Dynamic charts are an indispensable part of pandemic reporting. Take the one that tracks the daily case load in a geography. With a gentle glide of the mouse manifesting the data in chronological order, it presents an evolving picture with the minimum of fuss. However, without an accompanying audio feature, this prop means little to a visually-challenged user. Similarly, what is convenient presentation of information to a majority may be a challenge to someone on the autism spectrum.
Three neurodiverse youngsters have attempted to address this issue at http://hashhackcode.com/covid-19, an accessible website featuring COVID-19 data they have designed.
The website is minimalistic in design. The focus is on simplification that enables easy assimilation of information — to give an idea, tables done in black-and-white colour scheme.
In their twenties, S. Saravana Raj, Pranav Sridhar and Prem Shankar collaborated remotely over the last few months with guidance from their teachers and support from their parents to bring out COVID-19 updates.
Saravana Raj is on the spectrum and his mother Deepa Satish finds herself being quizzed often. Recently, he sought to know why certain states had lockdown at different times. It is obvious that it has to do with the number of COVID cases reported in the state — but communicating the obvious to Saravanan was a challenge.
“Saravana also has difficulty understanding long passages, so working on this project was like being in someone else’s shoes and trying to finding out real-life solutions,” says Deepa, who learnt coding to support his son.
She says Saravana is good at coding but needs help to develop his communication skills.
“Some of the instructions need to be repeated and he is comfortable with Tamil,” says Deepa.
Pranav would not sit long before the computer but has overcome that challenge, through collaboration exercises that discuss the challenges of getting updates from various states and feeding the website with new data every day.
“We have simplified the complex for the benefit of the visually-impaired and I would love to get feedback on what else we could do to improvise on how we are currently putting out information,” says Pranav.
Manu Sekar, founder, Hashhackcode, says this initiative is a big step towards ensuring equality of access to information.
“We have taken data and put it in simple charts and then into an accessible website using “accessible web technology”. The coding is done by them independently,” says Manu. He says 15 visually-challenged people tested the website with “screen reader” and provided inputs.
Currently, the platform offers COVID-19 updates of six states and an overview of the situation in India with information such as the number of positive cases, deaths, positivity rate, status of hospital beds, testing rate and vaccination status.
Each of these data is sourced from the state media bulletin and fed by the three.
“We also cross-check each other’s table before uploading the data to ensure it is correct information,” says Deepa, adding that Saravana is responsible for West Bengal and India overview.
Manu says it is important to offer the data in a simple format so that the neurodiverse and the visually-impaired are up to date in their understanding of the pandemic and the precautions they need to take to stay safe.
The mothers were also part of the project.
Manu adds, “The more support you give the neurodiverse individuals, the greater push you give to creating accessible products to solve real-life challenges.”