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My company is in the process of creating a new product for people with learning disabilities and Autism. We are currently in the discovery phase about to embark on user research. We'll be sending out a survey to uncover the challenges that our target demographic have.

In regards to survey design what should we keep in mind when designing a survey for people on the spectrum or have learning disabilities?

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  • In Canada, charities have a public-education requirement in exchange for tax-free status, so they're set up to help. Are you in Canada? If so, check in with an organisation such as Autism Canada (autismcanada.org) in French or English, or one of the local agencies, such as Autism Calgary (autismcalgary.com). Similarly, there are advocacy groups for learning disabilities. This one, again in Canada, offers service in English and French: ldac-acta.ca. – JeromeR Nov 6 '15 at 14:30
  • This is not an easy answer. First of you need to define what type of disabilities are you dealing with. Every disability has its own unique set of questions. Autism is differently able, not a disability. You need to define the goal of what this product will do, who it is targeting and what are you trying to get out of this case study. Once you have those answered then you can proceed of narrowing down your questionnaire. – Stanley VM Nov 6 '15 at 14:37
  • Why are you using a survey? – nadyne Dec 6 '15 at 21:07
  • Typically, keeping in mind the same things you'd hopefully do for anyone: keep it simple, make the questions clear, make it only as long as needed, etc. – DA01 Dec 7 '15 at 0:36
  • Don't know if it's too late to chime in, but you may want to check out the Principals of universal design for learning udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl/3principles – user77058 Dec 16 '15 at 17:59
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Disregarding the fact that I really like your question (since this is a field that I am very much interested in), I think the answer is not easy to give in one or two sentences.

When you say "learning disabilities", the term contains possibly dozens, if not hundreds of different variants of disability. A similar question would be "how to create a good survey for physically disabled people" - it makes a strong difference if the person has lost his arms or is blind: The solution has to be a very different one.

Exemplary, my solution for autism would completely differ from a solution for persons with reading problems. And even then, the form of autism differs from case to case.

Even if I do not like my answer this time - I think the case you want to cover might be too broad, the solution will not be 100% satisfying for all of your target group.

Rather, I would start with listing the disabilities' effects. To re-use the analogy: A blind person cannot use a screen. One without arms cannot use the keyboard. Once you identified the problems of each group you want to target, I'd try to group it, find similarities. This might help you finding a common set of issues you have to solve, which then brings you to a position where you can start solving the actual problems.

As an example, if you find that 9 of 10 participants tend to have problems with attending a problem for more than 3 minutes, this tells you about the maximum length or complexity of the question. If you see, that only 3 of 10 tend to be attracted to voice output of the question, you might reconsider the effort. I think you understand the direction I am going for: Instead of trying to solve the problem in a universal way, I would try to understand the differences by analyzing the problems each target group has. This, actually, is the standard usability improvement way and not particularly only fitting for your special audience.

I really would be interested in the results of such research - so if you are willing to share, I'd be happy to participate or see the results!

EDIT: One thought popped on my mind after posting - I'd suggest to more invest into usability research topics first, before you go for solutions - so "how to conduct usability research with learning disabilities", instead of interaction patterns, to begin with.

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Dyslexia and Dyspraxia appear on the autistic spectrum.

Clear, large fonts may be useful for people with dyslexia as it will ease reading.

People with Dyspraxia may benefit from large buttons, sliders etc. to reduce the amount of effort to click on a button. They may also benefit from obvious outlines on input boxes to reduce the "tracking time" - the place where they're typing.

Through my experience with people with Autism (let alone people generally), it would be a good thing to have an entirely predicable behaviour. I.e. no pop-ups, overlays, or custom form elements.

No sources for this except as a web developer who has Dyspraxia and whose family has a colourful mix of ASDs.

NOTE: Whether the survey being sent out electronically or paper isn't clear.

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  • As already mentioned the answer isn't straight-forward. I've tried to answer as best I can based on my experience. Consider reaching out to charities in your area. – Prinsig Nov 6 '15 at 14:40
  • I like that all these suggestions tend to help everyone. – DA01 Dec 7 '15 at 0:37

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