Easy-One Communicator

Easy-One Communicator Challenge

Version 1.0
Drafted by Gregg Vanderheiden – Trace Center UW

The challenge

To create a very simple, layered communication application for use by individuals who are older, for individuals with cognitive disabilities, and for anyone that finds current mail, IM and computer communication programs to confusing.  

A sample design for an Easy-One communicator can be found at:


Note: The challenge is to create this as a web application, the design example above used the Wii controller. 



The program should be as simple and obvious to use as possible. Ideally, it should take no instruction to use, even for someone who has never used a program of this type before. Ideally it could be used by someone who has never used a computer before. The interface should be simple and self-cuing enough that simply knowing that they would like to send an email or to look at an email or to chat should be enough for them to see immediately what they should do.

This task is particularly challenging because so many things that programmers take for granted are not necessarily true for this population. Windows and modes, menus and hierarchies, icons that ‘launch’ programs or features, pages that disappear, etc can prove to be completely foreign and baffling. And one can't count on users ‘figuring it out’ or ‘learning the system over time’. What the users learn one day is often forgotten the next. Although some of these users may be able to remember complicated recipes and procedures that they learned earlier in their lives, they may not be able to remember something that they learned (or were taught) today when tomorrow comes.

Because the target population will have differing levels of skill and because some individuals will be able to learn over time and add small amounts of complexity, the program should be designed in a layered fashion. That is it should have one mode or version that is ultra simple. Then, there should be another mode or version that is almost identical, but adds a couple extra features or capabilities. And another layer after that, that adds a little more complexity and capability. These modes should all be as consistent and identical as possible to facilitate progression up and down the levels. It should be noted that some individuals may progress from level 3 to level 2 to level 1 over time.

Easy-One Communicator Functionality and Other Requirements

The Easy-One Communicator will be a unified communication program. It should provide the individual with the following basic capabilities.

  1. To receive and read (e)mail
  2. To write and send (e)mail.
  3. To receive and acknowledge an invitation to chat
    1.  Chat has the following options
      1. IM with real-time-text, voice and video 
      2. (See AIM 6.8 real time text chat feature)
  4. To “call” someone to chat.
  5. To receive and view photographs sent to them.
  6. To maintain a simple address book they can use to mail or chat.

The program should meet WCAG 2.0 level A accessibility and preferably also meet level AA and as much of Level AAA as possible. (www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20)

Some Ideas and Possible Approaches

  • In one mode, all incoming emails are immediately printed on a printer and then “disappear*”.
  • A feature where only emails having a certain code are received.
  • A program where the person can handwrite a letter and insert it into a scanner that will cause it to be sent (and disappear* so they know it was sent). Special paper is used which can only be written on one side.
  • A program that is all on one screen so that nothing “disappears”. All commands are always visible.
  • In one mode, there are no folders, just a desktop and a wastebasket.
  • In one mode, there are very few choices for emailing or IM and they are all, always visible.
  • The use of pictures to represent people.
  • A helper utility that causes the application to never disappear or quit under normal and abnormal use.
  • In one mode, it can be used with a touch screen computer so that no mouse needs to be used.
  • The capability to operate the program entirely from a keyboard.
  • The ability to have all text read aloud as it is touched or selected.
  • Ability to use program without vision (all self voicing)
    •  may be a special mode that is simple hierarchical with very very good scent
      • RE Scent – think of coming to a three way split in a tunnel and trying to decide which one leads to the basement, the kitchen and the surface. With good scent it is not mystery which one will take you where you want to go. In this app it would mean that it was always clear which choice to make in a list because there is only one that sounds like it would have what they want under it.
  • In one mode, incoming emails are held and a simple action causes them to be read.
  • Program allows for the sending and receiving of voice-emails.
  • The ability to attach a sound file to any of the photos so that touching the picture or a symbol on the picture causes the sound file to be played.
  • A separate helper utility that can be used to configure the program independent of the program operation.
  • User can press a ‘button’ and say persons name and it will bring up name with large buttons for CHAT SEE MAIL SEND EMAIL SEND VOICEMAIL etc
    • See the Say Who program on iPhone.
  • Careful with options….. (each option adds complexity)
  • More extensive voice control (accurate because of limited choices)

* Things (files, letters fed into the scanner etc.) that “disappear” to the user should really disappear (be destroyed). For the user to think something is gone but for it to still be around for others to find – would not be appropriate and could be a real problem.