Archive for the ‘Web Usability’ Category

Improving Web Searching for People with Cognitive Disabilities

2011/04/25

Using a website search tool is difficult for people with cognitive disabilities. Finding a relevant result is often thwarted by spelling errors they make, their inability to detect them, or a lack of understanding about how to correct them. Determining which search results are best can be equally difficult.

This post is a synopsis of an approach to circumventing such problems. An example has been implemented on a web site of the German Institute for Human Rights, which is an easy-to-read version of a United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities. A typically-appearing site search incorporates novel spelling-correction features and a simplified presentation of search results.

Spelling Correction

The site search suggests spelling alternatives only for words that actually appear within the content of the website. Searches for correctly-spelled words that produce no search results would be very frustrating for anyone.

To enable spelling suggestions, a manually-edited index of syntactically-similar words was created. Point values were assigned for similarities in the number of the same letters and the word length. A higher value was given to alternative words with the same first letter, but that was not essential.

To enable search-word spelling correction within the fewest steps possible, the most-similar alternatives are displayed in a word cloud. Of those, typically three, the one with the highest probability of matching the intended search word is presented in a larger text size.

Example Spelling Correction

The German word for “contact” is “kontakt”. Initiating a search with the misspelled word “kontat” produces a word cloud as shown in the following image.

Of the displayed three words, Kommunikation Kontakt Kunst, the second is shown in a larger font. All are hyperlinks.

The developers believe the word cloud makes it very easy to recognize the correctly-spelled word, and to select a search word. I don’t know why the first letters are capitalized.

Simplified Search Results

Search results are presented in plain language. Each has a bulleted, succinct summary of information on the linked page; and a contextually-relevant image to aid comprehension.

Example Search Result

The following image shows a single search result translated from German to English using Google Translate.

Contact - Here you will find: The address and telephone number of the German Institute for Human Rights. And a contact form.

One aspect of the search results I do not favor is that links to the search-result pages are not underlined. It is only when the cursor is hovered over a link, such as “Contact” in the example search result, that an underline appears.

Conclusion

I am impressed with this approach. This is the first time I have seen search results presented so simply, and with accompanying relevant imagery. I think the spelling-correction features are also worthwhile. In a pilot study of them, 9 of 34 people with learning disabilities could use the search site independently. I expect the developers will continue user testing. With funding and time, I would like to develop a site search using similar techniques.

Notes

Redesigning University Website for People with Learning Disabilities: Feedback

2011/03/28

I am working on a project to make the website, of a university program for people with learning disabilities, more usable by prospective students. Small groups of faculty and students were shown the first mockup last week. Listed below is their feedback and brief descriptions of a few possible remediation efforts.

About Navigation

  • Feature the program prominently on the university site’s home page. Students could not find information about the program because a link to its home page is hidden within a drop-down menu.
  • Display links in navigation menus rather than place them in drop-down menus.
    • We plan to do so, perhaps indenting the links of subsection pages. (Unordered lists are good for that.)
  • Within the left-navigation menus of the program’s pages, display a link to the program’s home page. When students got lost within the website, they said they wanted to start over by returning to the program’s home page.
    • We will do so. We will also consider adding a button with an image shaped like a house, which students said they associate with a site’s home page.
  • Do not depend upon breadcrumb navigation to help visitors navigate the site. Students and faculty did not notice the breadcrumb navigation until prompted. Faculty indicated it was useful once they were shown its function.
  • Do not depend upon links scattered throughout the content. They were not immediately apparent to students when they were asked to find specific information.
  • Do not depend upon a search box to help visitors. When asked to find specific information, neither the students nor the faculty thought to use the site’s search box. Doing so would be confusing anyway, faculty pointed out, because search results are derived from the university’s entire site, not just from the program’s portion of it.
  • Do not position navigation menus on the right side of pages. Students and faculty had to be prompted to notice them.
    • This is unsurprising. Web usability studies based upon eye tracking have shown people look at pages in an F-shaped pattern. One consequence is that they pay no attention to the right side of pages.
  • Consider consolidating the number of links in the left menus. Only their first few links were read by the students.
  • Consider reducing the number of choices on each page. For example, the large number of site navigation links were simply overwhelming to students.
    • We may have to develop a template for the program’s section of the university site that presents significantly fewer navigation choices.
  • Link course descriptions to professors’ profiles. We had set up course descriptions to be found by drilling down by year, then by curriculum, then by topic. That did not make sense to students.

About Content

  • Use a larger default text size.
  • Add a lot more pictures, particularly contextually-relevant ones to enhance comprehension of textual content.
  • Closely associate images to their relevant textual content. Example: The list of faculty includes pictures of them, but it is unclear which photo is associated with which professor’s name and description.
  • Provide faculty-specific contact information within their profiles rather than in a central location.
  • Continue to use bulleted lists. Students found such content easier to read; faculty found it easier to scan.
  • Embed videos, not just link to them.
  • Use a web form, not an email link, for visitors to submit questions and site feedback. Students indicated a web form would be easier for them. A faculty member pointed out that such a link will not work at all unless a visitor’s computer is configured to open email software once that link is clicked.
  • Determine a way to make program contact info apparent so visitors will contact the program, not the university.
  • Include content for current students, not just prospective students.
    • Such content is now in a PDF. We will likely convert it to a web page so students do not need to have special software (Acrobat Reader) to view it.

Notes

Struggling to Reduce Dense Content Into Chunks Without Requiring Multiple Clicks

2011/03/23

I am working on a project to make the website of a local university, which has a campus-based program for students with learning disabilities, more usable by them. The current site is designed for parents of prospective students and professionals who serve them. We anticipate our work will make the site easier to use and to understand for everyone.

Over the past few months, an adjunct faculty member has reduced the amount of content, simplified its language, and reorganized it. I created a functional site mockup to demonstrate that work. Yesterday, we showed it to a small group of students, then to a small group of faculty.

Dilemma

Our attempt to separate content into small chunks produced more pages. This exacerbated a problem experienced by the students, which was that navigating the many layers of the site is perplexing. Moreover, faculty indicated frustration with having to click many links to find desired information.

Example

The current first-year curriculum page contains short descriptions for twenty courses. For the mockup, we moved each description to its own page, reducing the curriculum page to a list of course titles. This design requires extra clicks to see course descriptions. As well, the groups indicated the curriculum page is still too long.

Solution?

We will next shorten the curriculum page by dividing it into sub-pages by topic. One- to two sentence descriptions of the courses under their titles may obviate the need for extra clicks to view more-detailed information. We will know if this has achieved any success only after testing with students.

Overall, I am describing an approach designed to resolve a larger dilemma. How can we provide information about the program in a simple way for students while also supplying a level of detail that may be required by professionals, parents, and even the students themselves? I suppose this is an adventure to find out.

Notes

Teaching People How To Enlarge Web Pages: Providing Feedback

2011/01/20

I believe it is common knowledge that providing feedback while teaching is very important. In particular, positive reinforcement consequent to successful performance is essential for increasing the likelihood a skill will be acquired (that a behavior will occur again). As it is my intention to teach basic Web skills via the Web itself, tutorials must be designed so reinforcing feedback is provided automatically.

A common way of designing such interactivity into Web pages is to use JavaScript. I met last week with a developer who is an accessibility expert. For many years, Rich Caloggero has worked for The National Center for Accessible Media and for The MIT Adaptive Technology Information Center. We anticipate building interactive features that, for example, would indicate to people they indeed pressed the correct keys, in the appropriate sequence, to enlarge a Web page.

It is my hope to approximate on a simple level the sophisticated feedback features that Dr. Janet Twyman, who is guiding me in this project, has had built into software for teaching children to read. From the beginning, she has stressed to me the importance of detecting and reinforcing the pressing of the correct key sequence. I will post the details of this effort as the three of us develop them.

Notes: This post is the fourth in a series about Teaching Web Page (Text) Enlargement. Please post a comment with any suggestions.

Google Video Teaches How To Make Text Bigger

2010/12/30

A new Web site, TeachParentsTech.org, was announced by Google recently. Its purpose is to teach basic computer skills to parents. See the announcement and explanation.

The site teaches exclusively via videos. Among the 50+ videos now on the site, “How to make text bigger (or smaller)”, embedded below, is included in the first group displayed on the home page. My guess is that’s because learning how to make text bigger is one of the most common skills parents (older adults for whom vision may not be ideal) request to be taught.

The video starts be reassuring the audience that the task is “super easy”. The skill is then succinctly defined. It is taught exactly how I intend to do so, in that the audience is shown how to use a two-key combination within a Web browser. There is perhaps one main difference between the video and the one I hope to produce for people with cognitive disabilities. I intend to show an image of a keyboard, focusing specifically on how to press the correct two keys, in sequence, to make a Web page (text) larger.

Notes:

Teaching People How To Enlarge Web Pages: Task Definition

2010/12/27

Many people need to enlarge Web pages to better see information. People with cognitive disabilities often require larger text sizes to better comprehend information as well.

To develop a best practice for teaching a Web page (text) enlargement skill, I will conduct in-person teaching to groups of people with cognitive disabilities. Specifically, I intend to teach people to use a keyboard with a Web browser to enlarge Web pages. Many browsers will enlarge pages in response to the pressing of two keys: the plus key and the Control key (IBM) / Command key (Mac).

Functional Objective

Given a Web page that may contain images, but must contain text, learners will press two keys to enlarge page content.

Outcome Measure

Learners will open a novel Web page and, without instruction or prompting, enlarge its contents.

Component Skills To Be Taught

Pressing Keys

Learners will:

  • locate the correct keys (2)
  • hold-down one key for at least 3 seconds with sufficient force to be recognized by the computer
  • hold down the one key and tap the other key by pressing it with sufficient force to be recognized by the computer, and immediately releasing it

Completing Sequential Steps

Learners will:

  • follow a multi-step chain of behaviors
  • identify the start- and end points of the behavior chain
  • repeat the behavior chain

Prerequisites

Learners must be able to:

  • respond to textual-, auditory- and/or video-based instruction
  • press keys with their fingers or with equivalent assistive-technology
  • press the correct keys only
  • open a Web page with Internet Explorer

Computers must be:

  • IBM-compatible
  • attached to a monitor and a keyboard or equivalent assistive-technology
  • using Internet Explorer as the default Web browser
  • connected to the Internet

Notes:

Learning To Teach Basic Web Skills to People with Cognitive Disabilities

2010/11/03

All people need basic skills to use the Web. A significant part of my effort to teach them to people with cognitive disabilities, via the Web itself, is to implement instructional-design techniques. This post is about my first experiment.

For people of all abilities, examples of basic Web skills are:

  • opening a Web site / using Web addresses;
  • navigating by clicking links and using the back button;
  • performing simple searches with a search engine.

Teaching such a skill includes:

For people with cognitive disabilities, an additional basic Web skill is enlarging the text/font size of a Web site. Thus to learn how best to teach such a seemingly-simple skill, I am continuing my effort to create related instructions.

Guiding me is Janet S. Twyman, Ph.D., BCBA, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at The University of Massachusetts Medical School (Shriver Center), where I work. Dr. Twyman is an expert in instructional design.

Notes: Future blog posts will provide details on each step we take in this experiment. This post is the first in a series about Teaching Web Page (Text) Enlargement. Next up: “Teaching People How To Enlarge Web Pages: Task Definition“.

New U.S. Plain-Language Law Good for People with Cognitive Disabilities

2010/10/20

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed into U.S. federal law on October 13, 2010. Essentially, it requires federal agencies to create documents using plain language.

The law also requires a section, on each federal-agency Web site, that follows best practices of plain-language writing. If indeed that happens, I anticipate people with cognitive disabilities will find such information much easier to understand. This is particularly good for the people with intellectual disabilities whom I have interviewed. A common thread of our conversations related to their self-advocacy interest in contacting their government representatives, and for determining how their government could help them.

I hope U.S. federal agencies set a standard that others will follow. For people with cognitive disabilities, the accessibility of Web site content is just as important as the accessibility of a site’s design. Text must be written in plain, simple language. There are efforts all over the world to encourage the use of plain language, which helps everyone.

For more information, see:

University Web Site for People with Learning Disabilities: Starting a Redesign

2010/08/11

Today, I visited a local university that has a campus-based program for students with learning disabilities. I am helping to make the program’s Web site more accessible to its students. I met with the program director, two representatives of university Web services, and an adjunct-faculty member responsible for managing site content. We discussed possible cognitive-accessibility features and next steps for the project.

We will focus on content first.

  • Outdated information will be pruned or updated.
  • Text will be rewritten into plain language.
  • Contextually-relevant images will be added, especially photos taken during program activities.
  • After the above tasks are accomplished for one to five pages, they will be evaluated by program students.

We will then revise the site’s design. To do so, we will determine which cognitive-accessibility features we can incorporate using the university’s content management system (CMS). Examples:

Notes:

  • Other development steps will be outlined in future posts. For example, the My Web My Way idea could be expanded such that site visitors could choose their own mixture of content types.
  • Program students will be included in every step of the site development.

First Thoughts on iPad Potential for People with Intellectual Disabilities

2010/07/29

I am intrigued by the iPad’s potential as a computer for people with intellectual disabilities (ID). It could be set up as a Web-access only device, and essential functions could be Web-based. This could be done with computers, but the iPad has at least two distinct advantages.

  • no or low hardware-maintenance
  • minimal management of software updates and installation

These advantages alone are enormous in terms of overall ease-of-use. They are also great for dramatically reducing long-term technical support- and training costs compared to those needed for computers.

I think that to make an iPad truly useful for people with ID, an even simpler interface could be developed for it. I imagine that, upon being turned on, the iPad could present three or four buttons.

One button could start a Web-based e-mail app, such as CogLink that is designed for people with ID, or one with which a user is already familar, such as Yahoo Mail.

A button could start a Web browser app, like Web Trek, which is designed for people with ID.

Another button could start an augmentative-communication app. They exist already. Jane Farrall recently posted a list of iPhone/iPad augmentative communication apps on the Spectronics Blog.

An iPad, with a simple-to use interface similar to those presented by augmentative communication apps, would be a lot less expensive than single purpose AC devices or multi-function computers.

Readers may be interested in these articles:

Note: For the purpose of exploring the iPad’s potential for people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities, one was generously provided to me by the project for which I work, New England INDEX at the Shriver Center, part of The University of Massachusetts Medical School.


%d bloggers like this: