Posts Tagged ‘Web Usability’

Building an API for JAWS Users May Be Useful to People with Cognitive Disabilities

2010/02/10

Research It is a new feature that enables JAWS users to quickly access information.  It uses APIs of publicly-available databases to retrieve the information on demand.  For each of the databases on DisabilityInfo.org, I could create an API for JAWS users.  I could then develop a Web-based search interface to query that API and others, and that is accessible to people with cognitive disabilities.

JAWS

JAWS (Job Access With Speech) is screen reader software used mainly by people who are blind or who have a significant visual disability.  It reads aloud in a voice the information sighted people see on their computer screens.  Yesterday, I attended a demo of JAWS 11, the newest version.  It was held at the Perkins School For The Blind by Eric Damery of Freedom Scientific, the maker of JAWS.

Research It

Of the new JAWS 11 features Mr. Damery demonstrated, it was Research It that caught my attention.  It is designed to be the equivalent of desktop gadgets.  Sighted people can glance at a desktop gadget to obtain information, then quickly return to their primary task.  Research It serves the same function for JAWS users.

With a single keystroke, JAWS users can open a field in which to type a query for weather reports; local businesses; FedEx-package tracking; baseball- and football scores, etc..  At the time of this writing, Research It can access 17 information sources.  Mr. Damery mentioned he had six more under development.

APIs

An Application Program Interface (API) is a software component that enables interaction with other software.  An API controls which data can be accessed and what can be done with them.  When JAWS users type a search term, such as “pizza; 33716″, Research It queries a publicly-available API that returns a list of pizza restaurants within and around that Zip code.

Building an API for Research It

I am considering creating an API for the databases of DisabilityInfo.org, a Web site maintained by New England INDEX, the UMass Medical School project for which I work.  I would also create custom rule sets and lookup modules for Research It to access the API. This would be particularly useful to JAWS users living in Massachusetts because the databases contain information about disability-specific programs and services within it.

Possible Search Interface

Using best practices of accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities, I could then develop a Web-based search interface to query the new API of the DisabilityInfo.org databases.  On that Web site, the search interface would not need to use the API because it would directly access the databases.  However, it could be embedded on other Web sites so their users could query DisabilityInfo.org databases via the API.  It also could be extended to be more universal; it could query the APIs of other publicly-available databases.  This would be especially useful for bypassing inaccessible interfaces such sites may have.

For many of the Research It search demos, Mr. Damery used two-word terms.  At least one had three, that for city, state and “weather”.  Although I am sure the intention is to keep search terms as simple as possible so using them is speedy, others could require even more words.  Implementing their syntax and remembering them may be beyond the capabilities of users with cognitive disabilities.  Therefore, I would likely develop an alternative solution I previously discussed, a search-wizard interface.

Note: On March 1, 2010, Freedom Scientific will conduct a Research It Webinar on creating custom rule sets and lookup modules.

Self-Advocacy Web Site for People with Intellectual Disabilities

2010/02/05

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.

Retrieved from: http://digitallearning.macfound.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=enJLKQNlFiG&b=3897211&content_id={F51C7F1C-A1AE-40AF-BBA7-DE9929CD1C38}&notoc=1

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. http://rtc.umn.edu and http://www.qualitymall.org

Retrieved from: Google cache of http://www.activevoice.com/news/pressreleases/pressReleaseDetails.aspx?PressID=38

Notes

Accessible, Image-Based Menu: Rough Draft

2010/02/03

I created a rudimentary, image-based menu as part of my recent Experiment with Site Design for People with Cognitive Disabilities. It has a few features that may make it easy to use by people cognitive disabilities.  This is a continuation of previous posts that describe my intention to use image-based navigation for the future Clear Helper Web site.3-image, vertical menu: 1 on top is 'Home'. Other 2 are blank.

The menu, pictured on the right, appears in the “sidebar” column of a test page. The image on top, an outline of a house, is intended to symbolize the home page. An ideal is that the meaning it conveys is proven, through research and extensive testing, to be consistently understood.  Accomplishing that is beyond the scope of this project.

The two images below that for the home-page are blank placeholders.  To view options for them, see “Proposed Navigation Buttons For Future Clear Helper Web Site: Draft 2“.

Attributes of Accessibility Best Practices

  • The text labels are not part of the images, which enables them to match text-size adjustments, especially enlargements, made by a site visitor.
  • The color contrast of the images themselves is good.  To see how this was objectively measured, see “Proposed Back & Next Navigation Icons For Future Clear Helper Web Site“.
  • There are no animations that could cause distraction.

Other Good Attributes for People with Cognitive Disabilities

  • The images and the text labels are large.  This helps with comprehension. It also provides easy-to-click targets for mouse users.
  • The text label for the home page is simple, as will be the labels of future navigation images.

Problems

  • The lighter color around the home-page image is intended to show it is the current page.  This violates the accessibility guideline that colors alone do not convey meaning. I will have to determine an additional method.
  • I failed to measure the contrast of the colors surrounding the actual images.  I suspect it is not good, so I will correct it in a subsequent version.
  • The alternative text for each images is repeated by the text label beneath it.  According to best practices, this is not advisable because screen-reader users hear the same message twice.  I will fix that too.

Other, Related Posts:

Text-Size Switcher Experiment

2010/02/02

I incorporated a text-size switcher into a recent Experiment with Site Design for People with Cognitive Disabilities. I am trying this version because a feature like it may be easier to use for people with cognitive disabilities than a referral to instructions on how to increase text size.  This is a continuation of previous posts that describe my experiment with providing step-by-step instructions for changing text size in Firefox or Internet Explorer.

This text-size switcher, as pictured below, appears at the top of the test page, on the right side.

text menu above site logo and title

Description & Features

  • It is encountered immediately by site visitors who use a keyboard or a single-switch device for navigation.
  • It is activated via links that use simple words.
  • It has the following three versions. The first is displayed by default.  The latter two appear sequentially as the text-size switcher is activated. (The best way to understand it is to visit the test page and try it.)
    • Big Text
    • Smaller Text | Bigger Text
    • Smaller Text | Biggest Text
  • Its size always matches the text on the rest of the page.
  • Once it is invoked, the selected text size is displayed across all site pages.

[Edit on 2010-02-03: I just discovered a great article that discusses guidelines for text (font) resizing and the design difficulties faced accommodating it.  Entitled "Font Resizing Guidance", it was written by Karl Groves of The SSB Bart Group. I realized with some satisfaction that, without having read the article first, the test page I created conforms to all the best practices and the recommendations it describes.]

Problems

As text size is increased, the switcher’s links shift left.  A mouse user therefore may need to move the cursor to the right to select subsequent links for larger text.  It would be simpler if the switcher were set up so a user could just click the same place a couple of times to increase text size.

It does not use symbols to indicate its function.  I will have to survey other sites to find examples of simple ones.

Request

As always, I am open to learning about alternative solutions. Please contact me or post a comment.

Related posts:

Experiment with Site Design for People with Cognitive Disabilities

2010/02/01

I created my first Web site design intended to be used by people with cognitive disabilities.  It is only a first draft, but it employs many of the cognitive-accessibility attributes I have been discussing since I started this blog.

This post focuses on the CSS-based layout. Subsequent posts will describe the new text-size switcher experiment and the image-based menu.  The test page itself has a list of text-accessibility features.

The motivator for this draft was a desire for a two-column design that would not break no matter how much text size is increased.  To accomplish this, I used a hybrid of elastic- and fluid cascading style sheets (CSS) layouts.

Elastic Layout Definition

An elastic page layout scales as text size is changed.  To do this, the height and the width of a page’s main CSS container and other elements are defined by a unit of measure known as an “em”. Since ems are proportional to text size, containers and elements measured by them adjust themselves relative to changes in text size.

Fluid Layout Definition

A fluid layout, otherwise known as a liquid layout, adjusts itself to fit the size of the window in which it is being viewed.  By using CSS container sizes based upon percentages, fluid designs typically take up an entire window without producing a horizontal scroll bar.

Combined Layouts

The body of the test page has a width of 56 em. The two columns, “primary” and “sidebar” have widths of 65 percent and 30 percent respectively.  The combination of the widths for the body and for the primary column means that lines of text, no matter how large, will not be longer than 80 characters.  This is a best practice of cognitive accessibility.

The remaining 35% of the body width is taken up by the margin space (5%) between the two columns and by the sidebar / menu column.  This is enough room to enable the menu text to be enlarged without breaking the page design.

Design Problems

  • In aesthetic terms, the best I could say about the design is that it is “not pretty”.  I can create functional designs, but not eye-pleasing ones.  I will have to outsource to a professional designer.
  • The tab order is a problem.  People who are sighted, but who can not use a mouse, instead use the tab key or a single-switch device to navigate a Web page.  Doing so with my hybrid design does not immediately bring such a user to the primary content.  Worse, it appears tabbing through the page skips the primary content entirely.  This is mitigated by the “Skip to content” link at the top of the page, but it is still something I would have to fix were I to use this design on the production site.

Notes


Rix Centre: Accessible Web Sites by & for People with Intellectual Disabilities

2010/01/28

The Rix Centre specializes in developing new media technology and its use by people with intellectual disabilities to improve their lives. It is a research and development center as well as a charity based at the University of East London. In partnership with a team of Web users with intellectual disabilities, it develops standards and guidelines of Web accessibility for people with intellectual disabilities, particularly so they can participate in the rich-media world.

Click Start

One of The Rix Centre’s projects, Click Start, is of particular interest to me. Its purpose is to build, for people with intellectual disabilities transitioning to adult life, a network of accessible Web sites in ten North-East London boroughs.

Each site is a portal to smaller Wiki sites edited by staff of borough departments and by people with intellectual disabilities who use their services.  All are provided training, support and online software to produce and publish content.  “Easy read” Web sites are being created with photos, sound- and video clips alongside simple text.  The intention is to directly involve young people with intellectual disabilities so they may help each other with issues related to independent living, finding employment and education.

Important Goal

In a comment to my review of The Newham Easy Read Web site, Andy Minnion, director of The Rix Centre, states what he believes to be important about Click Start and the other such sites The Rix Centre has designed:

The key thing about these Websites and those that have followed ( at http://www.clickstart.org.uk ) is to engage people with ID in planning and developing the sites themselves so that their voices, experiences and opinions are shared and so that the support services featured are described by the people that they are designed to serve.

I could not agree with him more. I love that people with intellectual disabilities produce their own content for these Web sites.  Also, it appears to me they can publish it themselves.  My understanding is the “online software” being developed by The Rix Centre is a content management system accessible to users with intellectual disabilities.  This is wondrous to me.  That people with intellectual disabilities can produce and publish their own content is an ideal to which everyone should aspire.

I congratulate The Rix Centre, and wish every success to all the people involved in its projects.

Notes

Text-To-Speech Experiment & Evaluation: Cognable Speeka

2010/01/25

I created a test page for an experiment with Speeka text-to-speech (TTS), graciously provided by Simon Evans of Cognable. I plan to incorporate TTS into every page of the future Clear Helper Web site.

Background

Speeka, a free service, is a work in progress. It is not a polished, commercial product. It is one of many Mr. Evans is developing to improve accessibility for people with intellectual disabilities.  A brief description of each of his projects can be found on the Cognable home page.

I think Speeka’s initial implementation was on the the Web site of Inclusive New Media Design. INMD is an organization that, like me, is working to develop best practices of Web accessibility for people with intellectual disabilities. When I first saw Speeka, I immediately liked its small form factor compared to that of ccPlayer, which I have been using.

Appearance & Placement

Speeka is embedded throughout the INMD site in the top, right of the content section. It appears as the image below. Rectangular. 3 buttons: play, back, forward. A speaker symbol and the word 'listen'On my test page, it appears as the following image.3 buttons: play, back, forward. The words 'audio stopped' underneath

I too placed it in the top, right of the content section.  Of the Web sites I have visited that use a TTS feature, most embed it in a similar location.  Those that don’t place it on the bottom of their pages.

Configuration

Setting up Speeka in my test page was a simple affair.  I inserted the HTML code provided by Mr. Evans.  I needed only to change the referenced file name.  I made one addition; that of the application landmark role to Speeka’s container. This helps people with screen readers, who use WAI-ARIA, to identify it. Upon placing the test page on the Clear Helper Web site, I invoked a hyperlink Mr. Evans provided to inform Speeka of the page’s presence.

Voice-Narration

I configured Speeka so it reads only primary content.  It can be set up to read all the textual content of a page, including menus, but I suspect it would be tiring to listen to the same menu over and over.

I chose to use a natural sounding, British male voice. [Edit on 2010-01-31: The voice is now an American one.] The test page it is reading contains text written as simply as I could at the time. Its pronunciation of the words and the sentences is very good. It had no problem with my last name.  I will have to test it with more complex text and with unusual proper nouns.

It announces every heading with the word “heading”; each list item prefaced by the word “bullet”; and the beginning- and the end of every list.  I was surprised. This feature is the first I have experienced with a TTS application.   It may be useful, but I think it would better serve as an option. [Edit on 2010-03-14: Announcement of list bullets, beginnings and ends is now an option. It is not active on the test page.]

General Navigation

The three-button interface is simple.  The audio narration can be played and paused with the same button. The forward button advances the narration by six seconds; the back button rewinds it by four.  Suggestions:

  • Perhaps it would be better if the forward- and the back buttons advance and rewind to adjacent sentences.
  • An option to restart the narration from the beginning may be helpful.  The only way I could do it was by refreshing the page using the Web browser.
  • Audio- and visible text labels for the buttons are a necessary feature, I think. An example can be found in a BBC Flash Player designed for people with intellectual disabilities.  It can be seen on the BBC’s Us 5 site, by clicking the link “Launch Us5 videos in pop-up windows”, then by selecting an actor.

Keyboard Navigation

Pressing the Tab key cycles through the buttons. The Space Bar or the Enter key invokes them. I had no trouble with this navigation within Speeka, but I could not tab inside the Web page to get to it. I could use the Tab key with Speeka only after changing focus to it by clicking it with my mouse.  This is not unique to Speeka.  I experienced the same with ccPlayer.  Keyboard navigation is important because many people with intellectual disabilities also have physical ones.  Such disabilities often preclude the use of a mouse, and require keyboard use or a single-switch device.

Interface Text

When the play button is clicked, the “audio stopped” text changes to a countdown of time until the end of the audio narration.  I think being presented immediately with the “audio stopped” text is potentially confusing.  I also think both it and the countdown test may not be necessary.

Speaka-Service Functions

Speeka converts Web-page text to MP3 files.  When a Web site visitor clicks the play button, the MP3 is streamed to the visitor’s computer from a Cognable server.  This is advantageous for Web sites that do not have a streaming-media server nor the bandwidth to support one.

A great feature of Speeka is it checks the text of each page on a regular basis.  When it detects a change, it updates the associated MP3 file.  Graphed statistics about this can be found on the Speeka home page.

Conclusion

Speeka has many nice features.  I think its inclusion on a Web site designed for people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities would provide site visitors with a significant accessibility feature. With all of Mr. Evans’ projects, I don’t know if he has the time to consider some of the options I have mentioned, but I plan to discuss them with him.

Note: No endorsement of Speeka or Cognable is expressed or implied.

Amazing BBC Online Videos By & For People With Intellectual Disabilities

2010/01/22

Us 5 is a set of dramatic- and humorous videos starring actors with intellectual disabilities.  Episodes focus on making significant choices, and have interactive comic strips so users may try different choices.  They are also accompanied by an accessibility feature called “visual-captions”, which was designed for people with intellectual disabilities. Commissioned by the BBC, the videos were created by Gamelab London.

5 young adults striking hip poses

Accessibility Features

  • “Visual captions” or “vis-caps”, which are intended for “… getting across the gist of a scene in simple cartoon-like pictures rather than subtitles.” They appear in panels to the right of the videos when the “V” navigation button is clicked.
  • Video navigation and interactivity are keyboard- and switch accessible.
  • Each video has subtitles and an audio-description, invoked by clicking the “S” and the “V” buttons respectively.
  • When focus is on a navigation button, its name is announced out loud in a voice.

Glitches

  • Tabbing through the navigation buttons skips the full-screen button.
  • In the opening menu-of-videos, clicking an actor’s picture does not launch the respective video.  Instead, the “Click to Play” button must be clicked.  Its audio description does announce the name of the actor’s story to be played, but the actor’s pictures do not have their names.
  • It appears the audio-description for the “spudnik” video is the wrong one; it does not match the scenes.

Conclusion

The videos are entertaining and have a high-production value.  The acting is simply terrific.  People with intellectual disabilities who have basic Web-surfing skills should be able to navigate the videos without difficulty.  The visual-captions feature is indeed innovative.  I look forward to seeing how its capability is advanced.

Wow!  I am a big fan.

References

Notes

  • To interact with the videos, some screen-reader users need to use the ‘invisible cursor’ for JAWS or the ‘WE cursor’ for Window-Eyes.
  • In England, people with “intellectual disabilities” are also known as people with “learning difficulties”.

Making 1000s of Pages of Text Easier To Understand for People with CD

2010/01/14

How can search results from Web sites such as MADIL be made as easy to understand as possible by people with cognitive disabilities? In particular, what can sites do that contain thousands of database records?

Sample Web Site

One of these sites, DisabilityInfo.org, provides information about programs for people with disabilities living in Massachusetts.  It does not yet have visitor-selectable easy- and standard versions and other accessibility features specifically for people with cognitive disabilities, but I plan to incorporate them into its next redesign.

For each program, a DisabilityInfo.org database record has:

  • contact information;
  • a narrative description;
  • program type(s);
  • service(s) provided;
  • populations and age-groups served; and
  • lists of agencies that provide referrals and/or licenses.

(Link To Sample Record)

This may be an overwhelming amount of information for people with cognitive disabilities.  Relevant guidelines, such as Juicy Studio’s Developing sites for users with Cognitive disabilities and learning difficulties, recommend breaking information into small chunks.

Alternatives for Reducing the Amount of Information

  • Display only a program’s contact information.
  • Display the contact information along with a link to the full record.
  • Display the contact info with a link that leads to the program record’s information categories written in simple language.  For instance:
    • “I would also like to see:”
      • “What kind of program this is.”
      • “What this program will do for me.”
      • “How old I have to be to get help from this program.”
    • With each line a link, a click could present only the relevant part of the program record.
  • Remove from being displayed the label of any field that does not contain data.
  • Replace repetitive labels, categories or information with a single instance of them.

Simplifying Textual Content

Many of DisabilityInfo.org’s records contain a narrative description, often a paragraph in length. None were written keeping in mind the plain-language manner recommended by cognitive-accessibility guidelines. Unfortunately, creating such a version for thousands of database records may be cost prohibitive.  Perhaps the narrative description should not be shown at all if visitors choose to use an easy version of the Web site.

Elaborating Textual Content

DisabilityInfo.org’s database records have many agency acronyms.  A flaw I plan to correct is that they are not spelled out as recommended by long-standing, general accessibility guidelines.  (No acronym tags are provided.)  It might be even better to link them to short, simply-written descriptions of the agencies.

Wrap Up

As has been pointed out many times by accessibility advocates, accessibility features intended for people with disabilities make a site and its content more accessible to everyone.  For instance, the only information many people want about a program is its contact information.  Therefore, the alternatives described above would be beneficial across the spectrum of site visitors.

I know there are other revisions that could be made to make the textual content of the database records easier to understand.  I have more in mind, which I will review in future posts.  Since the INDEX team and I are in the midst of creating a new design for the DisabilityInfo.org Web site, I welcome suggestions from the accessibility community.

Search Wizard Substitute for Text Queries: Discussion, Examples

2010/01/13

How can a Web site be designed to make searching its resources as easy as possible for people with cognitive disabilities?  What would be a better search interface than the text-query, Google-based interfaced used by The Massachusetts Aging and Disabilities Information Locator (MADIL)? (This is a follow-up my two previous posts, which describe the MADIL Web site’s search features.)

MADIL relies upon visitors to construct text-string search queries to find relevant information in the databases it indexes.  Visitors must determine how to describe an interest, which human-service-industry terms to use, and the appropriate search-query syntax.  This may be beyond the capabilities of the average Google-type-search user, as well those of people with cognitive disabilities.

Search Wizard

Perhaps a series of questions could be asked that would help define site visitors’ interests. As they are answered, the search results could progressively be narrowed.  Tools such as these are commonly known in the computer industry as wizards, which take a user through a task step-by-step.  For searching, the wizard would choose which set of questions to display next based upon a site visitor’s answers.  Unfortunately, coming up with sets of questions to ask and the decision-tree logic for all possible combinations of answers would be a lot of work, and would be highly unlikely to address all possible subjects of interest.

Example Search Wizard

A more economical approach is taken by 800AgeInfo.com, a site of resources for elders living in Massachusetts.  It has a feature called “Assess My Needs“.  Narrowing content by focusing on site visitors’ needs rather than requiring them to navigate it based upon how a developer decided it should be organized is a great aspect of this feature.  The vast majority of Web sites with similar features are designed using the latter orientation.

Step 1

The first page of “Assess My Needs” is a categorized list site visitors can select to define their interests.  A zip (postal) code is required to narrow results geographically.  The number of miles a visitor is willing to travel to receive services can also be entered.

Step 2

Submission of selected needs brings site visitors to a list of relevant general-need categories.  A prompt is presented to choose one.

Search Results

For all selections, the first record displayed is of the regional elder-care agency related to the zip code entered.  Below that is a list of programs, the number of which is determined by the specific needs selected and the number of miles entered, if any.  For each program, the list displays contact information, a brief description, and a link to the full record.

Possible Modifications

For people with cognitive disabilities, presenting a single page with forty-four possible, categorized choices may be overwhelming.  Perhaps the categories could be presented first, along with contextually-relevant imagery.  Selection of a category would produce a smaller set of choices.

This idea is represented by the Easy Health UK Web site.  It presents site visitors with a set of six content categories.  Sub-category lists of varying lengths are displayed on subsequent pages.  All choices are accompanied by a relevant photograph and by a text-to-speech option.

The Easy Health UK Web site’s interface is a content drill-down rather than a question-and-answer search wizard.  An advantage is that content is provided after two- or three clicks.  This may be impractical, however, for a search wizard on sites such as 800AgeInfo.com that contain thousands of records.  A possible compromise would be to implement a search wizard only for common, broad-based, general needs such as housing or medical care.  Of course, relevant imagery and text-to-speech along the way would be a great addition.

Related, Previous Posts

Note: No endorsement of Easy Health UK or of 800AgeInfo.com is intended or implied.


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