A new Web site, TeachParentsTech.org, was announced by Google recently. Its purpose is to teach basic computer skills to parents. See the announcement and explanation.
The site teaches exclusively via videos. Among the 50+ videos now on the site, “How to make text bigger (or smaller)”, embedded below, is included in the first group displayed on the home page. My guess is that’s because learning how to make text bigger is one of the most common skills parents (older adults for whom vision may not be ideal) request to be taught.
The video starts be reassuring the audience that the task is “super easy”. The skill is then succinctly defined. It is taught exactly how I intend to do so, in that the audience is shown how to use a two-key combination within a Web browser. There is perhaps one main difference between the video and the one I hope to produce for people with cognitive disabilities. I intend to show an image of a keyboard, focusing specifically on how to press the correct two keys, in sequence, to make a Web page (text) larger.
Many people need to enlarge Web pages to better see information. People with cognitive disabilities often require larger text sizes to better comprehend information as well.
To develop a best practice for teaching a Web page (text) enlargement skill, I will conduct in-person teaching to groups of people with cognitive disabilities. Specifically, I intend to teach people to use a keyboard with a Web browser to enlarge Web pages. Many browsers will enlarge pages in response to the pressing of two keys: the plus key and the Control key (IBM) / Command key (Mac).
Given a Web page that may contain images, but must contain text, learners will press two keys to enlarge page content.
Learners will open a novel Web page and, without instruction or prompting, enlarge its contents.
Component Skills To Be Taught
- locate the correct keys (2)
- hold-down one key for at least 3 seconds with sufficient force to be recognized by the computer
- hold down the one key and tap the other key by pressing it with sufficient force to be recognized by the computer, and immediately releasing it
Completing Sequential Steps
- follow a multi-step chain of behaviors
- identify the start- and end points of the behavior chain
- repeat the behavior chain
Learners must be able to:
- respond to textual-, auditory- and/or video-based instruction
- press keys with their fingers or with equivalent assistive-technology
- press the correct keys only
- open a Web page with Internet Explorer
Computers must be:
- attached to a monitor and a keyboard or equivalent assistive-technology
- using Internet Explorer as the default Web browser
- connected to the Internet
All people need basic skills to use the Web. A significant part of my effort to teach them to people with cognitive disabilities, via the Web itself, is to implement instructional-design techniques. This post is about my first experiment.
For people of all abilities, examples of basic Web skills are:
- opening a Web site / using Web addresses;
- navigating by clicking links and using the back button;
- performing simple searches with a search engine.
Teaching such a skill includes:
For people with cognitive disabilities, an additional basic Web skill is enlarging the text/font size of a Web site. Thus to learn how best to teach such a seemingly-simple skill, I am continuing my effort to create related instructions.
Guiding me is Janet S. Twyman, Ph.D., BCBA, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at The University of Massachusetts Medical School (Shriver Center), where I work. Dr. Twyman is an expert in instructional design.
Notes: Future blog posts will provide details on each step we take in this experiment. This post is the first in a series about Teaching Web Page (Text) Enlargement. Next up: “Teaching People How To Enlarge Web Pages: Task Definition“.
The Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed into U.S. federal law on October 13, 2010. Essentially, it requires federal agencies to create documents using plain language.
The law also requires a section, on each federal-agency Web site, that follows best practices of plain-language writing. If indeed that happens, I anticipate people with cognitive disabilities will find such information much easier to understand. This is particularly good for the people with intellectual disabilities whom I have interviewed. A common thread of our conversations related to their self-advocacy interest in contacting their government representatives, and for determining how their government could help them.
I hope U.S. federal agencies set a standard that others will follow. For people with cognitive disabilities, the accessibility of Web site content is just as important as the accessibility of a site’s design. Text must be written in plain, simple language. There are efforts all over the world to encourage the use of plain language, which helps everyone.
For more information, see:
Today, I visited a local university that has a campus-based program for students with learning disabilities. I am helping to make the program’s Web site more accessible to its students. I met with the program director, two representatives of university Web services, and an adjunct-faculty member responsible for managing site content. We discussed possible cognitive-accessibility features and next steps for the project.
We will focus on content first.
- Outdated information will be pruned or updated.
- Text will be rewritten into plain language.
- Contextually-relevant images will be added, especially photos taken during program activities.
- After the above tasks are accomplished for one to five pages, they will be evaluated by program students.
We will then revise the site’s design. To do so, we will determine which cognitive-accessibility features we can incorporate using the university’s content management system (CMS). Examples:
- Other development steps will be outlined in future posts. For example, the My Web My Way idea could be expanded such that site visitors could choose their own mixture of content types.
- Program students will be included in every step of the site development.
I am intrigued by the iPad’s potential as a computer for people with intellectual disabilities (ID). It could be set up as a Web-access only device, and essential functions could be Web-based. This could be done with computers, but the iPad has at least two distinct advantages.
- no or low hardware-maintenance
- minimal management of software updates and installation
These advantages alone are enormous in terms of overall ease-of-use. They are also great for dramatically reducing long-term technical support- and training costs compared to those needed for computers.
I think that to make an iPad truly useful for people with ID, an even simpler interface could be developed for it. I imagine that, upon being turned on, the iPad could present three or four buttons.
One button could start a Web-based e-mail app, such as CogLink that is designed for people with ID, or one with which a user is already familar, such as Yahoo Mail.
A button could start a Web browser app, like Web Trek, which is designed for people with ID.
Another button could start an augmentative-communication app. They exist already. Jane Farrall recently posted a list of iPhone/iPad augmentative communication apps on the Spectronics Blog.
An iPad, with a simple-to use interface similar to those presented by augmentative communication apps, would be a lot less expensive than single purpose AC devices or multi-function computers.
Readers may be interested in these articles:
Note: For the purpose of exploring the iPad’s potential for people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities, one was generously provided to me by the project for which I work, New England INDEX at the Shriver Center, part of The University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Two upcoming- and two recent conferences are listed below along with their related topics and presenters.
- October 21, 2010 – Westminster, Colorado, U.S.
- Forty Years after PARC v The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Is there a right to technology access? – Gilhool, Thomas
- A Partnership for Technology to Improve Quality of Life – Pietrangelo, Renee
- Accessible TeleMEd and eHealth Strategies for People with Cognitive Disabilities – O’Hara, David
- Technologies to Improve Quality of Life for People with Cognitive Disabilities – Kautz, Henry
- Developing an Accessible National Information Infrastructure for People with Cognitive Disabilities – Coleman, Bill
- September 21, 2010 – London, England
- “The unconference will have a motor impairment theme … ” but “… will also consider cognitive impairments and the wider-disability population.”
- July 14 to 16, 2010 – Vienna, Austria
- Track IV, Session C: People with Specific Learning and Cognitive Problems: ICT, AT and HCI
- Developing a Multimedia Environment to Aid in Vocalization for People on the Autism Spectrum: A User-Centered Design Approach – Al-Wabil, Areej
- EasyICT: a Framework for Measuring ICT -Skills of People with Cognitive Disabilities – Dekelver, Jan
- Involving users in the design of ICT aimed to improve education, work, and leisure for users with intellectual disabilities – Gutiérrez y Restrepo, Emmanuelle
- Methodological Considerations for Involving SpLD Practitioners in the Design of Interactive Learning Systems – Karim, Latifa
- PDA software aimed at improving workplace adaptation for people with cognitive disabilities – Ferreras, Alberto
- The Performance of Mouse Proficiency for Adolescents with Intellectual Disabilities – Wu, Ting-Fang
- Towards an Interactive Screening Program for Developmental Dyslexia: Eye Movement Analysis in Reading Arabic Texts – Al-Wabil, Areej
- When Words Fall Short: Helping People with Aphasia to Express – Al Mahmud, Abdullah
- Track IV, Session D: Easy – to – Web
- Adaptive Reading: A Design of Reading Browser with Dynamic Alternative Text Multimedia Dictionaries for the Text Reading Difficulty Readers – Chu, Chi Nung
- Easy-to-web search for people with learning disabilities as part of an integrated conception of cognitive web accessibility – Erle, Markus
- EasyWeb – A Study How People with Specific Learning Difficulties Can Be Supported on Using the Internet – Matausch, Kerstin
- In-Folio: An Open Source Portfolio for students with learning disabilities – Ball, Simon
- Supporting the web experience of young people with learning disabilities – Weber, Harald
- The need for Easy-to-Read information on web sites – Bohman, Ulla
Annual Conference of The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Know of another such conference? Please post a comment.
I have often seen people with intellectual disabilities struggle with how to perform Web searches during my interviews with them. The same problem was described by Henny Swan in her article, “‘Where’s my Googlebox?!’ – adventures in search for silver surfers“. It and its subsequent discussion inspired me to write this post.
I think there are two principles that could be used to teach Web searching to people with cognitive disabilities. For the purposes of this post, I am defining “searching” solely as the mechanics of submitting text via a search box.
That search boxes have the same- or similar characteristics, whether they are part of a Web browser, a Web site, or a search engine, means that learning to use them may not be difficult. People could be taught to recognize search boxes and to submit simple searches with them.
Search boxes can easily be recognized / located.
- All search boxes are rectangular and have white backgrounds. Many contain the word “Google” or have it and/or the Google logo nearby.
- There are exceptions, but usually due to poor design.
- Search boxes within the latest versions of popular Web browsers (Internet Explorer 8.07, Firefox 3.6.3, Opera 10.53 and Safari 5.0) are located in the top, right corner of the browser window.
- An exception is Chrome 5.0. In my opinion, this is one of Chrome’s accessibility problems.
- Fortunately for people who use browsers such as Chrome, search boxes can still be found at the top, right corner of the screen because that is the common placement convention of many Web sites.
- Search engines are the significant exception.
Search boxes can be used in the same, 3-step way.
- Prepare the search box for text entry by tabbing to it with the keyboard.
- Enter text.
- Invoke the search with the Enter / Return key.
- To use a search box, people need not learn to discriminate between a browser, a site, and a search engine. Recognizing a search box is enough.
- A mouse could be used to click inside a search box to prepare it for text entry, but I think the related instruction would be an unnecessary complication. Likewise, people could be trained to invoke searches with a mouse, but such instruction would be confusing for users when encountering a search box without an activation button.
Teaching the mechanics of search-box use may have advantages.
- The resultant skills acquisition could generalize to encompass the search boxes of search engines.
- Using a browser’s search box would provide consistent interface interaction across Web sites.
- Such training would likely require revisiting over a multi-month period of consistent Web activity.
- People being trained would need, at the least, basic literacy- and keyboard skills.
- Constructing effective search terms and interpreting search results are beyond the scope of the proposed principles.
- I am interested in how to teach people with cognitive disabilities to use the Web because that is my intention for the future Clear Helper site.
Anne uses her computer almost solely for e-mail and finding information. This is typical of many people, even those without intellectual disabilities. Perhaps unlike them, Anne has significant difficulty with content she receives and finds.
Anne understands e-mail messages from people who know her. She has been using basic functions of e-mail for years, but still gets confused with them because she is distracted by spam. It is especially difficult for her to differentiate it from legitimate messages and to determine its intent.
Anne has been using Google to learn about medications, and to look up definitions of words within their descriptions. This indicates finding such information is simple enough for her, but the content she finds is not.
It is bad enough that Web content is not written in plain language. Worse is e-mail content designed to deceive. Content comprehension problems put Anne at a significant disadvantage despite her facility with e-mail and Google.
I do not know how anti-spam efforts could be particularly helpful for people with cognitive disabilities. I do know that designing simple Web content is a much easier proposition.
TidyRead, similar to the other such tools I have described, is a free bookmarklet that strips the clutter from Web pages and otherwise makes them easier to read. Unlike them, it works on the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It also works with Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer.
While TidyRead does not have as many configuration options as those offered by Readability and Readable, it does offer them on demand. With the latter two tools, users configure how they want the main content of Web pages to appear, and then they add the bookmarklet to their Web browsers. TidyRead has no pre-configuration. After its bookmarklet is installed, a click to it presents the toolbar, shown below, at the top of each page it displays. It adjusts the presentation of content as options are selected.
The toolbar has buttons to change background color, font size and margin width. Its “More” menu includes settings to change the font family and the text alignment.
TidyRead does not have the great feature Readable has, which enables users to select the content they want to display. If TidyRead can not determine the main content of a page, it displays the error, “This page doesn’t look like an article, and TidyRead couldn’t extract”.
iPhone & iPod Touch
TidyRead can be installed on the iPhone and the iPod Touch by syncing Firefox- or Safari bookmarks with iTunes. Alternatively, there are step-by-step installation instructions.
Relevancy To Clear Helper Project
The reason I am investigating these readability tools is that they could be quite useful to people with cognitive disabilities who are distracted by extraneous content on all Web sites. Maybe, in addition to offering easy- and standard versions of the future Clear Helper Web site, I could offer on it one of these tools to install.