A case study: Building a social network for disabled users

Stephen Eisden is going to give us a case study by showing us what went into building a social network aimed specifically at disabled users, the Disability Information Portal. The idea was to create a one-stop-shop for anyone with an interest in accessibility. The aim was to combine accessible design with Web 2.0 functionality.

They didn’t want to get locked into one vendor like Microsoft but they also didn’t want to get locked into one API provider either. They settled on Wordpress for the underlying technology.

The accessibility of the site must extend beyond simply visual impairment. It had to work for people with learning disabilities too. They also needed to balance creativity with control to create a site design that was flexible and customisable. Simple consistent iconography was also important. (This is something that Antonia mentioned as well. Semiotics is clearly an important topic.)

The site uses tag clouds. It was a challenge to make them accessible. They included the usage number with the tag. To avoid jargon, it isn’t called a tag cloud. The site uses ratings too: a combination of stars used as labels for radio buttons.

Before starting, they looked at what was already out there and identified a gap in the market. They used focus groups. People wanted access to information about accessibility facilities, particularly at a local level. And where facilities didn’t exist, people wanted to know what they could do about it.

They had an accessibility audit and they also did user testing. Right now the project is in a pilot stage (a nicer way of saying beta) and they’re doing more accessibility testing. They’ve learned that testing needs to be an ongoing process. Also, testing isn’t something to be afraid of: it often highlights opportunities for improvement.

They also learned that you need to have a flexible approach to design rather than a rigid, fixed attitude. Also, simplicity is key. Focus is important; do less but do it well rather than trying to do everything. Finally, they learned that accessibility makes the site more usable and removes barriers for everybody.

The next step will be the public launch of the site. www.dip-online.org

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