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Digital inclusion: designing accessible research with AutonoMe

By Jess Lewes

Business Development Director

Published:

People for Research are constantly building partnerships with organisations across the UK to support our recruitment of people who require support to access online services – it was through this work that we found AutonoMe.

AutonoMe provide independent technology for people with learning disabilities and work with local authorities to support people living independently. We wanted to share their story with our clients, so as a result we invited William Britton, founder and CEO of AutonoMe, for a chat to find out more about what they do.

Can you tell us a little bit about AutonoMe and why you set the company up?

autono.me users with disabilitiesTen years ago I was working in the video production industry. To financially support my work, on the side, I got a two-week temporary job supporting adults with learning disabilities at the local college.

I enjoyed this temporary role so much I dropped all my video production work and focussed my career on people with learning disabilities. I went on to complete a postgraduate certificate in Education, graduating as a fully qualified lecturer of adults with learning disabilities and spent a number of years as an assistive technology specialist – a role I found frustrating, as it was my job to find technology on the market to help my students overcome barriers to their education. The problem I found was everything on the market didn’t meet my students’ needs and was expensive, so I thought I could do a better job myself.

I set up AutonoMe to provide a 21st century solution to the challenges faced by people with learning disabilities and the industry that serves them.

Many of our clients’ design services and digital tools are available for use by a broad audience, and as a result it is important they research the needs of everyone in these audiences. This includes talking to people who require additional support with day-to-day activities. Is there anything you have learnt through running AutonoMe that might help people who are designing research?

Focus groups and primary research are really important. It’s annoyingly common for organisations to design services for people with cognitive impairments who have little or no experience of how to communicate effectively in accessible formats.

From experience, people with learning disabilities generally find it difficult to conceptualise websites or product features. However, if you give them designs or wireframes for them to evaluate, their input will be invaluable.

And finally, communication: think carefully about how you ask a question in your focus groups. Asking the same question in three different ways will produce three different answers. Make sure you ask the question in an inclusive accessible manner to ensure the recipient truly understands. Take time to plan and do this, their response will be of much better quality.

What is your opinion on the role technology can play in helping people live more independent lives?

I think technology can and will play a crucial role in the way we support people to live independently, especially in the future. As a society we’re much better at diagnosing and supporting difficulties than we ever have been, plus we’re all living longer – these are great achievements we should celebrate.

These achievements have given us new challenges, and technology can be part of the answer, with our population now starting to expect government, local authorities and the NHS to utilise this technology.

The data we collect at AutonoMe on a daily basis about the way we support our service users and providers makes for an incredibly compelling case for this. Technology is moving so quickly there is a huge opportunity to harness this technology in a way that can truly support our growing population and their growing needs.

What does inclusivity mean to you?

Inclusivity to me is all about reasonable adjustments so people can participate, including them in society. At AutonoMe we’ve created a tag system which is a reasonable adjustment to a service user’s home: they simply stick the tag onto a household appliance, scan it with their mobile device and it plays a video of how to use it. For example, scanning the tag on the vacuum cleaner with their iPad plays a video of how to vacuum their house. A simple, reasonable adjustment to their home that empowers our service users to have support inside and outside of commissioned hours.

Can you provide a little more information about the kind of people AutonoMe works with?

We support service users with learning disabilities, mostly adults, however we do have some service users under the age of 16. This includes people with autism, Down syndrome, mild cognitive impairment, Williams syndrome, Asperger’s and more. We work very closely with their providers and support workers to help them embed AutonoMe into their practice. Together we use our data to help evidence the care they’re delivering and ensure efficiency around the service users’ support.

It’s the local authorities that commission AutonoMe. We work with them to look at their learning disability strategy and discuss the challenges they face and how AutonoMe can help and be part of the solution.

How could our clients incorporate AutonoMe into the services and tools they are designing to help people access them?

No two organisations are the same in our sector, so I’d recommend they contact us in the first instance and let us know what help they’re looking for and the challenges they’re trying to resolve.

About William Britton: After completing his Video Production degree and Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) specialising in Learning Disabilities, he went on to teach ICT, Media and graphics to Adults with Learning Disabilities. William also worked for five years as an Assistive Technology Specialist and combined his understanding of learning disabilities, video production and technical knowledge to develop a prototype of AutonoMe. After receiving high praise, he founded AutonoMe to build a 21st-century solution to the barriers to independence faced by the learning disability community.

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If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or info@peopleforresearch.co.uk.

jess lewesAbout the author: Jess Lewes is passionate about making research user-centred, and she is a source of knowledge for how to approach the recruitment process to get the best results for your UX research and testing. Jess is available to speak at your event, conference or company workshop.

About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.

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