People with learning disabilities often have difficulties reading text and coping with conventional interfaces using a mouse and keyboard. So, for them, accessing information on the internet can be a major challenge. Now Click Start, a £192,000 multimedia project funded by the European Social Fund and channelled through the Learning and Skills Council, aims to help thousands of the UK’s 1.5 million learners thought to be affected.
For nine months staff at the Rix research and development centre have been working with London boroughs to create a network of 150 accessible information ‘wiki’ websites using innovative, easy-to-build website software. Linked by a main portal website in each borough, their content is easy to read and uses photos, sound and video clips alongside simple text.
A major condition of the Click Start project run by the East London based charity (which focuses on developing multimedia for the learning disabilities community) was the direct involvement of people with learning disabilities. This was to make sure that young people could be actively involved in helping each other with information, guidance and advice on issues like independent living, finding employment and further education in the community.
While 24 per cent of the wiki-sites give general information and peer-generated advice and guidance, just over a fifth relates to employment and training. The other 12 and 11 per cent are, respectively, about learning disability provisions and day-to-day services.
With an ethos that puts people with learning disabilities at the heart of everything the Rix Centre does, Vivek Pillai, Jason Wilkinson and Lee Cromer, three young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, were given key roles in designing, creating, assessing and running the Click Start project.
“By involving them in the creation of accessible websites also helps develop a community of common interest and links together with various agencies that are there to support them in their daily lives,” said Andy Minnion the centre’s director. And, he adds, “It helps them change their role from being simply ‘recipients’ of services to being active participants”.
Based in 10 London boroughs, with plans to go national
Presently Click Start is limited to ten London Boroughs including Tower Hamlets, Greenwich and Havering. But the overriding ambition is to increase the number of sites and provide a ‘one-stop shop’ web portal to help young people in their transition to independent living - and eventually go national.
“Multimedia is a really useful tool," said Andy Minnion. "It helps people with learning difficulties and disabilities build confidence and improve their self-esteem. Every borough in the land can do what these ten London boroughs have done and make a great contribution to improving the lives of young people with learning difficulties and disabilities.”
Speaking at the launch of the project, Lord Rix, the former actor and leading disability rights campaigner made the case for a nationwide Click Start project. He said accessible transition websites help young people with learning difficulties and disabilities lead independent lives.
The sentiment was echoed by 23-year-old Jason Wilkinson, whose job was to handle sound and web addresses. He said "I really enjoy using computers and I have helped to build a website before, but this project is a great way for me to build my skills. I hope I can find another job making websites when Click Start is over."