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On creating an online learning resource for dyslexic swimming teachers

Breaststroke arms – getting it right

What is the problem?
A number of common problems occur in breaststroke as swimmers move from teaching into competitive swimming – these include raising the head too high so dropping the hips, pulling the arms passed the shoulders towards the hips on every stroke, and a screw kick. In this learning object we look at fixing the arms.

Who are we talking to?

Those who teach or coach swimming in UK swimming clubs. Typically volunteers with the  Level 1 Assistant Teaching Aquatics Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) qualification or Level 2 Teaching Aquatics, as well as those with coaching qualifications. The differences here relates to the developmental stage of the swimmer, whether they are being taught to swim in a teaching group, or coached to swim faster in a skills group. Personnel records held by clubs should identify the medical conditions and disabilities of all members, including the coaching staff.

Dyslexic pupils learn in a different way to non-dyslexic pupils, so that any support should be dyslexia specific and offered on a one-to-one basis. Putting dyslexia pupils in a remedial group for slow learners and other special needs will not be appropriate. In addition, dyslexia occurs independently of IQ and should not be equated with low ability.

Ten percent (10%) of the British population are dyslexic; 4% severely so.
British Dyslexia Association http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/

Colour Tints and overlays

Around 35-40% of people with dyslexia suffer with a visual stress difficulty where text appears to move around or look distorted in some way.

Coloured filters, either as overlays or glasses with coloured tinted lenses have been found to helpful. Coloured filters will help to make the text visually clearer and more comfortable to see, and therefore can aid the learning process, but they will not teach a child to read. To be effective, an individual will need assessing to find the precise colour tint.


Eyes and Dyslexia

Around 35-40% of people with dyslexic difficulties are estimated to experience visual disturbance or discomfort when reading print. They may experience one or several of the following:

  • Blurred letters or words which go out of focus.
  • Letters which move or present with back to front appearance or shimmering or shaking.
  • Headaches from reading.
  • Words or letters which break into two and appear as double.
  • Find it easier to read large, widely spaced print, than small and crowded.
  • Difficulty with tracking across the page.
  • Upset by glare on the page or over sensitive to bright lights.

In some cases any of these symptoms can significantly affect reading ability. It can also make reading very tiring. Of course a child will not necessarily recognise what they see as a problem, as this is how they always see text.

If a child complains of a least one of these problems or has difficulty at school, they should be referred to an optometrist or orthoptist with expertise in this particular field.

Many dyslexic people are sensitive to the glare of white backgrounds on a page, whiteboard or computer screen. This can make the reading of text much harder.

  • The use of cream or pastel coloured backgrounds can mitigate this difficulty as can coloured filters either as an overlay or as tinted reading glasses. – People with reading difficulties sometimes have a weakness in eye co-ordination or focussing and an eyecare practitioner might recommend treating this with eye exercises or glasses. If these problems are present, they should be detected and treated before coloured filters are prescribed.
  • Research in the UK and in Australia shows that people who need coloured filters, who are said to have visual stress, need to have exactly the right colour. Many optometrists and orthoptists use a special instrument, the Intuitive Colorimeter, to determine the exact colour that is necessary for coloured glasses.
  • The choice of colour of text on white backgrounds can also affect clarity e.g. using red on a whiteboard can render the text almost invisible for some dyslexic students. For information on dyslexia friendly text see Dyslexia Style Guide sheet.

Talks on Dyslexia http://www.dystalk.com/

What do we want to say?

Correctly identify the fault through careful observation of the swimmer, employ a variety of exercises and drills to address the fault, use the whole-part-whole approach to isolate parts of the stroke and put it together again. Relate the stroke to the rules governing competitive swimming and the most efficient way physiologically for a person to swim the stroke.

How do we want to say it?

In a way that communicates clearly to the broadest users and therefore includes those with the kinds of disabilities that present themselves in swimming teachers and coaches – such as dyslexia. As well as supporting swimmers who may wish to use the resource who have impairments in relation to vision, hearing, mobility and cognition.

How do we want them to respond to this?

That was very useful. I was able to extract from this learning object the knowledge I required either to fix faulty arms in breaststroke or to improve my own swimming.

What else do we need to know?

Increasingly smartphones are becoming the handheld tool of choice that offer swimming teachers and coaches the opportunity to pick up advice and suggestions on best practice poolside as they prepare for, between, or after swimming sessions. The learning object should be scalable to multiple devices – desktop, laptop, and touch screen tablets and smartphones. A downloadable PDF version for eBooks would also be of value as these too are being deployed poolside to assist teachers and to display content to swimmers.

The Learning Object is a post on the WordPress blogging platform.

It uses the theme Blaksan which is a sharp, minimalist black sans serif text on a white background. There are options to have one, two or three column displays and for a fee to alter the fonts, colours and background. It is a responsive layout that works well on multiple devices.  It is the work of designer Per Sandstrom. http://www.helloper.com/

There are 17 parts, 9 images and 2,752 words. The language is non–technical, written in short clear sentences that those at this level of swimming teaching or coaching will understand. Images, diagrams and tables are carefully explained thought not offered in alternative text versions. There is a simple narrative logic to the running order that gives the purpose of the object and what it sets out to do. The content goes from fault identification to fix and progresses from simple to advanced. Gagne’s nine instructional steps are followed.

Viewing can be enhanced with browser web tools. A screen reader will pick up the text and descriptions of the images.

It is a resource, a blog post, not a activity. There are non interactive components. It would have been nice to show a video clip, to have audio options built in say to explain the table and chart. I would like to have added a multichoice question component.

2). Compare this to a similar blog post and a Xerte learning object.


3). Evaluate the accessibility of your resource, identifying its strengths and weaknesses.

You could describe this as a universal design as it uses a platform that is readily available. Whilst there are theme choices, some which would make the text, images and layout less accessible there were none offered with accessibility in mind. To improve that accessibility would require at least some work on the code, or migrating the text to a disability designed platform such as Xerte.


4). Propose, with justification, ways in which its accessibility could be improved. (This could include suggesting alternatives.)

The rebuild in Xerte produced a refined and simplified expression of the blog post. The same logical sequence of identifying then fixing a fault was offered however in this instance the simple, clear dashboard buttons of Xerte allow the use to select a background colour and text colour so adjusting with ease the contrast levels which would assist someone who is Dyslexic while point size adjustments would immediately permit someone with a modest visual impairment to follow the text.

Design to guidelines, following the WCAG 2.0 Code.


  • 1 Perceivable
  • 2 Operable
  • 3 Understandable
  • 4 Robust


  • 1 (perceivable) Provide text alternatives for any non-text so that it can be changed into other formats people needs such as large print, brail, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • 2P Provide alternatives for time-based media
  • 3P Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
  • 4P Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from backgound
  • 5 (operable) Make all funciontality available from a keyboard
  • 6O Provide users enough time to read and use content.
  • 7O Do no design content in a way that is known to cause seizure.
  • 😯 Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and deteremine where they are.
  • 9 (understandable) Make text content readable and understandabls
  • 10U Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • 11U Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • 12 (robust) Maximize compatibility with current and futre user agents, including assistive technologies

5). Reflect on the processes of creating and evaluating accessible resources.

For good design in anything ‘form follows function’ an idea expressed by minimalist architects such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Alva Aalto, Mies van der Rohe and Gerrit Rietveld. Keeping web design simple has its proponents too, not least Jakob Neilsen (2000). This applies to those seeking an approach to accessibility through universal design too – clarity of expression, the marriage of text and images in a logical learning sequence denotes usability. These minamilist architects spoke of ‘ornament as a crime’ – which in the context of e-learning design would count against interactivity as an indulgence.

Any learning curve, shallow or steep, is exactly that and we each react differently to a new platform when it is presented. I gave Xerte a go but struggled so decided instead to use a blog post in WordPress to compile the content, and where I could with themes, layout and other choices do what I could to makes this more rather than less accessible. In reality it is a blog post like any other with little provision for greater accessibility other than adding text to describe the images and charts.

A good deal can be done here, writing in short, clear sentences, avoid jargon and keeping to a logical sequences with clear headings and subheadings – all good practice for everyday web usability and use of English.

Paciello (2005) argues that engaging users and applying usability inspection methods are the cornerstones for ensuring universal accessibility. But that automated testing on its own is ‘incapable of emulating true user experience’. Paciello (2005:01) The best solution to ensuring accessible user experience (AUE) involves a combination of automated testing tools, expert usability inspections and controlled task user testing. Seale et al. (2006)

What next in WordPress?

With the Custom Design upgrade you can make your blog look and feel exactly the way you want.Customize the fonts in your theme with ease, apply a custom color palette and background pattern, or dive into CSS to make all the presentational changes you desire.

A straightforward theme for WordPress was chosen that is less cluttered than its predecessor.Tips on writing about an image, graph or table were taken from UKAAC.

A version was created in Xerte – this forced my hand, obliging considered editing of the text and images down to the essentials. Although in the time I managed some of the basic skills creating a logical sequence of 12 pages with a selection of supportive images, I was unable to establish how to load a piece of Creative Commons video, or to create an activity, such as multi-choice questions both which would have contributed to making it a piece of accessible interactive learning, rather than simply a resource.

6). Use the research and practice literature to explain and understand your experiences of these processes.


When designing for accessibility there are two potentially contradicting approaches – user centred design (UCD) or universal design (UD), with an important caveat, unless the design is also usable, then accessibility remains worthless (Sloan and Stratford, 2004)

UCD puts the focus on the needs perceived or observed of a single student, rather like an author writing with one reader in mind, as Kurt Vonnegut put in 1999 ‘Write to please just one person’. The designer here needs to have in their minds eye just one persona, one construction of a student using their resource who has a set of traits based on their gender, age, socio-economic background, level of educational achievement, personality, educational track record and any disabilities to take into consideration. The view with UCD is that no single design is likely to satisfy all different learner needs. The classic example given to support this argument is the perceived conflict between the needs of those who are blind and  those who have cognitive disabilities. For example, the dyslexic’s desire for effective imagery and short text would appear to contradict the blind user’s desire for strong textural narrative and little imagery. However, Bohman (2003b) provides a counterbalance to this argument stating that while the visual elements may be unnecessary for those who are blind, they are not harmful to them. As long as alternative text is provided for these visual elements, there is no conflict. Kelly et al (2004) argue that since accessibility is primarily about people and not about technologies it is inappropriate to seek a universal solution and that rather than aiming to provide an e-learning resource which is accessible to everyone there can be advantages in providing resources which are tailored to the student’s particular needs.

UCD follows three principles (Barnum 2002b, Luke 2002; Gould and Lewes 1985) that 

  1. Early focus on users and their tasks
  2. Measures aspects of ease of use throughout
  3. Is iterative design – i.e. there are repeated cycles of design, test, redesign and retest.

According to Barnum (2002) UCD encourages designers to:

  1. gather information from users before product development begins
  2. identify tasks that users will want to perform before product development begins
  3. include users in the product development process
  4. use an iterative product development life cycle.

At the most extreme degree of disability the BBC recently reported (BBC 4 13th November 2012 of a man in a vegetative state for 10 years who has been able to communicate that he is in no pain. Vanderheiden speculated(2007:152) that research on direct brain control would soon allow such patients to control devices in their environment. Designing for such a learner, because it pushes the boundaries of what has been done before, would be revealing and have broader applications.

Universal design (UD) is the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems, and processes), which are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions, and circumstances) Vanderheiden (1996) although he also argues that ‘it is not possible, however, to create a product, which is usable by everyone under all circumstances’. Striving for UD results in simplicity which in turn favours usability – if this is done with disability in mind a better product will be developed that also serves the needs of all users including those who are not disabled. Thompson (2005) argues that ‘providing a clear, simple design, including a consistent and intuitive navigational mechanism, benefits a variety of users with disabilities’ – more than this inclusion not only favours disabled people, but also socially disadvantaged affected by financial, educational, geographic and other features. (Gappa et al. 2004). On the other hand, the reality is that those who aim for UD are aiming to design for a majority, rather than all (Witt and MCDermott, 2004; Bonham, 2003). There is a caveat to UD – Seale (2006) feels that there are some who feel uncomfortable with the principles of UD because they appear to relieve educators of the responsibility of addressing individual student needs. Central to the idea of UD is a commitment that products should not have to be modified or adapted – yet that is exactly what designers ought to consider offering to disabled students – the opportunity, with plugins, Apps or browser controls, to modify a universal design to suit their needs. Thompson (2005) also believes that this is how web content that is accessible to the broadest possible audience using a wide variety of input and output technologies. Whilst Bilotta (2005) believes the claims of UD are over-done, that web accessibility techniques can never replace true inclusive user centre design. With the growing use of a plethora of mobile devices – smartphones and tablets, there is a growing expectation and demand for web content to be equally accessible to all on these devices – the developing use of HTML 5 permits ‘responsive’ design where content designed once for one platform adjusts iteslf as it appears on a different device.

The need to design with various assistive technologies in mind also negates the universal design approach, in guideline nine of WCAG-1 it is suggested that designers use features that enable activation of page elements via a variety of input devices. For Yu (2003) these are issues in relation to the law and accessibility, while Vanderheiden et al (1997) speculated on when assistive technology used to improve screen readers would have wider use in society – some 15 years on, voice recognition and screen reading is commonplace, so much so that in new Apple products they are shipped as standard to the operating system. OS X for example comes with a variety of assistive technologies to help those with vision disabilities, including a built-in screen reader, screen and cursor magnification, high-contrast settings, and more. (Apple, 2012)

The compromise between UD and UCD is to design for adaptability – allow and expect users to configure the application to meet their needs (Owens and Keller 2000; Arditi  2004) enabling the application to make adaptation to transform seamlessly in order to meet the needs of the user (Stephanidis et al. 1998; Cooper et al. 2000; Hanson and Richards 2004; Alexandraki et al. 2004). Alexandraki et al describe  the ‘eAccessibility Engine’, a tool which employs adaptation techniques to automatically render web pages accessible by users with different types of disabilities. Specifically it was capable of transforming web pages (at that time) to attain conformance to Section 508 standards and ‘AAA’ conformance to Web Content Accessibility Guidlins. Whilst Cooper et al (2000) points out that people have different needs when seeking to use a computer to facilitate any activity, research by Seale and Draffan a decade later (2010:458) indicates that students with disabilities also show considerable agility at negotiation the affordances of various computing devices and that ‘the dual inclusion in the context of disabled learners does not always have to be understood through the dual lenses of deficits and barriers’. Which rather makes me think that following the web design principles that Neilsen (2000) set out a decade ago will suffice : effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction can be achieved by following four main design principles: make the site’s purpose clear, help users find what they need, reveal site content and use visual design to enhance, not define, interaction design.

Usability and accessibility are different as Powlik and Karshmer (2002:218) point out: ‘To assume accessibility equates to usability is the equivalent of saying that broadcasting equates to effective communication’.


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