Please meet Makayla Lewis, researcher into social nerworking websites for people with cerebal palsy. Makayla is a PhD student in Human Computer Interaction Department at City University and a volunteer at Accessibility 2.0. Please do come and talk to her about this important contribution to the field of web accessibility.
Better inclusion for users with Cerebral Palsy in Social Networks, is this necessary?
Finding information about how people with Cerebral Palsy (CP) use social networks can be tricky. If you search ‘”cerebral palsy” AND “social networks”’ in Google Scholar you would get 1,580 returns, of those, most would be miscellaneous, others partly-relevant, but very few would be considered exciting. These exciting studies look at the accessibility of websites when using assistive technology to classify barriers, some identify the types of communication within social networks directed at and used by disabled users, while others look at improving computer and Internet use for users with physical disabilities by evaluating, examining and developing assistive technology. Noticeably you would find that these studies do not define what constitutes disability or focus solely on CP.
As a caregiver, friend and co-worker to several social network users with CP, my passion for research lies with understanding the needs of these users and their relationship with social networks. My research aims to “Examine how individuals with CP can be better involved in social networks”, to ultimately provide guidance for researchers, developers and professionals.
To do this, I have initially carried out an exploratory interview study investigating Computer, Internet and Social Network use within the adult CP population.
Some of my findings have included: CP users visit social network websites (favoring Facebook and Bebo) at least once per fortnight to find and communicate with existing and new friends (primarily to send ‘How are you?’ ‘What are you up to?’ messages, share photos and organize face-to-face meetings). I have also identified four key factors that prevent CP users from using social networks:
- Time on and complexity of tasks
- Abrupt or regular interface changes
- Text-based help “It would be nice to have videos or photos… text is hard to read sometimes”
- A reduction in perceived communication independence and privacy
I believe that the web especially social networks are valuable resources for people with CP, as they allow these users to maintain, discover and strengthen friendships from the comfort of their homes, as in some cases frequent Face-2-Face communication may not be possible.
I will be attending the Web 2.0 Accessibility Conference 2009 primarily to network and discuss my research with like-minded researchers and professionals in the area of accessible web design.
I look forward to seeing you there!