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User participation in the design and development of Web 2.0 technologies for people with learning difficulties

In the twenty-first century People with Learning Difficulties (PWLD) still face oppression, discrimination and exclusion from the mainstream of social life. Over recent decades the policy of the United Kingdom’s (UK) government and activist organisations regarding people with learning difficulties has been on enabling inclusion, ensuring rights, providing choice and developing advocacy and independence. People with learning difficulties have been moved out of institutions with the intention to be included and respected as equal members of society. During the same decades that the government and activist organisations have been striving for the inclusion and equality of people with learning difficulties, the use of Information Technology (IT) has reached pervasive levels, to the degree that it is almost impossible for individuals to socially function successfully, unless they have access to it. Unfortunately, most IT is not designed to be usable and accessible to people with learning difficulties and this is a major barrier for their social inclusion. Participatory Design (PD) methodologies which emphasise end-user involvement in the software development process are widely considered the key to system usability and accessibility. However, most researchers and software developers believe that people with learning difficulties are not capable of participating in the process of development as a result of their disabilities. Others, report that they do not know how to work with this specific group of disabled end-users. This discriminatory behaviour is a major reason why IT remains inaccessible to people with learning difficulties. The study described in this thesis combined Evolutionary Prototyping, a software development methodology and Participatory Action Research (PAR), a social science methodology, in order to involve a cohort of four Health Trainers with learning difficulties in the development of a Web 2.0 based system. The aims of the study were to explore how people with learning difficulties could be involved in the development of a software system and if they could use a system developed with their participation. A further aim was to explore how software developers can approach the field of Learning Disability, the issues they will face and how those issues can be overcome. Qualitative data was gathered during fourteen Participatory Action Research meetings, in which the Health Trainers were involved in research, software development and system use. The data was analysed using Thematic Content Analysis facilitated by the use of the NVivo software package. The findings were validated by the participating Health Trainers. The findings suggest that during software development participation, the Health Trainers faced a number of challenges. However, the Health Trainers indicated the type of support they needed from the researcher in order to overcome them. The support required was easy to provide and the Health Trainers managed to engage in the software development process. The study conducted a system use evaluation to explore if the developed system was usable and accessible to the Health Trainers. The Health Trainers managed to complete all the system tasks posed to them during the evaluation. This suggests that the developed system was usable and accessible to the Health Trainers. Further evidence suggests that a number of factors affected the participation of the Health Trainers during development and during the use of the system. Finally, the study explored how the developed system was used over the long run, in a period of eighteen months. The findings suggest that system use over time was affected by factors other than the system’s accessibility and usability. Concluding, the findings suggest that with easy to provide support, the Health Trainers with learning difficulties could be involved in software development and they could use a system developed with their participation. It is hoped that the findings be used by policy makers and advocacy groups, to make a case towards convincing researchers and software developers to involve more people with learning difficulties in software development, thus making systems accessible to this community of end-users.
Date January 2014
CreatorsFanou, S. K.
PublisherUniversity of the West of England, Bristol
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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