08 March 2013

Extreme Accessibility - How to save lives with eLearning

Far from the typical audience of corporate or university eLearning, Thare Machi Education designs lessons on topics like human trafficking and cholera for learners who are extremely poor, mostly illiterate, totally unfamiliar with technology and speak hundreds of different languages.  How's that for a brief?

Thare Machi Education makes very simple life-changing and life-saving messages  accessible in audio visual format in the languages of the developing world.

Their solution? Very simple 20 minute multimedia lessons with built in quizzes on CD-ROM that put critical issues like how disease is transmitted into very simple terms.  These lessons can be used in a health clinic waiting room in Kolkata, a school in Cambodia or on a bus moving through rural China.

They must have the toughest accessibility specs I've come across.  Trying out one of their modules is a great way to shake off all those unquestioned assumptions we carry around about users and their needs.
  • When learners can't read, controls can't be explained with labels, instructions can't be written, not even tooltips are of any use.  
  • Relying on colour to communicate is problematic for the colour-blind, but also will have varied meaning in different cultures.  If we tried green for go and red for stop, how relevant would that be to a child in rural Cambodia?  
  • Can we assume left and right are understood as forward and back when not all languages are read from left to right and our learners are illiterate?  
  • Since they have probably never used a computer system before, how easy will the button need to be to click?  
  • How do you select useful imagery relevant to learners--their "stock photo" of a toilet is a squat hole - how irrelevant would the image of a pristine flush toilet be?  
But get it right, and the rewards are unsurpassed.  A photo caption on their website reads:
“A railway in Kolkata where our... associates found a family living in a slum just feet from the tracks but sleeping under a mosquito net as a result of watching our lesson : "Bednets Can save Lives" in the Bengali language."
Check out the amazing work of Thare Machi Education at tme.org.uk.