a Web site that follows best practices of accessibility for people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities.  So far, the clearest, most up-to-date set of these practices I can find are written by WebAIM.

In WebAIM’s article, Evaluating Cognitive Web Accessibility, principals of cognitive Web accessibility are discussed, and a detailed “Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist” is provided.  When creating the Web site, I plan to follow this checklist as much as practical and possible.

Of note is a posting by the Curb Cut blog.  Entitled “Access to the Web for People with Intellectual Disabilities“, it refers to older articles on creating Web sites for people with cognitive disabilities, and discusses barriers that keep them from getting online.