University of Edinburgh

Empowering young deaf and visually impaired people: health, safety and sexuality

Sign and sound website

Final Report

This project ran over 1998-2000 in order to produce an accessible health information service for young people who are deaf or visually impaired. The project draws together specific information into one resource which is disseminated primarily on CD-ROM emulating a website. This website incorporates video and other image-based information suitable for deaf young people as well as audio files and text suitable for blind computer access.

The other half of the resource is a selection of complementary information in hard copy and on floppy disc. The initial target group of young people is within Scotland.

Pupils and teachers from The Royal Blind School and Donaldson’s College for the Deaf in Edinburgh participated in the project (appendix 1). The pupils interviewed other pupils at the schools with a questionnaire (appendix 2) to find out what the target users of this service would like to see themselves, as regards content and style.

The participating pupils also recorded alternative formats of the information pages: the RBS pupils on audio tape and the Donaldson’s pupils on video tape using BSL.

The research
In 1998-1999 the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department awarded the Scottish Sensory Centre £10,452 to begin work on this project. In September 1998 a Research Assistant, John Ravenscroft began working with the Centre’s Database Development Officer on preliminary work which comprised

  • Speaking to sensory impaired young people from Donaldson’s College for the Deaf and the Royal Blind School, Edinburgh about what information they themselves would like to have access to and how they would like to see it presented.
  • Identifying what material could be freely accessed. This involved asking organisations who produce aspects of this information if their material may be used in this way.
  • Deciding whether such materials are in appropriate format/language for access by young people and which materials needed to be rewritten.
  • Looking at the design issues of the service.
  • Assessing suitability of materials and rewriting where necessary
  • Building a website which incorporated text, visual and audio components.

The recordings
The project team had two sessions at the Royal Blind School in spring and summer 1999. The sessions took place in a meeting room on the first floor of the School. Although more pupils were present, 6 pupils were recorded using braille texts as source material. There were some technical problems with the recording equipment and at one point the project team had to resort to using the School’s own recording equipment. The technical problems regarding sound recording were never fully resolved, with the result that the sound recordings on the final CD are of variable quality. The cause of this problem was that in the initial planning stage of the project it was not envisaged that specialist sound equipment and software would be needed, and this omission did not become evident until the actual recordings took place.

The two pupils from Donaldson’s came to the Scottish Sensory Centre for a filming session in the late spring of 1999. Both pupils participated in the filming and although this was a learning curve for both filmers and signers, some very good film footage was obtained for the website.

The difficulty in translating written English to BSL on an ad hoc basis became apparent during this session. The Project Team realised that they had been expecting too much from the Donaldson’s pupils to be able to perform this kind of translation and it was only the excellent English skills of one of the pupils which made the filming a success.

After this session the Project Team decided to ask older people, preferably young adults, to do this translation work. To this end the services of Pauline Jordan and Carly Munro were obtained, without whose generosity in giving up their time, expertise and professionalism the project would not have been anything near as successful and complete as it currently stands.

Pauline and Carly came in to the Scottish Sensory Centre for several filming sessions in 1999. John Ravenscroft developed a system which suited all concerned, signers and filmers, whereby the actual texts from the website computer were displayed on a film screen using a data projector. The camera was placed just to one side of the film screen so that the signer appeared to be looking directly at the camera. One of the team scrolled down the text as the signers completed each section. There were some glitches, for instance when the scroller went too fast for the signer, but the fact that no re-recordings were necessary is testament to the excellent work of the signers.

The design of the website
Using the feedback obtained by the original questions asked of the participating pupils, the website was designed initially with nothing other than html scripting in order to make the pages easier and quicker to load. The typeface used is Helvetica and the type size (the range of which is limited by the html code) was chosen to be easily readable for people with visual impairments, but in various colours in order to make it more interesting for sighted users.

Following a suggestion from the first meeting with the Donaldson’s pupils, the different main sections of the information: health, safety, sex and drugs, were given a different text colour to provide some differentiation between the sections. The colours chosen were all strong and easily contrasted against the background. The tones were dark and muted so that there would be no bright colours which might have been difficult to read.

There have been various generations of the website appearance as the people working on the project tried and discarded various ideas. One major problem was the actual naming of the website. The suggestions from the pupils (and from the staff) were wide-ranging and some indeed very strange, so it was decided to use a working title “Your Stuff” and leave a final decision until just before the CD pressing. The final website logo “Power”, was designed using Adobe Photoshop. The name was decided on because no suitable alternative to the project name had been suggested and “empowering” seemed to be too long and formal for what was essentially a website for teenagers.

In the trial, the opening page and linking pages had no graphics apart from the website title and a light background pattern which did not interfere with the readability of the text. The end pages of information have two choices at the top: WATCH and LISTEN which, if selected, will take the user to a Quicktime recording of either a BSL or audio file.

Some of the end pages had a graphic background which provides a margin on the left hand side of the page.

Some of the pages had graphics to illustrate the topic under discussion; for instance the information on food and nutrition had pictures of different types of food. It was hoped that the pupils using the trial CD would indicate which of these experiments worked and which did not.

Quicktime clips
There was a direct conflict between the need to have as many Quicktime clips as possible on one CD and the need to make these clips easily understandable by the users. The audio files were not such a problem because they do not take up much space but the video files were a different matter. Essentially the more the files are compressed the less clear they become to watch. For this reason the trial CD had many different variations of video compression so that the trial users could decide which was the optimum compression.

The content
The Information Central is the core of the Project, providing an extensive resource of information for young people on all aspects of health, sexuality and personal safety.

The Information Central contains sections on
Health: with topics like food and healthy eating, common illnesses, mind and body;
Safety: indoors and out and about;
Sex information: for girls, boys and both;
Drugs: what they are, what they look like, what they do.

The project team looked at about 10 websites for teenagers - as many as possible from the UK but USA websites were also reviewed. The websites for teenagers gave the team their starting point for ideas about how to organise the information and what topics should be covered.

All of the information needed to be adapted in some form. The biggest problem was the variation in the language used on different sites, which required an exercise in ‘levelling out’ all of the language so that it was not too complicated and not too vernacular. Many of the source items were far too long and had to be edited (in many cases edited several times over) in order to make them a suitable length for the webiste.

The trial period
In 1999-2000 the Scottish Executive Education Department, under the Small Grants scheme, awarded the Empowering project £23,004 to continue the preliminary work and complete the pilot of the scheme. In October 1999 a Project Worker, Beth Muir, began work with the Database Development Officer in order to prepare the website for piloting.

The trial CD-ROMs were first sent to 12 schools and units in January 2000 in order for the staff to assess whether the content was suitable for their pupils. Then the CD-ROMs were sent out with accompanying short user guides, questionnaires for the pupils and notes for teachers. The results of the trial were collected and analysed in April 2000.

In the interim more work went ahead on recording and gathering information for the resource, including contact addresses for all the major topics covered. The team also needed to do more recording, especially of audio files. Obtaining another set of audio recordings from the Royal Blind School proved quite difficult as most of the pupils were working for, or in the throes of their end of term exams. Eventually the project team decided that although it would have been preferable to use the pupils from the Blind School, in fact any voice recording would work since the object of the exercise was to provide an alternative to a voice synthesiser. The only rider would be that the readers should preferably be of the same age group as the target audience. To this end the teenage daughter and friend of one of the project team were drafted in to fill in some of the gaps. Again there were technical problems - this time with the volume of these audio files but they appear to be clear enough if used with earphones.

For the trial period the statistical breakdown of content was as is listed in appendix 3.

The results of the trial
The trial schools and centres were provided with a questionnaire and teacher’s notes (appendix 4)

There were 11 questionnaire returns from pupils and additional notes from teachers.

The questionnaire dealt with the overall appearance of the website, the ease of use, the language used, the video and audio files and ideas for improvements and future developments. See appendix 5 for a report of results.

Visually impaired users tended to ignore the appearance questions altogether.

The deaf pupils were generally not impressed with the blandness of the appearance and the large text. These were design features specifically for visually impaired users but the reaction of the deaf users raises a question about whether it is possible to combine a service for two such opposing sensory impairments and get the balance just right.

The questionnaire was designed to let the pupils answer yes or no to most questions and then add what they wanted at the end. The language of the questionnaire was clearly inadequate for some of the deaf users, since they answered the general questions on “sign video” but in the specific section on Video clips, they responded that there were no video clips. This was the fault of the questionnaire writers for not being more explicit and assuming the users would realise “sign video” and “video clip” meant the same thing.Changes for the final CD


Most of the returns said that the links were not easy to use. Also the blind users found the graphics on the front page with embedded links were not realised properly by their screen readers. Therefore all the principal links on the opening page were changed to text with the preface “click here for” for each choice.

The majority of the deaf users expressed a desire for more graphics throughout the website. The blind users had found any graphics they encountered problematical, so the solution was to introduce a range of Shockwave animations, appended to each main page, so that anyone who wanted to see them could select them but they would not interfere with the loading and first reading of the page. The Shockwave animations were all taken from a freeware CD-ROM and are all interactive with sound as well as a visual joke (but the interactions are not dependent on sound). There is also a test page to check whether any browser already has Shockwave and if not, where to download it.

All other embedded graphics were systematically named so that screen readers would be able to identify them.
It would have been preferable to provide illustrative graphics throughout the website, as many of the deaf users requested but this was not possible in the timescale.

As the team had anticipated, the sound files were well received by the blind pupils as a break from the speech of their voice synthesisers. The overall quality, however, proved to be disappointing.

The pupils found that they were losing concentration because there was not enough light relief to maintain their interest. One suggestion was to have background music. After some research it transpired that copyright free music would be highly unlikely to hold the pupils’ attention any longer than no music did (and possibly hasten their ennui). The team then researched record companies who release freely downloadable music from the Internet. Although MP3 use and free music downloading was at that time illegal, there were several record companies who release tracks from their artists using LiquidAudio technology.

Consequently the website now contains information and links to the LiquidAudio download site in order for the pupils to obtain the necessary software. There are also direct links to artists’ individual tracks and, should these become out-of-date, links to the recording companies who provide downloadable tracks.

There is also some information for the pupils on how to use the LiquidAudio control window, since this is a GUI interface they might not have encountered. The project team has no idea whether the LiquidAudio program will work with JAWS and IE5, but since the program runs independently of the browser and uses the computer’s internal sound board, they are hopeful that there will be no conflict.

Final Content
Having a starting point for the types of information required led to some more research as ideas were pursued. The result is a unique resource - some parts of the resource have similarities with many other such websites but other parts were added from much more diverse sources. For instance in the safety section the team found many websites which give young people advice on how to stay street safe but none of these had any information on first aid and emergency treatment. This information was adapted from health service websites. The information on bullying on teen websites seemed to be inadequate and so the project team adapted material from police websites. As a final example, the health section covered common illnesses but we could find no information on common medicines in comparable websites. This information was adapted from a pharmacy website.

Other parts of the resource seemed to require a new approach altogether. In the health section, the information on basic food nutrients was important and had to be included but it seemed to be rather abstract and uninteresting. The team therefore devised a system of awards for different types of food, according to their fat (denoted by animated pigs) and sugar (denoted by animated flames) content, as well as certain food having high protein content. The awards are meant to be used as a guideline so that the young people can see, in an amusing way, how healthy their favourite foods are. The awards are very visual but each graphic has a written description to make it relevant to people using screen readers.

The content of the website from trial to final CD-ROM was increased to
Total number of pages: 117
Total number of audio and video clips: 63
Shockwave animations were included as mentioned above, 16 in all, as well as the site logo and more animated graphics. Each end page of information has a corresponding braille file on an accompanying floppy disc. It was originally intended to include the braille files on the CD-ROM but the requisite software failed to arrive in time for this to be included before the CD went for pressing.

A comprehensive user guide has been produced, in print format as well as in html format on the CD-ROM (see appendix 7).

Publicity for the CD-ROM, which will be available free in Scotland and charging for postage elsewhere, will initially be via the Scottish Sensory Centre Newsletter mailshot in August 2000, as well as via the Scottish Sensory Centre website.

The initial CD pressing order was for 500 copies. Future pressings are not planned for the moment but depending on the demand for the first pressing, may be considered.

Technical information
The entire development of this CD-ROM was produced on an Apple Macintosh G3.
The video clips were filmed using a JVC VHS camcorder. The films, in PAL format, were transferred to computer via a Miromotion DC30 video capture card, and edited using Adobe Premiere. The final file compression was achieved using Media Cleaner Pro and all of the clips, audio and video were saved as Quicktime movies.
The audio clips were recorded using various means in an attempt to find the best method. The Royal Blind School session one used a Philips DAT recorder; session two using an RBS cassette recorder and the Helen/Jo sessions using a microphone directly into the built-in sound card of an Apple PowerBook G3, again using Adobe Premiere to record the clips.

The website was developed using Claris Homepage. Graphics were developed using Adobe Photoshop before transferring to web compatible formats.

The CD-ROMs were burned from disc using a LaCie 4x4 CD Read/Write and Adaptec Toast software.

The publicity leaflets and CD jewel case covers were designed and the leaflets printed by the University of Edinburgh Visual Resources Unit. The CDs were pressed by Sound Recording Technology of Cambridge who also undertook the printing of the jewel case inserts and directly onto the CDs.

The website content was adapted from information freely available on the Internet. The research, compilation and rewriting was by John Ravenscroft and Elizabeth Izatt. Website design and original graphics, video and audio production was by Beth Muir and Elizabeth Izatt, with thanks to Phil Odor for his technical advice. The project was administered by Ruth Simpson. The ceaseless flow of tea and coffee was provided by Ian Lancaster.