Bringing Universal Disability Access into the Digital Age

New report identifies first steps in supporting cloud-based accessibility, taking into account physical as well as cognitive needs
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SAN FRANCISCO - Sept. 5, 2013 - PRLog -- The U.S. Department of Education, as part of its effort to support online accessibility for users with disabilities, awarded a contract to ISKME and a team of five partner organizations to explore ways that individuals can create user profiles tied to online accessibility needs, and store them on the cloud, so they are available anywhere, anytime. Officially called the “Profile Creation Support for Cloud-based Accessibility” initiative, the first stage is now complete with a feasibility study and report identifying key lessons learned from the field on how to increase access to online information and services through the creation of user profiles.

The study – which took collaborators seven months to complete – found that a personalized rather than a one-size-fits-all approach works best at delivering profile creation solutions to the greatest number of users. Rather than identify access needs that group disabilities into homogenous medical categories, such as whether someone is “blind” or “hearing impaired,” the authors encourage a focus on the user’s nuanced “preferences,” that is, specific user needs for easily and effectively accessing online information and services.

Preferences, according to the study, extend beyond physical needs, such as visual needs or those related to motor skills, to contextual needs; for example, users in libraries might need audio turned off. One also needs to take into consideration cognitive needs, such as those related to memory, concentration, and staying on task when accessing online information or services.

The feasibility study not only explored a range of diverse preferences, but it also identified associated features to support those preferences. These features include font enlargement; visual and audio prompts; eye-tracking; mechanisms to pause, stop, and start to adjust to the user’s learning pace; and gamification and rewards to motivate those who respond to competition and teamwork.

“One particular finding that we thought was important,” said Cynthia Jimes, Ph.D. and director of research at ISKME, “is that cognitive needs related to math comprehension have not been well addressed.” To enhance the math experience, the report cites the benefit of tools that allow for text highlighting and speech synthesizers.

The report was based on a literature review, compilation of expert judgment from the field, and an analysis of existing profile creation tools and approaches. The conclusions recommend specific design parameters for profile creation tools, such as allowing the user to easily make changes and backtrack if necessary, and the importance of encouraging exploration, experimentation, and risk taking among users in trying out new preferences. The next phase of the project, which is now underway, is to present design solutions recommended in this first report.

For more information about the report and the project, see http://www.iskme.org/our-work/preferences-global-access.

About ISKME

The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (www.iskme.org), an independent non-profit research institute established in 2002, is a pioneer in knowledge sharing and educational innovation. Dedicated to the study, spread, and strategic use of knowledge management in education, ISKME helps schools, colleges, universities, and the organizations that support them expand their capacity to collect and share information, apply it to well-defined problems, and create open knowledge-driven environments focused on learning and success. In assisting the K-20 education sector, ISKME also helps philanthropic organizations and government agencies examine and improve their own and their grantees’ processes for continuous improvement, evaluation, and learning.

About the Project Team

The project team included ISKME, the Inclusive Design Research Center at OCAD (http://idrc.ocad.ca/), Raising the Floor International (http://raisingthefloor.org/), WGBH’s National Center for Accessible Media (http://ncam.wgbh.org/), IBM (http://www.ibm.com/us/en/), and Inclusive Technologies (http://inclusive.com/).

Contact: Cynthia Jimes, Ph.D., Director of Research, ISKME, Cynthia@iskme.org, (650) 728-3322 ext. 18
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Industry:Education
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