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…

5 gedachten over “Field research: Interview”

  1. You say that an application that makes facebook (for example) very simple would be useful for people with a disability. I use something similar for youtube, a safari plugin that puts a new interface on top of youtube when you visit it in safari: “A cleaner youtube” ( There are tons of other plugins that for example modify the font used on facebook, or enlarge pictures when you place your mouse cursor over them.
    I hope this is at least a little bit useful:)

    1. That is indeed true, but the problem is that it should not only be simplified but some functionality should also be hidden. For example the confirming and maybe even adding of friends. It should be password protected so that the parent or sibling could confirm if that person is someone reliable and not someone who wants to take abuse of the person with a mental disability. Correct me if I’m wrong but I haven’t found a plugin yet that does that?

  2. I don’t think it’s only about hiding information or making things a lot simpler. I worked a few years with people with different disabilities and abilities in youth camps and what they need most is a simple way of thinking with a good interface. Things must me structured and certainly not changed. Buttons should be big enough, … These guys can do a lot when they are concentrated and the key goal is to keep them concentrated because some of them are distracted within a few second when something pops up or changes.

    1. Well the main reason for hiding some things is that for example my brother who also has a mental disability trusts everyone. A stranger could go to him and say, “Hey could you borrow me 5 euros, I’ll give it back to you tomorrow!” and he would do that if the stranger was kind enough because he believes and trusts everyone. This has indeed nothing to do with capabilities and I know he can do a lot of things when he concentrates but unfortunately there are people with evil intentions…

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