Archive for December, 2009

Proposed Navigation Buttons For Future Clear Helper Web Site: Draft 2

2009/12/31

Displayed below is my second attempt at a set of navigation buttons for the future Clear Helper Web site.  They were created using the guidelines and tests discussed in my post about the first draft of two sample buttons.  I am open to constructive criticism and/or suggestions for alternative versions.

Each button will appear on a page only if relevant. For instance, if the succeeding page is for a tutorial, the following three buttons will appear as content options.  They are intended to represent the content versions of text; pictures and text; and video.

VideoTextPictures and Text

The following two buttons, for back and next, will appear, for instance, only if tutorials have multiple pages.

NextBack

The home page button, below, will appear on every page.

Home

Upcoming buttons will include two for switching styles from “Standard” to “Easy”.  I have an idea for how to represent these concepts in a concrete way.  That will be the subject of a future post.

Free Tool Matching People with CD to Computer Technology: A Review

2009/12/30

TechMatch is a free, Web-based assessment tool that matches people with cognitive disabilities to computer technology. It was produced by Personal Technologies, LLC, apparently also known as Life Technologies, LLC.  This is the same company that makes CogLink, e-mail software for people with cognitive disabilities, which I previously reviewed.

Accessibility

The TechMatch Web site does not meet accessibility standards, as is indicated by many images with missing alternative text.  Its tool, an assessment questionnaire, is not designed to be used directly by people with cognitive disabilities.  Instead, it is intended to be used by the people who care for and about them.

Purpose

The company promotes TechMatch as offering “…clear and straight forward advice about the strengths and weaknesses of each potential technology…”.   It says its tool, which is a questionnaire, assesses factors of six areas affecting successful computer use by people with cognitive disabilities.  (The tool lists actually only five areas of questions.)  When completed, it produces a summary of the advantages and the disadvantages of each computer technology for the person being assessed.

Questionnaire

To access the questionnaire, the TechMatch Web site requires visitors to create a user name and a password.  It also requests personal information, i.e, first name, last name, postal code and the visitor’s role in relation to the person being assessed. Upon submitting the information, a verification link is sent to the e-mail address used.  No explanation is provided on the log-in form about why the questionnaire can not be completed anonymously.

There are 34 multiple-choice questions.  The following are descriptions of the sets of questions.  They ask about:

  1. electronic devices and computer technologies the person uses; the difficulties experienced; and the related activities in which the person does and wants to engage.  There are also questions about Internet use.
  2. the types of environments in which the person visits and lives; the level of comfort using computer technology; and the type of related support available to the person.
  3. eye and hand coordination and use; the ability to carry and to use objects; and reading ability.
  4. the person’s ability to plan; to learn; to follow instructions; to concentrate; to remember secret names and passwords; and to protect computers from accidental damage.
  5. the person’s financial capability to buy computer technology; attitude for and motivation for new challenges; and general feeling about change.

Product

The end result was a report of suggestions for generic computing technologies: netbook, laptop, desktop, cell phone and public computing.  The remaining item on the list was Pack Drive, the company’s own product.  It is a USB Flash drive containing Internet applications designed for people with cognitive disabilities.

Personal Info Unnecessarily Requested

An option is provided to print a comprehensive report.  Choosing it produces a form.  The evaluator’s contact information is requested, along with personal information about the person being evaluated.  This includes age, date of birth and medical diagnosis.  On the form, there is a statement that the information is for inclusion on the printed report only, and will not be saved in any way.  To me, it is too risky and unnecessary to provide such information simply to obtain a comprehensive report.

Conclusion

The privacy problems are concerning.  The site has no standard privacy statement.  On its sign-up form, there is not even a simple statement that the entered e-mail address will not be sold or used for marketing purposes.

TechMatch’s goal for its assessment tool is admirable and shows promise.  It may be useful for those who do not know much about computer technology.  Yet its table of computer technologies lists only six generic options.  From this, I suspect no others are suggested by any of TechMatch’s reports. That there are so few, and that they are so similar, seems to me to be a distinction without much of a difference.

I had expected reports would choose from a database of devices and software that were related to computer- and assistive technology.  These databases, e.g., AbleData, already exist.  Had the assessment been tied to such a database, it and the effort to complete it certainly would have been more useful.

Notes

  • TechMatch development was funded through NIDRR grant #H133S070096.
  • No endorsement of TechMatch, Pack Drive, their manufacturer, or any of its products is intended or implied.

“Easy Read” Web Site for People with Intellectual Disabilities: A Review

2009/12/29

The Newham Easy Read Web site is intended for young people with intellectual disabilities transitioning from school.  From its copyright statement, it appears The Rix Centre designed it.

General Accessibility

The site’s accessibility statement claims compliance with WCAG-AA guidelines.  I used a couple automated accessibility-checkers on a few randomly-chosen pages.  Compliance was indicated.  Much of the site’s design is intended to make it accessible and usable by people with intellectual disabilities.

Visual Design

The site’s template is bright with lots of imagery.  Its layout is fairly simple.  The top part of the home page is pictured below.

Newham home page. Large banner at top. Links column on left.

The pages’ primary-content area features a well-spaced choice list.  Each is represented by:

  • a large, contextually-relevant photograph or cartoon, which also serves as a linked button; (Hovering the cursor over a photographic button highlights its border.  I’m not sure of the utility of that.)
  • a link using text typically short and to the point; and
  • a “listen” button that plays an audio file of a person briefly summarizing the linked content; (I found the quality of the recordings to be mixed.  Some had a lot of static or other background noises.)

Note: There is a glaring oversight on the home page. In its primary-content section, neither the photographic buttons nor the link text can be clicked to advance to subsequent pages.

On the left of the site’s pages, there is a column of links to its sections.  Links are accompanied by a small, contextually-relevant photograph or cartoon, and by a short statement on the number of links to be found in each section.  This is a nice feature that indicates how much content each section contains.

Several links open other Web sites.  This is hidden by a Newham Easy Read frame.  The frame provides some consistency in the look and feel, but its function is purely cosmetic.

Navigation

Navigation through the site is accomplished via the column of links and by a breadcrumb menu at the tops of pages.  There is a basic site map that can be reached by a link at the bottoms of the pages.  There is also a site search feature, but it does not work well.  For instance, entering the word “accessibility” does not produce a link to the site’s accessibility statement.

Readability

There is no information, at least that I could find, about what makes the site’s text easy to read.  Pages generally have a few short sentences matched with large photographs.  Oddly, it is the home page that probably has the longest sentences, including one run-on.  This does not make for a good first impression on the nature of how easy the site’s text is to read.

Much of the site’s text, particularly for navigation, is tiny.  The current accessibility recommendation for people with cognitive disabilities is to use a large font size by default.

The site’s accessibility page refers to a text-enlarging readability menu on the right side of every page.  Unfortunately, there is no such menu on the right side of every page.  The accessibility page does have instructions on how to use the keyboard to increase font size.  However, the instructions themselves use the tiniest font size on the entire site!

Conclusion

In sum, it is obvious the designers incorporated accessibility- and usability features for people with intellectual disabilities.  It is equally obvious that much work has to be done to make the site work better for them and for all visitors.

Free Talking Firefox Extension for People with Cognitive Disabilities

2009/12/28

CLiCk, Speak, created by Charles L. Chen, is an open-source, free extension for Firefox that reads Web pages out loud in a voice.  It is designed for sighted users with cognitive disabilities.

Interface

The image below shows CLiCk, Speak’s interface.  It is a toolbar with three, simple buttons for “Speak Selection”, “Auto Reading” and “Stop Speaking”.  Each has an accompanying image that can be enlarged and uses contextually-relevant colors.

Firefox toolbar of 3 buttons, each with a text label and image

CLiCk, Speak is mouse-driven. Web page text can be selected by clicking and dragging, then read out loud via a click to the “Speak Selection” button.  The “Auto Reading” button starts narration from the top of the page.  Each sentence is highlighted as it is read.

It does not identify elements or announce events, which Mr. Chen says is “… very annoying to sighted users,” but which would be important for people with visual disabilities.  This means fewer distractions from the primary, textual content.

Compatibility

CLiCk, Speak is compatible with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux; and has multilingual support.  Design information and source code are available for developers.

At the time of this writing, CliCk, Speak was last updated June 18, 2008.  It is compatible with Firefox 3.x.

Note: No endorsement of CliCk, Speak is intended or implied.

Writing “easy” text is not so easy

2009/12/27

Today, I tested the readability of the “easy” text for the home page of the Clear Helper Web site.  I decided to use Standard-Schmandard’s Readability Index Calculator because of the trouble I reported in my post, “Juicy Studio Readability Test: Contradictory Results“.

I entered the home page’s easy text and chose the Flesch-Kincaid (English) test. Results:

  • Grade level: 13
  • Reading Ease score: 44

The Grade Level score indicates a person would have to reach the 13th grade (in the U.S.) to understand the text. The Reading Ease score, for which higher means easier, fell in between comics (score = 90) and legalese (score = below 10) according to Standards Schmandards.  I was disappointed the text I wrote scored so poorly.

I then removed all three-syllable words.  Results:

  • Grade level: 11
  • Reading Ease score: 55

These were still not the scores for which I was hoping.  I’m having a difficult time finding information on which levels of scores would be good for people with intellectual disabilities, but I know even the last set are too high.

My next step is to attempt to simplify the text, then try another readability test.  Results will be posted.

Note: This is a follow-up to the post, “Switching Between Standard- & Plain Language Versions: 1st Attempt“.

Switching Between Standard- & Plain Language Versions: 1st Attempt

2009/12/26

I created a plain-language version of the Clear Helper home page.  It displays “standard” text.  Clicking the link “Easy” at the top, right of the home page displays the plain-language version.  The image below shows the menu.

Home Page Menu with choices Easy, Skip to content, Need big text?

Technical Method

This is my first attempt at creating a plain-language version.  I focused on accomplishing it technically.  This is a follow-up to my previous post, “Using Plain Language for People with Cognitive Disabilities: Discussion, Example“.

The method I used to create two language versions of the same page is to include all of the text content in it, but hide from the user one version or the other depending upon which the user selects.  I used the CSS “display” property with a value of “none” for this purpose.

Alternative

It may be more efficient to use a database-driven system that stores and displays the content depending upon user selection.  There are content-management systems (CMS) specifically designed to create accessible pages and that have accessible content-management interfaces.  One such example is Webcredible’s Accessible CMS.

Improvements

I did make a few improvements to the page-version switcher I described in my post “2 Accessible Versions, 1 for People with CD: Rough Draft In Action“.  I:

  • changed two menu choice labels, one from “Simple” to “Easy” and the other from “Regular” to “Standard”;
  • set the menu so that, rather than displaying both of those menu choices, it shows “Easy” on the standard version and “Standard” on the easy / plain-language version;
  • placed the accessible text-to-speech (TTS) player for both versions in the same place, so people will always know where to look for it, and at the bottom of the page where it would not cause initial distraction; and
  • created a MP3 audio narration of the plain-language version.

Next Steps

In future posts, I will publish the results of:

  • checking if screen readers or search engines have trouble with a page containing two versions of content but displaying one; (I suspect not.)
  • running a readability checker on the “easy” text, and determining if it meets plain-language guidelines; and
  • investigating whether or not Webcredible’s Accessible CMS or one of its competitors has the capability to switch between two content versions of the same page.

Behavior Modification to Teach People with ID How to Access Web Sites

2009/12/24

A research study was published in 2007 that used behavior modification to teach people with autism and intellectual disabilities how to access Web sites.  After training, participants (N = 3) were able to access specific Web sites independently.

Breakdown of Task

“The following 13-step task analysis was conducted to develop the requisite skills necessary to access a specific Web site:
  1. Press the computer power button.
  2. Press the monitor power button.
  3. Place hand on the mouse.
  4. Move the cursor with the mouse until it points to the Internet Explorer® icon.
  5. Double click the Internet Explorer® icon.
  6. Move the cursor with the mouse to the Google® search box.
  7. Left click in the box.
  8. Type in the search topic of interest.
  9. Place hand back on mouse.
  10. Move cursor to the box labeled ‘search.’
  11. Single click the box.
  12. Move the cursor with the mouse down to the Web site of choice.
  13. Single click the Web site of choice.”

Note: Steps 12 & 13 should say “Web site link”.

Training

To teach these steps, the behavior-modification techniques of backward chaining, errorless learning, and most-to-least intrusive prompting were used. After completion of each step, whether prompted or unprompted, participants received edible items as a form of immediate reinforcement.  Participants were also given five minutes of their preferred Internet activity after the completion of the last step.

Results

Subsequent to training, the three participants were able to complete all thirteen steps independently.  They were also able to take the skills they had learned on the test computer, and apply them to a different computer.

Relevancy

I am keenly interested in teaching people with intellectual disabilities how to use the Web.  They can not if they don’t know the first thing about it.  This research study taught people the rudiments.

My interest in it coincides with the intended purpose of the initial tutorials to be presented on the future Clear Helper Web site: to teach people with intellectual disabilities how to use the Web, specific Web sites, and/or features of them.  Because the tutorials will be entirely Web based, the level of training used in this research study will not occur.  The consequential indication is that people who require such training may not be able to take advantage of the Clear Helper tutorials.  It is a disappointing reality.

References

Jared Jerome, Eric P. Frantino, & Peter Sturmey (2007). The effects of errorless learning and backward chaining on the acquisition of internet skills in adults with developmental disabilities.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40, 185-189.  Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1868816/PDF of the article.

Using Plain Language for People with Cognitive Disabilities: Discussion, Example

2009/12/23

Previous posts have discussed switching between two accessible versions of the same Web site.  The version for people with cognitive disabilities would not show secondary content such as columns of links and image-based advertisements.  Instead, it would only show primary, textual content and contextually-related imagery.  This is well and good from a design perspective.

However, a Web site’s primary content can be as confounding to people with cognitive disabilities as a cluttered design.  Text must be written in plain, simple language.  There are efforts all over the world to encourage the use of plain language for everyone.  See PlainLanguage.gov (U.S.), Plain English Campaign (U.K.) and Plain Language Association International (world).  So, though this problem is not unique to people with cognitive disabilities, they are put at a particular disadvantage because of the nature of their disability.

For the future Clear Helper Web site, I would like to have two content versions: one with standard language and one with a lower readability level.  Future posts will discuss how this might be accomplished technically.

Example Web Site

There is at least one Web site that enables users to switch between two language versions: one for “Standard” English and one for “Easy” English.  It is of The NSW Council for Intellectual Disability in New South Wales, Australia.  Clicking the “Easy English” button on the home page produces a welcome message with instructions on how to use the site.  As users navigate through the pages, each can be switched between the two language versions via buttons at the tops of the pages.

Usability Errors?

The site is designed to meet accessibility standards, but there are are some odd interface choices.  Examples:

  • The menu for the standard fact sheets has relevant images, but they are not clickable like the links below them.
  • All of the “Standard” English fact sheets are Web pages, but all the “Easy” English ones are PDFs. Browse Aloud, which is available on the site, can read PDFs.  Yet counting on users to have it and a PDF reader installed seems like an unnecessary complication.
  • The “Easy” English welcome page requires visitors to use the “Contact Us” tab at the top of the page because the “Contact Us” text referencing it is not clickable.

Despite these minor quibbles, I think it’s great that the Web site provides two language versions, one targeted to people with intellectual disabilities.  I soon will be attempting the same.

This post is a continuation of the following:

Web Browser for People with Intellectual Disabilities

2009/12/22

Web Trek is a Web browser designed specifically for people with intellectual disabilities. Based upon research (more info below), it is sold by AbleLink Technologies as part of two software suites for $199 and $399.  The following image shows screen shots of Web Trek in the background, and its associated “Visual Search Site” in the foreground.

screen shots of browser & search site, showing picture-based interfaces

Highlights Of WebTrek’s Features

  • built-in screen reader that narrates Web-page text aloud in a voice;
  • facility to use a picture from a Web page as an oversize favorites button on the user’s home screen;
  • a single-click interface for buttons on the home screen; and
  • access to the “Visual Search Site” (link to screen shots), a picture-based, Web search engine.

WebTrek’s Prototype Features

The prototype included the following features.  The AbleLink Technologies Web site does not mention them, so I do not know if they are present in the current product.  I hope they are.

  • an audio prompt-description of a button when the cursor hovers over it; (This was set up to be similar to balloon help.)
  • an audio prompt following a user-initiated event, such as a click, to guide the user through the next most-likely step in a task; (This was designed to minimize errors.)
  • a minimum of buttons displayed, and only when the current task requires them; (An attempt to reduce clutter / distractions.) and
  • the user’s name displayed on the start button and on the start page.  (Personalization is its goal.)

Grant- & Pilot Study

The prototype was developed starting in 1999 with a grant from The U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).  On the AbleLink Technologies site are a summary of the grant and the pilot study’s detailed description in an image-based, non-accessible PDF.

Notes

Site for Young People with Intellectual Disabilities: A Review

2009/12/21

Mencap is an advocacy- and service agency for people with intellectual disabilities living in The United Kingdom.  It also has a service to produce “Easy Read” content.

Its primary Web site, Mencap, is designed for the population it serves.  It has a newer site that is too, and which targets teens with intellectual disabilities.  This review is about the latter.

Site Design

The home page of the Young Mencap Web site, pictured below, exemplifies its bright, colorful look.  It uses cartoon- and photographic imagery.  Three big buttons, front and center, present content choices.

Web page with colorful imagery & 3 big buttons for site content

Features for People with Intellectual Disabilities

The Web site’s development and testing were led by a group of young people with intellectual disabilities, aged 14 to 19.  It has the following accessibility- and usability features for that population.

  • contextually-relevant navigation images persistent throughout the site;  (They use mouse roll-overs for text labels that appear above them and, at least on the home page, photos of related activities that appear in place of the them.)
  • pages that focus on two or three content choices;
  • content choices represented in every case by big, relevant-photograph buttons;
  • text that meets the guidelines suggested by WebAIM;
  • videos with simple controls and accompanying instructions on how to use them.

Accessibility Issues

Unfortunately, the site has its problems.

  • Its text-to-speech feature is broken.  Even if it were working, its activation button (top, right of each page) does not indicate what it does.
  • Its videos do not use an accessible player, and are not closed-captioned.
  • There is no integrated method to enlarge text size, nor are there instructions on how to do so using Web browsers.
  • Its accessibility statement is simply written, but mentions only two such features.
  • It has minor accessibility errors on every page I tested.
  • To notify the site managers about the Browse Aloud problem, I had planned on using its Contact Us page.  Unfortunately, it required me to enter my age to submit a message, and I consider that personal information.  (Also, the form is inaccessible.)

Conclusion

I hope I can design a site as attractive as this one.  I do like the site’s usability features, and have learned from them.

Note: I found the Mencap Web sites through a referral from Inclusive New Media Design.


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