INMD workshop – last day

today is the last day of the INMD workshop – on the program for today is more usertesting and an afternoon of talk from selected experts. I will try to keep notes as we go along today as I am not sure whether I will have time to write this up afterwards.

MORNING SESSION – user testing
I had fun helping the Lisa, Alex and George with their ‘iBrow’ application. Their idea of a image sharing / uploading application is inspiring and it was nice to see our users have fun with images and with sharing their interests.

We went onto to testing a site in working progress:
newham – easy read

It was interesting to hear the different opinions – very surprising at times. Though we expected people to find the icon driven navigation easier – our testers seemed to prefer to read the text. A few points we found:

  • rollovers should be as larger as their boxes (if visually prominent)
  • text colours with high contrast are preferred for ease of reading
  • symbols were interpreted quite unpredictably at times – careful consideration needs to be taken in order to avoid confusion

making guidelines accessible…?!
our task was to brainstorm notes on how the guidelines might be written to be inclusive of our ID group. This proved to be as hard as expected – and thought we managed to put down a few good points I feel we merely pinned down good practices for usability and accessibility. Here are our notes in detail:

AFTERNOON SESSION – expert panel

Ann McMeekinPixelDiva

  • testing tools might be suitable for specific tasks but not for the ID usergroups
  • ID users will require specific testing
  • keep trying to push toward the right aim, making site as accessible as possible
  • pick your battles – and show examples (eg YouTube videos) of disabled users to make your point
  • accessibility is a journey not a destination

Nick Weldin Paddington Arts

  • internet is becoming more complex – so are the user groups
  • bare in mind the support workers who might assist people with learning difficulties
  • keyboard control is vital

Simon Detheridgewidgit

  • symbols can hugely enhance the accessibility of websites
  • speech facilities will also aid usablility
  • symbolworld = online reference
  • additional advantages are easy understanding for people with poor language skills, literacy problems
  • isaac site as example of symbol usage
  • for symbolised alternatives: access from home page, limit navigation to less than 8 items, symbolise 1 sentence in 1 line (due to no symbols for punctuation), do not overload the page with a vast number of symbols

Antonia HydeUnited Response

  • five tips on ‘big is beautiful’
  • icons, graphics and pictures
    keep supportive graphics at a large size
  • interaction
    be clear in indicating interactive elements
  • controls
    put user in control over text size for example
  • control access – be clear on the main functions
  • help – make help files available and clearly visible within the page

Jonathan HassellBBC
(participating writer on PAS78)

  • inclusion
    try multimedia, such as video – make use of web2.0 functionalities
  • personlisation
    try personlising interfaces – complexity vs simplicity
    (working example: BBC’s homepage feature is customisable)
  • beyond inclusion
    try creating something special where needed (be careful not to ghettoise…)
    in specific instances it will be the better solution to create specific features/pages for a select audience

Andy MinionRIX centre

  • including multimedia is clearly a preferred interest of the ID group
  • positive influence of symbol usage making people re-think content structure

Today was a nice end to a great workshop ;-)

Before I finish this post however I have to say my bit about one part of our expert panel which really bothered me – the symbols and widgits issue… This had shocked me at the very beginning of the workshop when we heard about the licensing of these symbols and the sheer cost imposed upon anyone wishing to implement them.
Simon Detheridge from widgit, the company selling the software and licenses, presented what I would describe more of sales pitch than a few words on the issue of ID users needs. I was skeptical from the start, of course. But listening to him elaborate on the symbols being part of education – only to be less available once people leave school – sounded just like a perfect – and horribly exploitative – business scheme to me. Highlighting other benefits of symbol use just made this point even clearer.
During the Q&A – to be fair – Simon Detheridge did receive a bit of a grilling and did well in answering. But again, what he said only confirmed what I felt. Being asked to give a ballpark figure of licensing for the use of symbols on a site such as Curry’s for example – the answer was around £2500 (to be paid by the website owner). The browser the company developed to interpret exisiting websites and translate them into symbols would cost the user a yearly licensing fee of £60 (to be paid by the user).

I think these prices are an absolute outrage – profiting from disability is simply wrong. Full stop.
No reason can be given which makes this right. One line sticks in my head “it is not like we are taking people’s language away” (quoted from memory, Simon Detheridge, widgit). – sorry, that is exactly what you are doing! By charging for the use of what you call ‘standardised symbols’. How can you claim property of something that so many people rely on?

The development of the symbols will have taken a lot of research, work and time – no doubt. And I am by no means saying that the people involved do not deserve their money, of course they do. There are however other ways of bringing in money and still do right by the target group of disabled people. Open Source – charity with funding bodies – anything….
I could go on with my rant here but I will leave it at that…. enough for 1 day ;-)

UPDATE: here’s a quick video collage of the panel which the INMD team put up on YouTube.

19/05/2008 blog,thoughts,workshops

2 Responses to “INMD workshop – last day”

  1. Gravatar Simon Detheridge says:


    I’m disappointed that you feel like that.

    One thing you haven’t pointed out is that we discussed the fact that Widgit has very different rates for non-profit organisations, which are an order of magnitude lower. We also discussed the fact that Widgit provide a degree of fair-use copyright allowance, so that anyone who has purchased a copy of our software can do a reasonable amount of stuff with the symbols, before we charge for a royalty.

    You also mention the fact that development costs have to be covered, but I suspect you don’t realise just how much it costs. We’ve had a team of 12 people working for three years on our symbolisation technology, and you can probably do some maths to extrapolate just how much that costs. – We all take significantly lower than industry-average salaries becase we find reward in what we do, which is helping people. Widgit makes a modest profit, nearly all of which is invested back into the business to fund further research, and we endeavour to keep costs as low as we can, in order to help out the people who need our software.

    We simply could not do the work that we do with government or charitable funding. We would like to, but there is simply not enough funding available to do the kind of work that we do. It’s very expensive.

    Makaton are a charity, and they still charge for their symbols. Mayer-Johnson also charge for their PCS symbols. People charge for screen readers, wheelchairs, AAC devices, text predictors, and so on. There is government funding available for the purchase of such items, but the companies that produce them do not give them away.

    The figure of £2,500 (quoted off the top of my head) concerns the bandwidth that a site as large as Curry’s would consume in using our symbols, as well as a year’s usage of a very CPU-intensive web service. We’ve looked into these kind of figures and by the time we’ve paid our datacenter bills there’s not a great deal left over from that. And that’s before you factor in the time taken for the expert technical support required in supporting something as complex as an API.

    I agree completely that it’s a great disappointment that symbol users cannot get free access to the symbols and software that they need. It’s a shame that there isn’t enough government money to either subsidise the purchase, or pay for the development. But please don’t blame the people who work hard and make significant personal sacrifices trying to produce the tools that actually improve these people’s lives, when they could all be working somewhere else for twice their salaries.


  2. Gravatar prisca says:


    thanks for your comment (and sorry for the delay in answering – been too busy for anything over the last few weeks).

    I appreciate you clarifying a few of the points and I am sorry if I sounded harsh. I am not blaming anyone working for Widgit directly and appreciate that you all are getting a lower than industry rate pay for your work. My problem is with the pricing issue overall. The fact that non-profit organisations are given a lower rate is very good but does not really solve the problem as this again would limit access to websites overall for our target group, restricting them to sites of the non-profit organisations alone.

    I might be naive and not realise the full business implications but I do find it hard to believe that this cannot be solved in any other way. Having learnt so much from the internet and the spirit of sharing knowledge online myself – I do think developing assisitive imagery such as your symbols could be done by the open source community, for example, making them available for free to those in need. I know that I myself would be happy to give some of my time to such a project – and I’m convinved I would not be alone.

    You say that you are working on “tools that actually improve these people’s lives”. Yes, looking at it from a purely theoretical point of view – I agree. But in reality, practically speaking, how many people do actually benefit if the cost alone will need to be carried by the website owner (who might not be willing to pay for this) as well as the end user who simply might not be able to afford your browser fee?

    I would argue that your tool then will only benefit people who are already being looked after and cared for – but exclude all those in different situations, trying to live more independent lives.

    Simon, I am not criticising Widgit alone here. To me – the INMD workshop highlighted the fact how little is being done – or how poor the quality of work is – to support people with intellectual disabilities, and not even that alone – but disabled users overall. I was shocked to see how poor the design and code was on so many sites which claim to be accessible to all users – or even specifically designed for users with any form of disability. The fact that there are symbols being developed to improve this situation is great in principle – but in praxis this just does not seem to be right as through the pricing alone their use is very restricted and limited to a small group within a much larger target group.

graphiceyedea prisca schmarsow – portfolio