Most software engineering companies do not develop for special users, because they do not see the potential in this limited market. But 10% of the population worldwide are handicapped. In the United States, 14% of the population are estimated to suffer from a disability. In the population aged over 65, this figure becomes 50%. Disabilities are strongly linked with age, and our societies are facing a growing number of people aged 75 and more, who are more likely to have impairments or disabilities. This group will comprise 14.4% of the population in 2040, compared with 7.5% in 2003?almost a twofold increase (EU Commission, 2003). It is not a simple task to assess the effectiveness of multimedia for all users with disabilities. The question is more complicated if the users have special needs. This article provides a minimal requirements list that every software engineer, computer scientist, and Web designer should take into account if they develop a new multimodal software or a new Web site with multimedia elements.
Universal usability is sometimes tried to meeting the needs of users who are disabled or work in disabling conditions. This important direction is likely to benefit all users. The adaptability needed for users with diverse physical, visual, auditory, or cognitive disabilities is likely to benefit users with differing preferences, tasks, skills, hardware, and so on (Schneiderman, 2003, p. 41).
The present middle-aged user group, now using the computer for work or entertainment, will soon move into old age. It is the time to realize the problem and prepare for the solution. We should keep in mind today what we will experience when we grow old. We should design such a world now that will help us in the future!
A critical component in designing multimedia software is the production of educational programs. Obviously, it is not a simple task to assess the effectiveness of a multimedia teaching system. There are some organizations that published techniques for the evaluation of multimedia teaching software (Sik Lányi, Bacsa, Mátrai, & Kosztyán 2005a; Sik Lányi, Mátrai, Molnár, & Lányi, 2005b; Sik Lányi, 2006). The question is more complicated if the users have special needs. The literature is increasingly attentive to “Design for All” principles (NCSU, 2007). Several conferences run on the topic of how can computers and assistive technology help handicapped people. The most important ones are the following:
International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP), recent and upcoming meetings in Linz in 2006 and 2008.
International Conference Series on Disability, Virtual Reality, and Associated Technologies (ICDVRAT), staged in Veszprém, Hungary in 2002; Oxford, UK in 2004; and Esbjerg, Denmark and Maia, Portugal in 2008.
The Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE), in Dublin, Ireland in 2003; Lille, France in 2005; and San Sebastian, Spain in 2007; will be staged in Florence, Italy in 2009.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Human Computer Interaction (HCI): The study of how humans interact with computers and programs. HCI is a discipline concerned with the design, evaluation, and implementation of interactive computing systems for human use and with the study of major phenomena surrounding them.
Disability: A qualitative difference of a human capability from its normal feature, which might be in-born; if acquired, can develop backwards only very slowly; or can be permanent and irreversible. Types of disabilities include: physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment, and/or cumulative impairment.
Design for All (DfA or D4All): Design of products, services, and systems (including information technology) to be accessible so that they are usable by the widest range of users as possible. Moreover these products, services, and systems should be usable by everybody including future generations, regardless of age, gender, capabilities, or cultural background.
Multimedia: Manage in one unit text, graphics, animation, sound, and numeric data in an integrated way. This unit includes the production, storing, processing, transmission, representation, and reproduction of such information.
Health Condition: An alteration or attribute of the health of an individual that may lead to distress, interference with daily activities, or contact with health services; it may be a disease (acute or chronic), disorder, injury, or trauma, or may reflect other health-related states such as pregnancy, aging, stress, congenital anomaly, or genetic predisposition.
Special-Needs Users: Users who are not able to use the average devices or software in an average way. Handicapped people have special needs in daily requirements throughout their whole lives.
Impairment: Indicates a loss or abnormality of a body part (i.e., structure) or body function (i.e., physiological function). The physiological functions include mental functions.
Assistive Technology: A set of products, devices, or technical or software systems that are used by disabled, special-needs users. These could be serial or unique special products that help the disabled people’s everyday life, and control or decrease the degree of the disability.
Multimodal: A software or hardware instrument is multimodal if it uses minimally two media elements, and one of them must be dependent on time—for example, video, sound, or animation files; the term mixed media is also used.