Interactive Timeline for Cerebral Palsy Midlands

This project was to create a digital exhibit for Cerebral Palsy Midlands (CPM) to celebrate the charity’s history up to its centenary. 

The commission was to produce an interactive timeline of Cerebal Palsy Midlands (CPM)/ the charity’s history that was visually designed to appeal to the younger demographic of service users whilst meeting their varied accessibility needs.

My role was as designer, developer and artist and was a solo piece of work utilising the charity’s historical archives.

The approach selected was to create the timeline using web-based software (HTML, CSS. and JavaScript) in a gaming framework to produce the required assets. Although it would resemble a game it was decided not to take on gamification elements such as points or scores. After discussion with the service users themselves, it was decided to retain challenges. As well as progressing on the timeline the bus would need to avoid obstacles. If a user hit an obstacle they would need to navigate past it. This was because it was felt the exhibit needed to be inclusive and given some of the disabilities of the service users the pressure of gamification might be considered a detraction to the sense of inclusion. The W3C Accessibility Standards were a vital point of reference in the development.

Screenshot of the original CPM Timeline experience.
The code base was not funded beyond the end of the project and has not been maintained as a result it is no longer available online.

It was agreed that the artwork should be bold and playful in a naive style. Apart from the mandate to appeal to younger users this decision was also practical as it allowed the use of block graphics which could use more intense compression ratios and render more reliable over the internet.

A user group was set up to test out ideas for the design. Given the work of the charity, it was vital to involve service users.

The resulting interactive piece was based on a cartoon version of the charity’s minibus (a key recent achievement) which would travel across the history of the charity. At various stopping points, users could open further information and access photographs and videos as well as other pieces of information which might be of interest.

The material was accessed via the web and anyone could access the timeline experience on an internet-connected device with a web browser without installing additional software. The exhibition had a timelimit and the code based would not be maintained beyond the end of the celebrations.

Accessibility, rather than cost (although this played a part) was the key reason that the project utilised web technologies rather than apps. Being web-based meant that the experience could be accessed on a huge variety of devices and the information design of the system presented the information in a number of ways. This meant that users of assistive technologies could navigate the timeline using them and those with specific learning difficulties could choose to access information in a way most suited to their needs. This benefit extended to all users of the experience irrespective of disabilities.

Some Android tablets were installed in the physical exhibition space to allow access to the interactive experience. The timeline could be navigated by finger on smartphones and tablets or using a mouse, keys or an assistive device such as an eye tracker.

Some concern was expressed about users with sight limitations. This was addressed by providing the information in an alternative text format, which could still access audio and video clips with audio descriptions.

There would have advantages to producing the experience as an app on smartphone and tablet devices. For example, graphics could have been pushed further and the risk of rendering lags wouldn’t have had to be so closely considered if the game was written in native code. However, it would have potentially limited access to accessibility tools that many of the intended audience were reliant on. It would also have introduced a barrier of having to download something. This approach would have added to the costs of the project considerably to produce versions for Android, iOS, Macs and Windows PCs.

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