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User testing with intellectually disabled users

Two days of user testing with a group of users from <a href="">Ellingham Employment Services</a> was invaluable in learning about how intellectually disabled users use the internet.

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Inclusive New Media Design

I’m fortunate to be taking part in a study at the University of East London. Inclusive New Media Design is seeking to identify the best ways to encourage developers to build websites to support people with intellectual disabilities. The project has welcomed speakers who have shared their knowledge of this area. As part of the project we have built a small social networking application for intellectually disabled users called iBrow. The idea came from Lisa Haskell and has been developed by Alex Beech and me. Although the application is at a very alpha stage we got the chance to test it with a range of intellectually disabled users. The application allows users to enter 10 of their favorite things and then returns photos from Flickr’s API. If there are other users in the application with the same favorites it will show them. The idea is that it will help users to find friends with similar interests to them and make friendships.

What we learnt

Firstly we learnt that the people who came to test were first and foremost people. They were funny, interesting and engaging. The users responded very well to our little application and as a proof of concept it worked very well.

We learnt that the users had a range of ability and experience with the internet. Some were comfortable using a keyboard whilst others were not. Some used switches, some used touch screens. Some found small text hard to read whilst others found reading anything very difficult. After a couple of minutes it became clear to me that Intellectual Disability is not a homogenous term and that there are a broad range of abilities and conditions within this term. It would seem there are a common set of techniques that you can use to improve sites for ID users and it would be great if we can iterate and test these assumptions.

More work to be done

The next session for the research project is in May and we hope to do some further testing to try and come up with some assumptions and even recommendations for intellectually disabled users. WCAG 1.0 doesn’t really mention ID users and WCAG 2.0 touches on this user group lightly. Working with Intellectually Disabled users has shown me that they are very capable of using the internet and that it can make a huge difference to their lives. Let’s hope that we can share the knowledge we gain from this project as we continue to understand how ID users interact with the web.

Have an update or suggestion for this article? You can edit it here and send me a pull request.


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