Paper prototype I

After lots of hours of drawing, pasting, printing, cutting,… the paper prototype of the Facebook application for people with a disability is finally finished so I can evaluate it tomorrow. It is only a part of the application because I will first test it with parents and also a part with children who can read. For the persons who have trouble reading I’m still looking for good icons to replace as much of text as possible but still be clear enough.


New storyboard & Meeting

After three really busy weeks packed with deadlines I was able to finish my new storyboard which shows you part 1 of my thesis. A Facebook application for people with a disability. The first two pages of the storyboard are for the parent or guardian of the person with a disability to set what he or she is able to do.

The third page shows how the standard application will look like if everything is enabled and if it is for a person of “level 1” who can read and understand perfectly but has problems with knowing who to trust or not, what is good online behavior and not,… So the parent will be able to restrict the possibilities of facebook. In that way the parent or guardian does not have to worry about those things anymore. So as you can see most of the things are standard things you can do on facebook but with a slightly different interface but the power of the application will be in the ability to block (changed but more on this later) certain features in the application.

For the people with a disability who have problems with reading but are able to understand (almost) everything there will be like planned in the original application text-to-speech options. The idea is that there will be a speaker like icon where the person can tap on and then select the words or buttons that he/she does not understand and those will then be spoken aloud.

The last category will be the people with a disability who have problems with understanding the words. For them I will try to convert statuses etc. to pictograms but for this I still need more information.

Like already mentioned, there is already a small change to the storyboard for setting the permissions. Now this is an ON-OFF button but my coordinator José pointed out that blocking instead of hiding a certain feature could cause frustration for the person with a disability. He/she might start wondering why he/she is not able to do that and others are,… For that reason it might be better to give the options ON | Hide | Block. So hide will really hide that feature in the app so the person with the disability will not see it exists. Block on the other hand will allow the person to see everything and for example allow to type a new status but when it really wants to commit the action then a prompt will show to type in the parent/guardian password.

Any suggestions and/or comments are much appreciated!

A change of plans…

Tuesday I had my first meeting with prof. Duval to talk about what I already had found, my planning and what my tutor José and I concluded for the application. He said that he liked the idea and that it was good work but that he feared that the application does a lot of things and that some aspects of it are maybe more general learning environment and not specifically for people with special needs. The problem is than that at the end of the year everything might work a little bit but nothing really great… That’s why he advised me that I should concentrate on a part of the application, draw it, test, implement, test again and repeating this until I’m really convinced that this is a great application and it would actually help people with a mental disability. Then I could focus on a different part and do the same again.

We started discussing about the for example first part of the application I could make – Facebook for the disabled. I could use the technologies I was already planning to use in it so it is still usable for the learning part of the thesis like Text-to-speech and visualization of the words a student has problems with, clustering similar students,… I should also check some specific specifications that aren’t really measurable but might be interesting to investigate like for example when something isn’t working my brother (who has a mental disability) gets more rapidly upset instead of just relativizing it, how to avoid this?

After talking some more about this prof. Duval mentioned that this could also be expanded to be used by people without a disability for example in the car. Then big clear buttons, pictograms and text-to-speech could also be very handy. This is called access for all like for example the curb ramps on a sidewalk were initially designed for people in a wheelchair but afterwards it was also used by people with a baby trolley, luggage,…

So quite a big change of plans but after thinking about it, it is for the best. Now I can concentrate more on a smaller aspect and try to perfection it as much as I can. Like they say, “Less is more”…


Here are the storyboards like I announced in the previous post. They sketch the most important functionalities but not all of them because some things are relatively straightforward and depend on the possibilities of iOS or simply because I’m not entirely sure yet on how to show it like for example the visualization of the social profile of the students with disabilities. The majority of the app does not depend on how this is done so this will be kept for a future step.

Suggestions are still highly appreciated!

Use cases

To get an idea of the different interactions possible with the application I made a storyboard and some use cases. I’m still busy with making the storyboard a little bit clearer but the use cases are ready so here they are. Adjustments are of course still possible so if you have any remarks or suggestions don’t hesitate to put them in the comments. They will be greatly appreciated!

1. Use case of the teacher with the teacher app:

2. Use case of the student with the student’s app:

3. Use case of the parents with the student’s app:

Idea’s after last meeting

During the last meeting with my coordinator José this thursday we concluded what the application should do:

  1. Like I concluded from the interview, the students will be able to use text-to-speech in the application. They should be able to select words, sentences or paragraphs in an easy way which the current voice-over functionality on the iPad does not.
  2. The application will gather all the words the students select to be read aloud.
  3. The teacher will be able to see this data in her application. In that way he/she is able to see if there are certain words the students select repeatedly. That way he/she can work on those words.
  4. This data can also be used to make a user profile of the student. This could for example be used in a web search application. When the student looks for certain topics, the application can do a risk evaluation of the resources and recommend or discourage visiting a website because there could be a lot of words in it where the user has problems with. This can avoid frustration. For this the IMS Acc4All (social tagging of the resources) and LIP (this specification defines a user profile) standards can be used.
  5. There will also be Facebook integration. This will be limited to accessing the classgroup’s discussion boards, the accessing of profile pictures for the teachers application. The reason the classgroup discussion board will be integrated is that in this way they will be working in an environment that protects them from some other facebook functionality that some people with a mental disability have problems with like explained in the post about the interview.
  6. Twitter feed for quick announcements from the teacher.
  7. Of course the application will also be able to do the “basic” things we would expect in an application that will be used in a class environment like an attendance checker, grade stats, calendar, assignments checker,…

Book: Making apps for the iPhone

I am currently reading a great book I found on called “Apps maken voor de iPhone” by developer Koen Pijnenburg. It’s in Dutch and explains all the basics for developing iPhone apps. Since the iPad has the same operating system the basics are the same for both devices.

The book expects that the reader already has a couple of years of programming experience in an object oriented language. I bought it because I read in a review that it explains Objective-C very well and since I didn’t know the language yet and it is required for developing on iOS that would come in handy…

Field research: Interview

Monday 11 October 2010 I interviewed Ann De Leersnijder (teacher for students with social and emotional problems) and Peter Bauwens (ICT teacher) at “De Sprankel” in Mechelen. This is a school for people with mental disabilities.

The interview was really interesting because this is one of the very few schools that already use ICT tools for people with disabilities. Not yet in the classroom though, they have ICT-lessons were they use those tools. For example they use Sprint which is a text-to-speech program normally used by people with dyslexia but this is also very useful for those with a mental disability. They pointed out that this isn’t the ideal way though. Sprint is not designed to be used by people with a mental disability but solely for people with dyslexia. The problem is that there is just no alternative… There are so much opportunities in this field which could help the people with a mental disability a lot and allow them to have a higher life standard.

They also use Wai-Not, this is sort of a private social network were the students can chat and send e-mails to each other. This is specially made for people with mental disabilities and uses betaprents. This are pictograms so that the ones that can’t read can transform sentences into pictograms. Peter pointed out that too badly the other way around is not implemented (I showed them Proloquo2go and that is exactly what they want Wai-Not to implement). It also has auditive support so the students can let it speak everything out loud. The problem with it is that it is really limited. Sometimes the students just want to let one word or sentence be spoken out loud and that is not possible. It also does not show which word where in the text is spoken while this is something that stimulates and improves their reading capacities. The other big problem is that this is a private network so yes it is secure and avoids abuse but on the other hand they are again separated from other people without a mental disability… Having a mental disability does not mean you can not have friends without one! I mentioned that it could be possible to use the api of for example Facebook to make a simple, safe application for Facebook with tools for people with a mental disability so they can also be socially active. They responded that if something like that existed the world would open for a lot of people with a mental disability.

So what I can conclude from this interview is how important text-to-speech software is for people with a mental disability. This allows them to do a lot more. It is not that they can not understand things or process information. It is just that they do it differently and therefore perhaps slower but they may not be underestimated and too badly this happens too much…

Social media for social inclusion of youth at risk: Conference Day 2

The second day of the conference started with the presentation “Youth work and the use of new media: is it safe? – The legal perspectives”. This presentation was about the legal rules that apply, like for instance social network sites are forbidden for youngsters under 13 years old. This I knew but what I didn’t knew was that this also includes social network sites like Ning which is a closed network site.

After this presentation we had the choice again between two tracks. I chose track 1 because it seemed the most interesting track for my thesis.

  1. The first presentation was “Measuring impact of the use of social software for social inclusion of youth at risk”. This was about developing an instrument that can measure the progress and impact of the social software. The results are in the paper coming online on the incluso website. Now to do this, they say that digital inclusion relates to three things:
    – Better communication skills
    – More active citizenship (following the news,…)
    – Increased social capital
    An interesting discovery that they made was that the use of social software increases skills more than just using a computer.
  2. The second presentation was “Reflections on the new peer to peer news paradigm as exploited by youngsters. The influence of both education level and type on news participation, seeding behavior and attitudes within web 2.0 environments”. This one was really interesting, not for the thesis in particular but in general some interesting insights. The Media Expertise Centre of the KHMechelen found that the youth (~19 years old) doesn’t want serious things on facebook, msn,… these are all about friends and they don’t want to mix fun and serious stuff. For that reason they also do not really like interactivity on serious sites because it makes it less serious… I do not really agree with everything they said but it is true that you want the serious things to come from serious sites. I don’t want people just putting news on there status on facebook because the seriousness of the news is compromised by doing so. What I do like is people who share serious news by posting the articles from a serious website like for example De Standaard. What I also did not understand is that the youth doesn’t like interactivity on serious sites. Indeed it could lead to ridiculous comments, but if it is well moderated then it could lead to interesting information or even point out that the article is not entirely correct (which too badly happens a lot!).
  3. After the coffee break it was time for the “SHARE IT” presentation. This was about extending the classroom to the living environment. Education can take place anywhere… [more on this later]
  4. The fourth presentation was “Taking things beyond the experimental stage. An integrative approach to using online strategies in social services”. This was about JAC, the youth advisory centre in Belgium. They pointed out that the biggest problem is that youngsters are ashamed. So they are always looking for new ways to get in contact with them -> Social network sites. This is also the reason why in my opinion in an application for in the classroom there must be a tool to allow anonymous interaction for those people who are shy and ashamed to say things.
  5. Then it was time for “Where the worlds of e-inclusion and evidence based meet”.
  6. The last presentation before lunch was “Social Inclusion and Digital Engagement: Towards a Measurement Framework” by the European commission. This was about the fact that survey’s are not a good idea for youth at risk since they are mostly not accessible so there is a need for better measurement utilities.

After the lunch there were three more presentations:

  1. The first one was from Bednet, “Inclusion and children with medical needs – the Bednet case”. This was very interesting for my thesis. This organization has an application that makes it possible for youth that has to stay home or in bed can still attend classes and actively participate so it seems they aren’t gone. The application has a “Raise hand” button so the teacher knows the student wants to ask/answer something. This is also something I would like to add in my thesis application. This presentation made me also wondering if this occurs a lot with people with disabilities. That for example for some tests they are absent for a while. If so perhaps this can also be inserted into the application…
  2. The second presentation was “Tackling youth crime: exploring technological solutions to enhance youth engagement and promote social inclusion”. At first this seemed less interesting for my thesis but then they showed a very interesting graph that the biggest target segment focus of cases and projects are the disabled. [graph to be inserted when slides available] They also mentioned Design4all accessibility which might be interesting for the thesis.
  3. The last presentation of the conference was “Youngsters and their mediated bedrooms: a socio-demographic analysis of differences in ownership and use of new information technologies”. This showed some facts and figures on how the situation is in Flanders. Interesting was that 78% of the youngsters in Flanders have an internet connection and 81% has a pc.

To end the conference there was a research and policy note: “A common view point of 5 FP7 projects and Conference participants on future research in the area of ICT driven initiatives for social inclusion of youth at risk. Discussion Panel on questions raised by the researchers, practitioners and the audience”. It started again with the European commission saying how important this research area is. That the youth at risk is at the top of EU importance. There was also a voting with the question “Extending the work of intermediary organizations working with marginalized young people to social network sites and other social media brings nothing but positive effects”

The answer from the participants was clearly positive and so was my answer after this very interesting conference of which I’m really happy I was given the chance to attend it.

Social media for social inclusion of youth at risk: Conference Day 1

Today and tomorrow I have the opportunity to attend the international INCLUSO conference on social media for e-Inclusion of youth at risk organized in Leuven. Youth at risk is of course a very wide term and is used for youngsters who live for example in poverty, came in touch with the law,… But more importantly for my thesis also people with disabilities like dyslexia, autism, Down syndrome,… Therefore my coordinator invited me to go and I also thought it would be really interesting to gather idea’s for my thesis, check out existing applications and thoughts of experts in the field.

For more information on the conference in general you can surf to the incluso website:

Now what have I learned from day 1 at the conference. I must admit I was kind of nervous because it was my first time at a conference and did not really know what to expect. There were at least 120 participants from 14 different countries but everyone was friendly and very social. Had some really nice conversations with interesting people.

The most important part were of course the presentations. Before lunch there were three big topics.

  1. The first one was presented by Miguel Gonzalez Sancho Bodero of the European Commission about the EU views on ICT driven initiatives for youth at risk. This presentation gave a good idea on how important this topic is. They talked about how relevant ICT is for youth. These days the social aspect of ICT is very important and necessary to fully participate in the society.
  2. The second topic was about INCLUSO self (fun side note, the presenter (Wouter Van den Bosch) used the iPad -his notes- in combination with a laptop -the ppt-. Could work for a teacher too perhaps for the thesis…). This presentation was mostly about how important social networks are these days to retrieve information. Instead of searching for information it is now more pushed to you. Again the problem though is that not all of us are on board. Those that could benefit most lack the access, the digital divide. At the end of his presentation the presenter gave a very important tip: Get in touch with the youngster, they will tell you what to do. This is one of the fundamental aspects in CHI, you need to know what the user wants and the only way to find out is to talk and test with them. Another important aspect he talked about is the privacy and ethical issues that come with these social networks. If for example I would integrate a social network in my thesis application, I’ll have to make sure that it is secure enough so others won’t be able to take abuse of the youngster at risk.
  3. The third and last topic before lunch was “Experiences from the INCLUSO pilots Scotland, Belgium, Austria and Poland”. I won’t go into detail for every pilot but some things were really interesting for my thesis. The first thing was not in the presentation itself but more in the way they presented it. They used voting software with voting devices, but the people with an iOS device or BlackBerry were able to download the application “Response” which is also great for in a class environment. It shows you the question and answers on the screen, so you just have to press the answer instead of pressing the number corresponding an answer on the presentation screen. For people with a mental disability this can for example be changed into symbols. After the voting you were able to see a graph with the percentages which you can always view again in the history.

Another useful thing for my thesis was used in both the pilot in Scotland and Poland, it is called Ning and is a software tool that allows you to create your own social network. They used it because facebook for example can be really confusing for some people and with Ning you are able to create a simpler version with just the features you want it to have. For example make more use of symbols instead of just text for the thesis or perhaps make it easy to let the social tool speak words out loud.

Then it was time for lunch, here I had the chance to talk to some people about my thesis and their work. It was really nice to hear that most people really see a lot of potential in the iPad as a device that will change the way people will learn things.

After the lunch the lunch there was first a presentation from Childfocus about the risks and opportunities of social media which is indeed an important aspect to keep in mind. After this presentation there were 4 presentations about the experiences from Replay, ComeIn, Umsic and Hands.

The most interesting one for my thesis was the project Hands. It is a project for autistic youth. The idea is that autistic people feel safe at school and at home but everything else is danger for them. For this reason they created a mobile platform for helping them with taking the bus, shopping, taking medicines,… They used social stories, step by step guides for daily routines. The teacher has an application that is connected to a database. The teacher can then personalize content of the individual devices of the autistic youngsters and register his or hers activities. (more info) The researchers say that thanks to this device the autistic youngster even created friendships.

Then we came to the last part of day 1 of the conference. Here we had to choose which track to follow (both tracks had different topics). I chose track 1 with the first presentation being about “Identifying young people at risk of learning exclusion: evidence from the educational system in England”. This was mostly a presentation with a lot of numbers, interesting but less useful for thesis. The second presentation was “Offline youngsters and the digital divide, or Revisiting the concept of ‘Digital Natives’ “. This one was quite shocking, it showed that 16% of the youth in Europe has (almost) no access to the internet. The strange thing is that it does not necessarily have to be in families living in poverty but sometimes rich families forbid their kids.

So this was my report of day one. Conclusion, it was all really interesting and I found some new idea’s for my thesis. Hopefully tomorrow will be of the same succes!