Writing with mental health in mind

Mark Avery writing for the Education and Skills Funding Agency:

The internet can be an intimidating place for people with mental health issues. I should know. For as I can remember I’ve been going into battle daily with the beast known as depression.

The simplest tasks can become difficult when the ‘black dog’ has its grip on you because you can’t focus and, at best, you feel physically and mentally sluggish. My symptoms are very mild in comparison to some other people, but I’m not alone.

Today in the UK, approximately 1 in 4 people have a mental health condition and around 10% of people will experience depression in their lifetime. This thought stays with me during my day-to-day work as the apprenticeship service’s lead content designer. I feel that having this kind of condition can help me to empathise with others in a similar position.

Notes

If you have mental health issues and cannot easily access the information you need, it is likely you will have increased feelings of anxiety. One of the things I wanted to do when I took on my role was to use my experiences to ensure our services are accessible for people with mental health conditions.

Making services accessible to all

I believe this is where great content can help. It has the power to create order out of unholy confusion. And, meeting user needs is the simplest way to make the potentially stressful experience of managing apprenticeships into an easy one.

We have done this by making sure:

  • people can understand our content – we have always used the simplest language possible
  • people can find information quickly – the content gets to the point straight away
  • users can do what they need to do easily – user journeys are intuitive and involve the minimum number of steps necessary
  • we make sure our pages don’t contain any unnecessary distractions and that all the information on there meets identifiable user needs
  • we use personalised adaptive content once users have logged in to their accounts so they only see information relevant to them
  • we don’t make assumptions about our users – we always explain terms and concepts that users might not be familiar with
  • our content works visually, including links and buttons – the content is easy to see and read, and is scalable on different devices
  • we have done rigorous research and testing of the accessibility of our content to ensure it meets accessibility standards

Trying to understand the problems people face

However, I’ve found there are still significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how mental health impacts the online user experience. And, this needs to change, especially considering the huge number of people who suffer from mental health conditions.

Let’s consider the kind of issues people with cognitive impairment might face:

  • short term memory loss
  • lack of concentration and attention
  • difficulties processing lots of information
  • poor hand-eye coordination
  • slow thinking
  • trouble making decisions
  • lack of motivation
  • impatience
  • constant need for validation

And, these problems often increase when sufferers are stressed.

Getting involved

Beyond the common sense basics of good content, what else we can do to improve our services for people with cognitive impairment issues? Honestly, I don’t know.

So, consider this an appeal to anyone out there who suffers from a mental health condition to get involved with user testing. Tell us your frustrations, what we’re doing right, and what we need to do to make things better.

You can get in touch with me, in confidence, at mark.avery@sfa.bis.gov.uk. I’d love to hear from you!

Transport needs to be more inclusive for young wheelchair users

Three quarters of wheelchair users and their families and carers can’t travel as independently as they would like to and two in three do not feel confident enough to use public transport, according to a report released today by disabled children’s charity Whizz-Kidz.

Despite significant investment in accessibility improvements in recent years, Whizz-Kidz’s Get on Board report finds that three quarters of those surveyed experienced problems while travelling which mean they can’t travel as independently as they would like to.

Barriers in accessing public transport ranged from lack of accessible transport near where respondents live (67%), to being deterred by the attitude of staff (57%) or other passengers (61%).

“This is an issue which significantly impacts on the lives of many young wheelchair users. Because many can’t travel and use transport easily, they are being excluded from employment opportunities. They can find it harder to access health and education services and it’s not as easy for them to meet up with friends or family,” Whizz-Kidz CEO Ruth Owen OBE said.

“When people face these barriers to travel, it not only reduces their opportunities, it can change their aspirations. Our report makes it clear that despite substantial improvements made by a number of transport operators, who are leading the way in terms of disabled travel, we still have some way to go before travel and transport options are truly inclusive for young wheelchair users.

“We’re calling for the wider community, Government and other transport providers to Get on Board and make travel more inclusive. While accessibility has improved, this report highlights that change has not yet fully translated into equality and independence in young wheelchair users’ everyday lives.

“Improving accessibility is a shared responsibility which requires joined-up working with third parties and continued investment from Government to ensure that the network and infrastructure is in place to support operators in the delivery of their services.” Ruth Owen said.

  • The Whizz-Kidz campaign is calling for: Improvements to infrastructure, information and facilities so that the network is more accessible for wheelchair users.
  • The general public to respect young wheelchair users’ right to travel so that they do not feel scared to travel alone.
  • Regular and meaningful disability awareness training so that staff working in transport have a better understanding of the needs of young wheelchair users, which will support them to best assist young disabled travellers.
  •  Involvement of young disabled people in the planning, auditing and design of services and policies so that their voices are heard at all levels.
  • Representation of young wheelchair users in travel marketing materials so that people can see what young wheelchair users can do, not what they can’t!

Whizz Kidz logoTo spearhead change, Whizz-Kidz recently formed a national Accessible Travel Alliance – an industry leading group made up of forward-thinking travel operators, to make a real and lasting difference to disabled people’s experience of travel. Alliance partners who have signed up to the Get on Board campaign include Gatwick, Heathrow, National Express, OmniServ, Stagecoach and Transport for London.

“Our Alliance partners are setting the pace for the transport industry and are we’re excited to be collaborating with them on a number of accessible transport projects. Whizz-Kidz is providing them with tailored disability awareness training and input from our young wheelchair users who can’t wait to get stuck in and work together to drive positive change. We’re now challenging other transport and travel companies to follow the example of our Alliance partners,” Ruth Owen said.

About the report
The Whizz-Kidz Get on Board report includes survey results from 128 wheelchair users and their families and carers between June and September 2015. The survey looked at independent travel, trains, buses, taxis, planes, underground, metro, tram and light rail. Factors explored included the mode and frequency of transport most used. Insights were also drawn from focus groups, interviews and advice from young disabled people and their parents who are part of the Whizz-Kidz network.

About Whizz-Kidz

  • Whizz-Kidz is a national charity for disabled children and young people.
  • As well as supporting young disabled people to access the right mobility equipment to fit their young lives, the charity also delivers wheelchair skills-training, work placements, residential camps and youth clubs to support a full and active childhood, and a bright future.
  • The charity’s young people’s services in England are funded by The Big Lottery through a £5.3m grant to support Whizz-Kidz to provide 10,000 new opportunities to young disabled people over three years.
  •  Whizz-Kidz has offered over 25,000 opportunities to young disabled people throughout the UK since 1990

You can get involved and pledge your support for more inclusive travel by visiting
www.whizz-kidz.org.uk/getonboard.

“Let us hope more and more companies will  ‘take on board’ the need for inclusive travel”