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MARATONE research project aims to improve Web accessibility for people with mental disorders

BETTER (weB accEssibiliTy for people wiTh mEntal disoRders), a new study led by Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) researchers is aiming to improve Web accessibility for people with mental disorders, conditions that affect one in four people worldwide according to the World Health Organisation.

Web accessibility ensures that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web. So far much research attention has been placed on physical and sensory disabilities with phenomenal results. The interaction between neurocognitive deficits, associated with many conditions including mental disorders, and the Web environment has been also widely investigated. However, it has been suggested that little focus has been placed on people with mental disorders and the interaction between associated socio-cognitive dysfunction and the Web environment. Marie Curie Fellow and doctoral researcher on the BETTER project, Renaldo Bernard, notes that “the Web has been theorised to be relatively absent of non-verbal and social context cues compared to offline contexts. Though people are normally able to overcome these ‘deficiencies’ and sometimes even capitalise on them, it could be challenging for a person with a mental disorder who experiences socio-cognitive deficits to do the same”. He believes that improved Web accessibility can make a significant difference for those affected by mental disorders. BETTER’s recently published protocol paper in the proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction outlines the approach devised by a European team of well-established researchers in the fields of psychiatry, Web accessibility, Web science, public health and psychology. The methodology has three-phases: (1) identification of Web accessibility barriers using two data sources: a systematic review of pertinent literature and focus group interviews with people with depression and anxiety; (2) validation of current Web accessibility facilitation measures for this population using experimental user-testing; (3) provision of expertise-based recommendations for the improvement of Web accessibility facilitation measures using a delphi method. BETTER focuses on depression and anxiety because they are the most common mental disorders and account for the leading causes of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) due to mental and substance use disorders worldwide according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. If adopted, the project’s recommendations are expected to herald improvements in the Web browsing experiences of people with depression and anxiety, and Web-based treatments. Bernard stresses that “this is of course not only of benefit to people with depression and anxiety or generally people with mental disorders but it is also of benefit to everyone else who uses the Web as a tool for progress in our increasingly connected societies”. BETTER is primarily supervised by Dr. Alarcos Cieza, currently Disability and Rehabilitation (DAR) Team lead at the World Health Organization (WHO) (previously Professor of Medical psychology at the University of Southampton) and co-supervised by LMU senior researcher Dr Carla Sabariego. The project also involves collaborations with Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Southampton, David Baldwin, and Activity Lead at the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative International Program Office, Shadi Abou-Shadi. The team’s recently published paper can be accessed from Springer - The BETTER project is funded through the MARATONE, the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 under REA grant agreement n° 316795 and is coordinated at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom (


Protocol, Web accessibility, Depression, Anxiety, Mental disorders