Designing software with adolescents with autism

Two male adolescents sit on the kerb looking at the phones.With the right supports and understanding adolescents with autism can make a significant contribution to software design. Applications for people with differing needs is a challenge for designers. So going directly to the users and working with them is the best solution. An Australian study did just that and found that once participants felt safe they readily engaged in the workshop activities. Participants also learned from their input and engaged with the iterative design process. The agreed overall goal of all stakeholders was to devise a platform where adolescents with autism could interact and socialise. Designers usually start out with goals in mind, but they used an open-ended approach so that participants could explore their needs to determine their goals for the software. The outcome was a co-designed app for smartphones and smartwatches. 

While this article is about software design, the processes and learnings are relevant to other design disciplines. The article uses the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. However, the notion of autism being a disorder is challenged by many people with autism. The article is titled Co-designing with Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: From Ideation to Implementation.  It is open access and the researchers are based at James Cook University.

Abstract:  Most co-design-based Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) research is conducted with children and does not involve the participants directly. Studies have shown that people with ASD can take on the co-designer role in early phases of the software design process. We present a longitudinal study that investigates how adolescents with ASD participate as co-designers in an iterative software design process. In this work, we conducted seven co-design workshops with six adolescents with ASD over eight months. The team exchanged ideas and communicated through group discussion and drawings. Our findings suggest that: (1) parents, community group and fellow participants play a pivotal role in supporting a longitudinal ASD co-design study and (2) adolescents with ASD are also able to make better design decision over an iterative software design process. These findings should be considered when engaging adolescents with ASD as co-designers in a software design process.

Last impressions might count more

Graph showing a peak one third of the way through the time scale and another at the end of the visitor experience.First impressions might not be as critical as we first thought or were taught. This is especially the case with website start or landing pages. The Axess Lab has a good article on a flipped approach to web design. It seems the critical points for website visitors is their “peak experience” – best or worst- and the last experience. The last experience is the most important. This is based on Nobel Prize winning masterpiece, Thinking Fast and Slow. The article goes on to explain how to get the best impact for the last experience using the peak-end rule.

For an example of a good end experience, the article links to a UK Government thank you page. It was so well done that they encouraged more people to sign up as organ donors. There’s also some advice on footers. 

As always, Axess Lab uses good techniques and design for its own web pages and this article. That makes it an interesting read for anyone, not just IT people. More good material in other articles as well.

Graphic courtesy of Axess Lab


Web accessibility made easy: the how and why

A graphic with line drawings of a computer screen and some of the accessibility icons.Everyone should know about web accessibility, not just IT people. That’s because so many of us contribute to the digital world one way or another – social media, personal blog sites and the places we work.
If you want to find out about web accessibility the easy way – and why you should do it, help is at hand. The Commons website has a guide that’s easy to read, understand and follow. While there are many different guides around, this one is comprehensive without being overwhelming. It brings the key points together and makes it easy to understand why web accessibility is so important – for everyone.

The nice part about the design (we should take note) is they don’t try to give you too much information in one go. You can get the general idea and principles first. Then when you need to know more, the links will provide it. The topics start with the usual ones – text size, colour contrast, etc., and then some of the things most people don’t think about. It nicely concludes with a section on inclusive language and disability etiquette. Remember, 44% of Australian adults have difficulty reading and writing. One of the best guides around. 

Note: The Commons Library website has a host of resources and information about advocacy.

Graphic courtesy The Commons website.


Creating videos for learning

A woman is fixing a camera to a tripod.Many teachers and instructors are making their own videos for their learners. With today’s technology it’s becoming easier. But how to make the videos universally designed for online learning? A paper from Ireland gives really practical advice from preparing videos to editing for universal design. It lists step by step activities for planning and preparation, script writing, filming and a detailed section on equipment. The key concepts for editing are also included.

Captioning used to be very expensive when done by outside contractors, but YouTube and Google have improved their technology and made it possible for do-it-yourself captioning. This is a big step forward and really no excuse for not doing it. We know that captioning helps many people to better understand content regardless of their level of hearing. It’s also handy when you can’t have the sound on or if it’s not in your first language.

In summary, videos allow educators to engage with students and prepare learners for practical sessions. Inaccurate or poorly designed videos can confuse and cause disengagement. Educators often lack time as well as training, but with the practical advice in this article, they can improve and thereby save time in the long run.

The title of the article is, Practical Recommendations on the Production of Video Teaching Resources.  

Abstract:  Instructional videos are widely used and potentially highly effective and flexible teaching tools. They are increasingly employed in practical skills training in the fields of science and healthcare. However, educators may struggle to source suitable videos demonstrating safe and suitable techniques. In addition, academic staff may lack the resources and expertise needed to produce and edit effective video in-house. This article provides an overview of the planning, shooting, editing and sharing of video footage to produce effective teaching resources. The aim is to provide guidance for academic staff who wish to develop customised teaching videos and successfully integrate them into their teaching.

Staying vigilant on web accessibility

A pair of hands holding a tablet with a computer screen in the background.Digital infrastructure accessibility and content accessibility are not the same things. Infrastructure covers things like elements that show up on every page and anything related to navigation. Content is anything that can be updated and uploaded. So that’s text, documents, articles, photos and videos. A key point in an informative article from Sheri Byrne-Haber is:

Every single time the content is updated, content accessibility should be reassessed. 

This is particularly relevant if staff or third parties are free to upload content onto a site, or are providing content. The other key point is:

Accessibility is never one-off and done.

The article uses a case study to show how organisations can be left vulnerable to lawsuits if they don’t check regularly for accessibility. Webpages can be accessible today, but next week they might not be because new content has not been assessed for accessibility. The title of the article is, What’s more expensive than getting sued over inaccessibility?


Talking to Users: An introvert’s guide

A desk has highlighter pens in different colours, working papers and a smart phone.What if you are a designer and you’re not sure how to engage with your user base? According to a UXDesign blog post, many designers are introverted and don’t know where to start with user interviews. A fear of talking to strangers brings up many thoughts: 

I’m no researcher, what if I don’t ask the right questions?
What if I say something stupid or offend the person?
How do I not contaminate the responses with my own views?

So some tips for stepping outside the comfort zone are helpful. The article has some practical advice such as, don’t jump straight into the questions without some light introductory chat. And fix the things you didn’t like about the interview process for the next time. The title of the article is An introvert’s guide to starting user interviews.

However, it might be the case that the personalities that go into ICT are not the people who are good at user interaction. This might be why higher education programs are not producing graduates who are skilled at this side of the design process. Indeed, according to an article from Norway, the institutions are not training people to even meet basic legal design requirements for accessibility.

Interacting with Interaction Design

Two men in dark suits stand in front of an interactive whiteboard showing a webpage with lots of information.Higher education institutions teaching interaction design are not producing graduates skilled at producing accessible interaction experiences. An article from Norway reports on the investigation of study programs to see what level of interaction design is included. Few programs include universal design expertise. And graduates are not necessarily conversant with legal and ethical accessibility responsibilities. This is a concern given that we live in a digital world and we all need accessible user experiences. An important finding and it would be good to find out if this is the case in higher education institutions in other countries.

In a nutshell, interaction design is about shaping software so that the end user understands where to find information.

The interaction designer plays an important role in facilitating high-quality interactions and accessible user experiences. Currently, interaction designers have diverse and often interdisciplinary backgrounds, in which may create recruitment challenges for the industry. It is also a likely contributory factor to reported challenges on student recruitment to interaction design (IxD) programs – and consequently the reported industry shortage for IxD skillsets. Thus, we need to better understand the interaction designer’s expertise and skills. Facing this fact, the present study provides analysis of Norwegian higher educational (HE) programs within IxD. We investigate in-depth what characterizes the programs, and describe their current content, focus and organization. Overall, the programs educating interaction designers are quite heterogeneous. One of the main finding is that few programs include adequate universal design expertise, and graduates are as such not necessarily conversant with their legal and ethical responsibilities as IxD professionals. We also find a discrepancy between online program presentation and actual content. The paper concludes that added work is needed to alleviate an inadequate articulation of IxD expertise, graduates skillsets, and better support academic and industry recruitment.


Automatic Accessibility: Can it happen?

A smartphone is laying flat on the table and rising out of it is a three d castile building.What if web tools could provide accessibility by default? Susanna Laurin thinks it’s possible. In Europe there is a web accessibility directive that says all public sector websites, documents and apps must be accessible. So, hundreds of thousands of interfaces must be retrofitted. Public servants, developers, UX designers, graphic designers, web authors and others must be trained to make sure new interfaces are inclusive.

The European Parliament has funded a pilot project to see what can be built into authoring tools to create automatic accessibility. Laurin explains in her article how this is working. Technically it looks promising because the existing tools share many of the same challenges. The next step is to start developing and designing tools with in-built accessibility features.

You don’t have to be an ICT specialist to recognise the importance of this project, and that the European Parliament sees this as a priority. This item is from the G3ict blog site

For non-tech people who want to understand a bit more, have a look at this Easy Read version of How can new technologies make things better for people with disabilities?   

How can you use a computer if you are blind?

shows corner of a laptop and a smartphone on a deskHow does a blind person use a computer?  There are lots of ways depending on the type of blindness and individual preferences. When you understand how people who are blind or have low vision use a computer, it makes web accessibility more understandable too. Axess lab has several videos with real life examples:

“There is no better way to understand the importance of accessibility and inclusive design than learning from actual users with disabilities. Here’s a collection of our favorite Youtube videos where people showcase how they use assistive technologies like screen readers, eye tracking, zoom and switches.”

My favourite is Molly with her “Apple orchard” because a first glance she doesn’t look blind, and she is good at explaining.

Videos of people with disabilities using tech

Smart Cities for All

cover of Smart Cities Toolkit.How smart can a smart city be? ‘Smart’ is everything from the footpath to the website. So not so smart if it doesn’t include everyone and join the dots between all the factors that make a city a city.  With digital transformations happening worldwide, the aim of the Smart Cities for All Toolkit is to eliminate the digital divide and improve urban environments for everyone. In the video below, James Thurston talks about the issues cities are facing.

The main part of the toolkit, the Inclusive Innovation Playbook, is detailed and aimed at a policy and planning level. Stakeholder participation and inclusion is an essential theme. Case studies assist with understanding. There is a helpful checklist at the end of the Playbook. There’s a lot to digest, but this means it isn’t a cursory overview with simplistic solutions. It goes much deeper than a digital accessibility checklist. This is about joining the dots across city assets and leveraging them for everyone’s benefit. Other sections of the toolkit cover: 

    • Toolkit Overview
    • Guide to adopting an ICT accessibility procurement policy
    • Implementing priority ICT accessibility standards
    • Communicating the case for stronger commitment to digital inclusion in cities
    • Database of solutions for digital inclusion in cities

“The toolkit supports a range of organizations and roles related to Smart Cities, including government managers, policy makers, IT professionals, disability advocates, procurement officials, technology suppliers, and developers who design Smart City apps and solutions.

Each of the tools addresses a priority challenge identified by global experts as a barrier to the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities and older persons in Smart Cities.”  See also Smart Cities for All: A Vision

James Thurston of 3Gict discusses the issues in the video below.