Investigating input technologies for children and young adults with Down syndrome
The quick ascendance of the World Wide Web as the dominant vehicle for internet communication has recently made experimentation in a multimedia environment feasible on the Internet. Although web sites containing online psychology demonstrations and experiments for non-handicapped individuals have appeared in recent years (especially in the areas of cognitive and social psychology), there appear to have been few attempts to conduct online experimentation with special populations. We recently completed two online pilot studies of families with Down syndrome or Williams syndrome members: a) A survey that asks (via Likert rating scales, adjective checklists, multiple-choice style questions, and text-entry boxes) about family background, computer use, and temperament of the special needs family member; and b) An experiment (completed by an individual with special needs) that includes auditory and visual digit span tasks and a memory-for-orientation task in which responses are entered via mouse clicks. Recruiting began with e-mail announcements to representative Down syndrome and Williams syndrome discussion groups, listserves, and bulletin boards, and submission of the project's URL (http://www.cofc.edu/~marcellm/testaw.htm) and key indexing terms to selected search engines. This paper reviews technical aspects of developing the online programmes as well as the strengths and weaknesses of online vs. traditional laboratory-based research in relation to issues such as experimental control, delivery of instructions, experimenter bias, participant recruitment, sample heterogeneity, generalization, attrition, privacy, financial costs, data integrity, and ethics. We conclude by offering our thoughts on two ways of implementing online experimentation with special populations: a) Using a remote parent 'helper' as a proxy to work with the target individual; and b) Collaborating with professional colleagues in Web-based projects conducted in traditional laboratory settings.