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Universal Usability: Web Fun for Individuals with Down Syndrome


In this case study by Assadour Kirijian and Matthew Myers, from A.K.A. New Media Inc. in Toronto, Canada, usability consultants and specialists in Down Syndrome worked with individuals with Down Syndrome to create a set of online tools to help individuals with Down Syndrome learn and practice the basic skills required to use the Internet. The goals of these tools are to enable individuals with Down Syndrome to take better advantage of the entertainment and educational benefits that the Internet can provide. The suite of software that they created is known as Web Fun Central.

The skills that are supported by Web Fun Central are deemed particularly important for people with Down Syndrome in their late teens who are likely to experience increased isolation as they leave high school and enter adulthood. In the course of this growing isolation, they also tend to lose some of their reading, writing, and communication skills.

The specific target group is middle-functioning (reading level grade 3 or 4) young adults aged 14–20 with Down Syndrome. From their analysis of this user population, the development team discovered that these users tended to: love music; love pop-culture; be easily led; be easily frustrated; enjoy accomplishing things; not like change; and be reward-oriented.
Web Fun Central would enable them to learn how to use the Internet for communication and entertainment, which in turn might help them maintain reading and writing skills. The interactive learning process itself lays the groundwork for the opportunity to introduce more advanced technological concepts and Internet functions in the future, and the game segments provide an enjoyable means for the user to practice the skills learned.

The case study describes how the development team worked with individuals with Down Syndrome to understand and analyze the needs of people with Down Syndrome. Together they designed, evaluated, and refined prototypes until they developed the final product.
These screens are from an application called Web World one of the modules in Web Fun Central that teaches basic web navigation skills to individuals with Down Syndrome. (Kirijian et al.)

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Kirijian, A., Myers, M. and Charland, S. (2007) Web Fun Central: online learning tools for individuals with Down syndrome. In J. Lazar (ed.), Universal Usability: Designing Information Systems for Diverse User Populations. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK.

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