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Improving web design practice to include people with intellectual disabilities online

Award Information

AHRC ref: AH/E507115/1 and AH/E507115/2
Discipline: Media
Funding opportunity: Research Grant
Areas of Impact: Digital Technologies; Investment in people; Knowledge exchange; Skills and capacity building; Stimulating debate and shifting perceptions; Supporting education
Lead RO: 1st: University of East London, 2nd: University of Leeds
Region: London and Yorkshire

Research has advanced knowledge and good practice amongst web designers to enable them to include people with intellectual disabilities (also known as cognitive and learning disabilities) amongst their audiences, thereby improving web accessibility for this user group.

It is illegal in the UK to discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of services, including websites, yet research shows that it is difficult for web designers to accommodate the accessibility needs of people with intellectual disabilities (ID). There are over 1.5 million such people in the UK alone.

The research project, “Inclusive New Media Design” (INMD), which was led by Professor Helen Kennedy (University of Leeds), targeted web designers and explored the best ways in which they could be encouraged to include people with ID amongst their audiences. Thirty-one web designers involved in designing websites in public, commercial and other sectors participated in the research and attended up to nine ID accessibility training workshops.

Success has been such that the Director of Cognable, an INMD collaborator, was subsequently invited to join a UK government round table discussion on Accessibility of Creative Digital Tools. In-Folio, an e-portfolio application for people with ID to record information about their lives, which was developed by one of the participants following the training, went on to win the 2011 Adobe Systems sponsored Learning Technologist of the Year Award. Other participants developed prototype sites targeted at ID web users, such as ClickStart and Oily Cart.

Kennedy observed: ‘The workshops have changed the practices of the participants, enabling them to enhance the ID accessibility of the websites they build. As a direct result, some have become members of accessibility organisations, while others have become accessibility experts in their workplace, and are working to share their knowledge of best practice.’

A number of participants even contributed voluntarily to the production of the INMD website, inclusivemedia.org, which is aimed at web designers, and instructs them how to make ID accessible websites. This was user-tested by the BBC’s Usability and Access Team, and received 250,000 hits within six months of its 2009 launch.

The director of one design agency who attended the INMD training commented: ‘The extensive testing on our shops with various user abilities had a profound impact on me and showed me that what I took for granted wasn’t obvious to everyone and that we need to broaden our horizon.’

For more information on the project visit: www.inclusivenewmedia.org/              

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Associated image: Sandy Schultz on Flickr by CC 2.0