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.
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.
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.
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).
- 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.
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.
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
- The Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTC) is a part of The Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.
- For a brief project description and a list of project staff, see “Self-Advocacy Online: Research and Development to Bridge the Digital Divide“.
- No endorsement of this project, its creators and/or its funders, is expressed or implied.