BBC Using Interactive Videos to Teach Developmentally Disabled People How to Make Good Choices

In a posting on the BBC Internet blog, Monday, BBC Future Media & Technology's head of user experience and accessibility, Jonathan Hassell, announced the launch of Us5, a series of interactive online videos that have been created "by, for and with" people with learning difficulties/developmental disabilities, in order to "help them think through one of the biggest issues affecting them at the moment--the opening up of more choices to them resulting from the government's move to direct payments, individual budgets and self-directed support. People with learning difficulties have never before been so able to choose for themselves how they live their lives and what they want to do," Hassell's blog posting continued. "However, because they've seldom had the opportunity before, this freedom can come with a lot of challenges and responsibility."

The Us5 videos, which were produced for the BBC by GameLab London with input from the charity Mencap, feature five scenarios in which young, mentally challenged people have to make important decisions, and are designed to help mentally challenged viewers to think through what they themselves might do in similar circumstances and what the consequences of their decisions might be. According to Hassell, the videos' scenarios and plots were developed in workshops from the real experiences of young people with learning difficulties, which were then "simplified and engineered to bring home particular messages." The videos star a company of developmentally disabled actors that was assembled by producer Owen Smith and director Adam Kornoka from the Yarrow Learning Disability Charity. At the end of each video, viewers are presented with interactive comic strips that allow them to try out different choices facing the video's main character (for example, whether to spend the last of his limited funds on new clothes or groceries) and that thus give them a chance to practice making good decisions.

The videos build on research that the BBC conducted back in 2005 to determine how well the developmentally disabled felt the corporation served their needs. According to Hassell, the research showed that "while fewer people with learning difficulties were online than the general population, this underserved audience might benefit from us creating specific Internet content for them, based on their interests, predominantly using images and video." In addition to the BBC's own Web site, the videos are available on Mencap's Plannet Web site, which is designed to help people with learning disabilities to better plan their lives.