Accessibility Study

      
     
    
      
By observing eye-tracking data and differences in responses between participants, this study aimed to quantify key differences between web content evaluation between individuals with or without Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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DETAILS: 2012 – 2013 / Master’s Thesis in Human-Computer Interaction at Iowa State University

ROLE: Primary Researcher

Introduction

As a part of my Human Computer Interaction Master's program at Iowa State University, I conducted an eye-tracking accessibility study that compared the scanning patterns and digital literacy between undergratuate students with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders. This was a marriage between my interests in building a more usable web and my advisor, Debra Satterfield's research area of technology for people with cognitive and physical disabilities.

Pilot Study

Diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are becoming more prevalent, both in the US and the world. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1 in 88 eight-year-olds today have ASD (2012). Despite autism’s frequent appearance in the media as a childhood disease, children with the disorders have nearly typical life expectancies and live well through adulthood (Shavelle & Strauss, 1998). As the Internet becomes increasingly prevalent and is necessary to fully participate in today’s society, it is critical for people with ASD to be able to access and use online content and services. While there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence to indicate successful outcomes, there is very little scientific research that examines the specific effects, opportunities and risks of Internet usage for people with ASD.

This pilot study compared students’ cognitive traits associated with ASD, as reported in a survey, to their performance in a lab study that asked them to scan and evaluate web content. By observing eye-tracking data and differences in responses between participants, this study aimed to quantify key differences between content evaluation between individuals with or without autism. Participants were recruited from the population of 18-24 year old students attending Iowa State University.

Eyetracking Lab Setup

ZOOM IN / Eyetracking lab setup

Key Research Questions

Pilot Parental Needs Survey (Chapter 3)

1. How are children, teens and adults with autism accessing and using the Internet?

2. How are parents regulating their children’s use? How does this regulation compare with that of typical children?

3. What Internet opportunities and risks do parents perceive for their children with autism?

Eyetracking Study (Chapters 4-5)

1. How well do people with or without ASD assess purpose, authorship and advertising on websites?

2. Are there differences in the ways people with or without ASD evaluate web content?

Comparison of Correlations

Participants completed a survey to score the strengths of various cognitive traits commonly associated with ASD like social skills, communication, imagination, attention to detail, attention switching and information processing styles. Survey questions were taken from two validated survey tools: the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) tool from Baron-Cohen, et al. (2001) and the Style of Processing (SOP) tool from Childers, et al. (1985). Using the scoring method from Baron-Cohen's survey tool, a AQ score of 32 or greater indicates clinically significant levels of autistic traits.

![Correlations on fixations on visual and verbal content

ZOOM IN / Comparison of correlations between survey scores and fixations on visual and verbal content (page 50)

Results

The results suggested little to no difference in the ways that participants with or without ASD scanned or evaluated websites. Correlations between the eye fixation metrics and Autism Quotient scores were near zero. Other classifying factors like the Style of Processing score and gender had larger correlations with fixation metrics. The ability of participants to deduce purpose, advertising, and authorship from the site’s design did not vary between the control group and the group with ASD. Previous work has shown that people with ASD have an affinity for using the Internet. This study demonstrates people with ASD have an equal opportunity to successfully evaluate and scan websites as their neurotypical peers, even at a subconscious, eye-movement level. These findings suggest that the Internet makes an effective content delivery platform for young adults with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger’s who are able to attend college.

![Correlations on fixations on content and ads

ZOOM IN / Comparison of correlations between survey scores and fixations on content and advertising (page 51)

Full Paper