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Us5: BBC online videos help people with learning difficulties make their choices

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Jonathan Hassell | 14:45 UK time, Monday, 7 December 2009

us5.jpgOne group who often get overlooked when people are discussing accessibility are the 3% of the population who have learning difficulties.

This is partly because there isn't enough known in the accessibility community about how to make websites accessible to people with learning difficulties, and partly because their needs - for pages based around pictures or graphics, with simple text and large buttons for navigation - can often be so different from the needs of other website users.

Back in 2005, we did some research into how people with learning difficulties felt the BBC served their needs. This research recommended that, while fewer people with learning difficulties were online than the general population, this underserved audience might benefit from us creating specific Internet content for them, based on their interests, predominantly using images and video, and working together with organisations who best understand them like Mencap and PeopleFirst.

Since then we've launched services like the CBBC Newsreader which have made BBC news more accessible to older children with learning difficulties, by providing a simple, switch-based interface around news stories which are read out to them by a high-quality synthetic voice.
And I'm happy today to announce the launch of Us5 - a set of interactive videos created by, for and with people with learning difficulties to help them think through one of the biggest issues affecting them at the moment - the opening up of more choices to them resulting from the Government's move to direct payments, individual budgets and self-directed support.

People with learning difficulties have never before been so able to choose for themselves how they live their lives and what they want to do. However, because they've seldom had the opportunity before, this freedom can come with a lot of challenges and responsibility.
Created for the BBC by Gamelab London, Us5 shows people with learning difficulties five video stories of people like themselves making big choices, and supports them in thinking through what they might do in the same circumstances, and what the consequences might be.

The project is special in a number of ways...

  • The video stories are 'hybrid fiction' - narratives based on 'true stories' developed and plot lined in workshops from the real experiences of young people with learning difficulties which are then simplified and engineered to bring home particular messages across five dramatic episodes.

  • The videos were acted by a company of actors with learning difficulties, specially put together for Us5 by producer Owen Smith and director Adam Koronka from Yarrow Learning Disability Charity (who previously made Coping Strategies), and featuring guest performances by Ainsley Harriott and Kellie Shirley (Eastenders)

  • Interactive comic strips are then used to allow users to try out different choices at the end of each episode to give users an immediate chance to make their own decisions.

  • Us5 is one of the very few materials online created specially for people with learning difficulties, and has been a chance for the BBC to better understand how to create fully accessible content for this audience.

  • Us5 has also been a chance for us to work together with Mencap, resulting in us sharing the Us5 videos as stimulus materials for engaging people with learning difficulties in Mencap's Plannet website - a new online planning model for young people with learning difficulties aged 16-25, which is currently in pre-launch testing. Plannet aims to enable young people going through transition to work towards self-directed support, which is part of the government's 25 year strategy on disability arising from the 'Improving the life chances of disabled people' report.

I'm delighted that, even though they were created primarily for the audience of people with learning difficulties, the quality and style of the resulting videos has already attracted one BIMA nomination, and a nomination for Best Children's Drama at this year's Children's Baftas.

Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of learning disability charity Mencap, comments:

"The Us5 films were a great opportunity for Mencap to work together with BBC Future Media and Gamelab to develop lively and relevant content to support the Mencap Plannet website. Mencap Plannet aims to deliver accessible and age appropriate materials for young people with a learning disability at a time when decisions over their future are so important."

The BBC 2005 report found that inexpensive broadband connections and multi-media content were key to making the web more accessible to people with learning difficulties. Now, approaching the end of 2009, broadband access is becoming cheaper all the time, and content like Us5 is providing a great example of what the Internet can offer to people with learning difficulties when their needs are specifically taken into account.

I hope this will encourage many more people with learning difficulties online - much has changed since those text-heavy days of 2005.

Jonathan Hassell is Head of User Experience & Accessibility, BBC FM&T

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    it's a good thing, but how many people with disabilities actually live by themselves? Don't they always have nurses who take care of them?

    I mean look at all the sites offering help for people with learning disabilities:

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=people+with+learning+disabilities&btnG=Google+Search&meta=cr%3DcountryUK|countryGB&style=1


  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I would say this blog post a very valued one.. Nowadays everything is online so online videos are very helpful way to educate people.

  • Comment number 5.

    That is a great resource for people with disabilities and it will only improve. It is great that the BBC ensured it was made both by and for people with disabilities. Which is very important.
    Too many things are designed without the end user in mind. Therefore, people with disabilities are left further outside the learning curve than most.

    I am an ex-tutor and am mindful that lessons and learning must also target the slower learners in a class, so everyone is able to understand, follow and ultimately pass the exam at the end of it. Most were not able to do any of these things and left them greatly disadvantaged.
    Maybe this is something that may lead to a project in education for people with disabilities initiated by the BBC. I can see it could easily be adapted to the classroom and for learning on computers.

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  • Comment number 9.

    It is a great service from BBC , as autism and disorders like ADHD are more common diagnosis , one has to look at rehabilitation opportunities for the unfortunate sufferers who are all the more suitable for help and rehabilitation ,if cure is not possible should be the byword, this is a great work from the company and some others like cerebral palsy sufferers would find such videos very helpful in making a learned choice for taking the right decision in the rehabilitation program, thanks to the creators of the online portal now that is an easier process, regards, J.A.

  • Comment number 10.

    Your information about this learning style is very helpful for everyone, especially for people with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder. We found here on [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] in Thailand at our Special Needs School that online videos help to develop coping strategies to compensate for other learning weaknesses and capitalize on the individual strength of the learners. Your online videos provide an example of what differnet learning styles are all about. It provides an opportunity for people with learning disabilities, who have the ability to perceive visual content as a form of learning. We found, that these learners tend to think more in pictures and need to create vivid mental images to retain information. They enjoy looking at maps, charts, pictures, videos, and movies and gain through this knowledge. Thank you.

  • Comment number 11.

    This is obviously welcome news for those with learning difficulties such as ADD and ADHD as it helps to incrementally transform the internet into a more inclusive medium. This program will obviously help individuals with these conditions to considerably compensate for their learning disabilities.

    The challenge though is to make assistive technologies such as these accessible to affected individuals in developing countries such as Kenya where the internet continues to be priced out of reach for the majority of the population. Gradually increasing equity of access to the internet will therefore ensure that Us5 and similar programs have a far wider impact.

  • Comment number 12.

    Your information about this learning style is very helpful for everyone, especially for people with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder. We found here on Koh Samui in Thailand at our Special Needs School in Lamai that online videos help to develop coping strategies to compensate for other learning weaknesses and capitalize on the individual strength of the learners. Your online videos provide an example of what differnet learning styles are all about. It provides an opportunity for people with learning disabilities, who have the ability to perceive visual content as a form of learning. We found, that these learners tend to think more in pictures and need to create vivid mental images to retain information. They enjoy looking at maps, charts, pictures, videos, and movies and gain through this knowledge. Thank you [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    "...this underserved audience might benefit from us creating specific Internet content for them, based on their interests, predominantly using images and video..."

    This is obviously something the BBC is to be commended for.

    I didn't get to watch much of the video as my connection is terrible today, but I was delighted to see ( despite the main focus on learning difficulties)the option for subtitles and audio description. The webmasters of the internet need to remember to make sites that are inclusive for all kinds of people, because it is such a powerful resource it should be accessible to all.

    I'm starting a blog called the dumb things which will hopefully be light hearted and entertaining about the dumb things I do, and one of the difficulties I face is in making it accessible to people who stand under disability umbrellas, because it's not practical for everyone to create specific or even additional content, though I do commend the efforts of those that do.

  • Comment number 15.

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  • Comment number 18.

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  • Comment number 19.

    I myself am very lucky to have a healthy child, however I have a couple of friends with children who have learning disabilities. These friends swear by the use of video to help their children learn, especially my friend who has a son with Asperger's syndrome.

    Great work BBC, and thank you

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  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Russ - people with learning disabillites are not ill and therefore do not need nurses.

    Many of them live independently with support from workers like myself - and no that is not a contradiction.

    They also pay the full license fee and are just as deserving as the minority who listen to 6music - yet there has been an outcry about the proposal to cancel his station.

    thanks for listening

  • Comment number 22.

    21. At 00:00am on 25 Apr 2010, jo wrote:

    "They also pay the full license fee and are just as deserving as the minority who listen to [the radio]"

    Err, one doesn't need to pay a licence fee to use a radio, haven't had to for a good 30 to 40 years, but yes, people with learning difficulties should be accommodated just as those who have accessibility problems are, regardless of how the medium is funded.

  • Comment number 23.

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  • Comment number 26.

    It's a really cool feature, and very useful for a lot of people with learning difficulties out there. My wives brother have always been having problems learning things in school but awhile ago he started in a special training cause where they used a similar approach like this and that really did seem to work for him at least.
    Regards,Charles

  • Comment number 27.

    My brother has dyslexia but recently graduated from a University in Bangladesh and is now part of themba club. Our family is extremely proud, although dyslexia is probably considered a mild learning difficulty. He found that alternative learning methods where helpful to him especially when he was younger.

    A couple of articles of interest on alternative/creative/flexible learning methods if anyone is interested:

    http://www.jasminepasch.co.uk/old_site/bangladesh.html

    http://womennewsnetwork.net/2010/05/12/bangladeshgirls893/

  • Comment number 28.

    I think it’s a good idea to make videos in order to help some people with learning difficulties make their choices.

  • Comment number 29.

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  • Comment number 31.

    The guy in the picture at top having long straight hair pointed upwards is really becoming a lot popular nowadays. Is it really valuable in the fashion world.? I have rarely seen people around my area dressing like that and sometimes I wonder making my style similar to him.[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

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