Enhancing Internet access for people with disabilities

R.J. Seilera, A.M. Seilera, J.M. Irelanda,
A.M. Guyb and K.N. Woodwardb

aEast Vic Professional Therapies,
69 Goold St, Bairnsdale, VIC 3875, Australia

bEast Gippsland Arts and Recreation Access Group Inc.,
PO Box 209, Bairnsdale, VIC 3875, Australia

The EIA project was funded by the "Online Public Access Initiative", a federal initiative of the Australian Department of Communications and the Arts. The project was designed to establish a systematic method to introduce the Web to clients who have physical disability, are housebound, elderly, or are cognitively impaired. A system was developed which uses a touchscreen and "kiosk type" Web-browser to assist in overcoming various physical or cognitive hurdles. It provides an objective tool, the "Awareness and Assessment Protocol" (AAP), which takes the client through graded steps allowing professional documentation of various abilities — fine motor, linguistic, cognitive, and perceptual — while at the same time slowly introducing concepts such clicking on buttons, hypertext and Web navigation. An "Enhanced Web Station" (EWS) provides an interactive tutorial which extends the awareness component, and then allows the client to access and browse the Web from a familiar base. The poster presentation will interactively document the system, and results of the clinical trials using the actual touchscreen interface developed for this project.

Disability; Touchscreen; WWW; Browser; Assessment

1. Introduction

1.1. Background

This project was developed under the Department of Communication and the Arts, Online Public Access Initiative (http://www.dca.gov.au/opai.html) after a pilot project demonstrated that the Web could offer considerable benefits for people isolated by geography or disability. Some common difficulties encountered by this population include:

1.2. Principles

A method was developed to provide: The guiding principles were that:

2. Materials and methods

2.1. Hardware and software

The design principle of a Web like tool was achieved with a PC and touchscreen monitor using a standard Web-browser running in kiosk type configuration.

2.2. The Awareness and Assessment Protocol (AAP)

This is a clinical, predictive tool designed to offer an introductory experience, and also to assess the client's disability and its likely impact on Web use. It includes appropriate client background documentation, and 12 computer based activities which assess visual, touch accuracy and reading skills. The client's performance on each of the assessed activities is scored by the computer and displayed at the end of each activity. Scoring includes time taken, total correct, and items missed. Additional comments relating to observed behaviour are also recorded by the assessing clinician

2.3. The Enhanced Web Station (EWS)

This is a similarly configured computer, touchscreen and Web Browser with an interactive tutorial which extends the AAP awareness, and a Web connection. It was located in an accessible community location where clients had the opportunity to independently use the Web. The sessions were monitored by the clinicians and used to evaluate the success of the AAP in predicting successful Web use.

2.4. The EIA Web site

An EIA Web Site (http://www.gippsnet.com.au/eiad) was established to support the AAP/EWS materials with specialized links to clinical and social sources for the clients and project staff.

2.5. Method

A range of normal AAP responses from 13 people without disabilities was obtained. The responses of a further 4 known clients with disabilities was correlated with the clinical knowledge of their computer skills to assist fine tuning of the AAP. Six new clients with a range of type and severity of disability were then selected and the AAP administered. Relevant background information about educational background, previous computer experience and interest in the Internet was also obtained. These clients were subsequently moved on to the EWS where they received one session of individualized Web tutoring. Then followed two monitored sessions of independent Web browsing, the success being correlated with the predictions made by the AAP

3. Results

3.1. Components of the AAP

The AAP was implemented as a series of hypertext screens using Javascript control scripting, displayed via the touchscreen Browser interface. For each assessment activity a standard set of on-screen instructions and a practice task is available.
  1. Welcome screen: used to orientate and position the client.
  2. Touchscreen warmup: familiarizes the client with the touchscreen and provides a chance to introduce modifications, such as finger splints, if necessary.
  3. Visual field: assesses visual field. The client names symbols (or points to matching symbols if non-verbal) as they appear randomly on the screen.
  4. Touch accuracy: assesses the client's accuracy when touching on-screen symbols of decreasing size.
  5. Visual discrimination/figure ground activities: assesses a range of visual perceptual skills. The client is required to discriminate subtle differences between symbols, and identify symbols within two types of distracting backgrounds.
  6. Visual memory: assesses the ability to remember icons and symbols. The client is required to recall symbols with increasing levels of time delay and distractions.
  7. Touch/click practice: an awareness activity which uses "thumbnail" pictures to introduce the client to the concept of hot spots and rudimentary navigation.
  8. Reading single words: identifies if reading and comprehending single words is a problem. The client touches the word that matches the picture.
  9. Reading sentences: the client is instructed to select from increasingly complex sentences the one that matches a picture. Each choice appears "hot" — underlined and coloured as in a hypertext link.
  10. Reading paragraphs: includes 3 series of hypertext like menus. The client reads a question which is at the top of the screen and selects the best matched menu item.
  11. Text links: an awareness activity to introduce more of the concepts of hypertext and Web navigation.
  12. Reading hypertext: assesses the comprehension of longer passages and the ability to make abstract inferences from information presented in different hypertext formats.

3.2. Components of the EWS

The EWS was implemented via the same interface as the AAP and contains a series of interactive hypertext tutorial or practice screens, as well as a final hypertext link to the EIA Web site.
  1. Getting started: used to explain the tutorial method
  2. What is the Internet? a brief overview of the Internet and the World Wide Web.
  3. The home page: illustrates the home page concept and the Browser home button.
  4. The back button: moves forward or back through 3 linked screens with the Browser back button.
  5. Pages and scrolling: illustrates how to use pages longer or wider than the screen using the simple browser scroll buttons.
  6. Hypertext links: uses 3 local "sites" with increasingly complex hypertext links.
  7. Frames: two sets of framed pages illustrate the reasons for use of frames, and the responses in different parts of the screen.
  8. On-screen forms: an on-screen "popup" keyboard allows practice form filling of different field types.
  9. Link to the Web: a link to a permanent Web site provides a distinctive and consistent entry to the Web.

3.3. Clinical observations for two representative clients

One client is quadriplegic with normal cognitive skills but severe physical impairment. Her AAP results showed high accuracy scores, and time to complete each activity was only delayed in the Touch Accuracy activity which requires mostly physical dexterity. It would be predicted that she would be easily capable of using the Web, but her slower responses could result in a higher phone bill.

On the other hand, a second client had accuracy scores and times outside the normal range for most activities. She has cerebral palsy and moderate to severe hearing impairment but has functional oral language. She uses a computer with no specialized adaptations, but does complain of continuing difficulties with her computer. She had no difficulty touching the screen for the AAP activities, but her slow times and significant inaccuracies highlighted visual, cognitive and language impairments. This suggests that she may easily become "lost" when using the Web.

4. Discussion

The AAP appears to allow discrimination of the physical, visual and cognitive functions needed to allow a person to successfully utilize the Web. Combined with the EWS touchscreen and Web-browser, clients experience rapid Web browsing success and enjoyment. The results of the completed clinical investigation will be available in the poster presentation.