Rich Media and Web applications for people with learning disabilities

Antonia Hyde is going to offer a high-risk presentation—it will contain a lot of rich media.

Here’s a sound clip. “There’s a lot of information there… that’s a lot of information.” David, 26, Man United supporter.

Much of this presentation will be obvious: that’s the point.

Stats: 1.5 million people in the UK with learning disabilities. 1 in 3 say they have no contact with friends. They are ghettoised. United Response support 1500 people, people who don’t necessarily communicate verbally. Antonia works on the Web side of things.

Here’s a video of Micheal using a Dynavox, a speech synthesizer, to communicate. Rich media like video can be a great help in “getting” something. Here’s a video of Mandy who loves using the internet. She watches videos on YouTube to learn about off-roading with Land Rovers; she loves Land Rovers. The videos help her calm down. When asked if she’d like to meet other people who like using Land Rovers on the internet, she says she very much would.

People with learning disabilities are contributing content online but they tend to be niche websites rather than the mainstream. The videos being shown today are of people with mild learning disabilities.

Here’s a video of David using a site (we don’t see which site). A video starting unexpectedly gives him an unpleasant surprise. He would rather decide when a video starts and stops. He’d also like better information management; less cramming. He would like options to change how the page looks. Only with guidance does he find a colour-changing widget. Unexpected pop-up (or faux pop-up) boxes confuse David.

Antonia is having some technical issues getting back from the video to her slides. Yes, it is a Windows machine actually.

Back to the lessons we’ve learned from watching David. Rich media sites could really help people with learning disabilities. They should be able to use social networking sites and contribute content instead of just receiving it.

Intersting factoid: Comic Sans is well regarded by people with learning disabilities.

Embedded rich media players in web pages aren’t standardised enough yet. Controls need to be in a logical order. Buttons need to be big enough.

Ordering information well around the embedded media is important. Nice big graphics also help. Use them as part of a visual vocabulary. Audio is currently the poor relative of video.

Use terminology that explains the functionality rather then the technology.

Here’s David using Last.fm. He searches for his favourite rock group, 30 Seconds to Mars. He clicks on the music. He thinks that the user avatars on the right-hand side are advertising or cartoons. When prompted, he clicks on an avater and is taken to that user’s page. Now he starts to recognize that the avatars are users of the site but he doesn’t realize that the label “friends” means “friends of the user whose page you are viewing.” He wants to know who these people are: he doesn’t realise that the usernames are people’s names. But he likes Last.fm: it looks like a great way to make friends with people who like the same music.

That was quite a vivid example of the connective power of the Web.

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