Inclusive Communication Essex website by Essex County Council Libraries
2010 Digital Access for People with a Learning Disability Commendation
Inclusive Communication Essex is highly innovative. It is the first website of its kind in the UK. It has real ambition and immense potential to enrich communication between people with a learning disability, their relatives, friends, carers. It could, in time, transform the way local government serves these communities. As the project develops, evaluation will help define its true scope and the scale of its transferability to other local government services
People with a learning disability have been involved in each and every phase of the project.
The Inclusive Communication Essex (ICE) website is the first of its kind in the UK for accessibility and content specifically to support the communication needs of people with a learning disability. ICE is an Essex-wide training package for families and carers of adults with learning disabilities. It presents a variety of different forms of communication. By taking the communication needs of people with learning disabilities into account, it helps them to understand and be understood and become fully involved in their life plans
The ICE resource service was set up in Essex libraries in 2009 and acts as a one-stop shop for inclusive communication advice and guidance. The website has been developed as a key part of the resource service.
Inclusive Communication is about ensuring people can use different forms of communication to suit different needs – speech, signing, body language, pictures, objects and informal gestures can all help people understand and be understood. The comprehensive website includes pages that explain what inclusive communication is, resources that are available on loan from local libraries, downloadable symbols and templates, photographs and clip art. There are also pages on signing videos, including ‘sign of the week’, inserting pictures into documents and recording and downloading video information. There are links and contacts for training opportunities, speech and language therapists and a video about ‘smelly vision’ and how such innovations can improve communication. The site itself is has a number of accessibility features, such as options of background colour and font size, easy to read format, an audio visual narration of the key information on each page. Photo symbols, chosen by people with learning disabilities are used throughout.
The total cost of web site purchase (including Content Management System) from Easy-Read-Online Ltd was £9,000..
Essex County Council Libraries is part of the Adults Health and Community Well-being directorate of Essex County Council delivering public library services through 73 static and 12 mobile libraries and 890 staff (473 full-time equivalent). There are over 348,000 active members and there were nearly 8 million visits to the libraries in 2009/10.
The libraries operate as community hubs, and work across a range of partnerships, hosting, amongst many others, police and councillor surgeries, parish council access points and drop in sessions for organisations such as Essex Blind Charity and Age Concern. Over the last few years a range of services have been developed working with learning disabled people.
ECC Libraries endeavour to provide services that are accessible to disabled users across the spectrum of their activities. These include audio and large print stock, accessible buildings with induction loops for Deaf people, promotional material in accessible formats and partnerships with a range of disability organisations.
People with a learning disability were included in every step of the project from inception to completion. They influenced design. For example the symbol from the button in the video clip appears whilst that button is being described. The choice of pictures and symbols for the buttons was made by learning disabled people and they are involved in quality assurance and subsequent amendments to all text.
Within the tender process, it was an essential criterion that the company selected should employ people with learning disabilities. People from the Essex People’s Parliament and Learning Disabilities partnership board scrutinised each tender. Easy-Read-Online employs people with a learning disability and volunteers from Essex with Learning Disabilities filmed reading content on many pages of site. The site was designed with support from all ICE partners (e.g. Primary Care Trusts, Schools, Children and Families, Libraries, Adult Social Care providers). Each partner consulted with their respective clients/service users during this phase and user acceptance testing included testing by people with LD.
The site is maintained and new content produced by Essex County Council employees with a learning disability.
The ICE resource service is now an integral part of Essex Libraries services and is funded from the Libraries budget with specific funding designated for the website. The development of ICE in the Schools Children and Families Directorate has not been as comprehensive as in Adult Social Care. In 2010/11 the website will be further developed to meet the needs of children and their services
Work will also be done to take on board user feedback to develop the website and the ICE Resource Service to meet user demand. This includes e.g. adding Mr Tumble DVDs and Early Communication Packs to the resource library as requested by parents/teachers of children with disabilities, as well as ‘people in my life’ template to the website.
The ICE website demonstrates inclusive communication in a visual and accessible way and supports people to develop communication.