Low end disruptive innovation in psychometric testing for students with disabilities

The new ‘Legal Recruit’ site (twitter thread), to launch on 1 November 2011, offers law students a chance to get better at the verbal reasoning test of the sort they might do if they have to a @SHLGROUP test as part of an application for a training contract or vacation scheme placement. The only way to practice these tests properly is to try out the practice assessment which SHL Direct have themselves set.

As a student with a visual impairment myself (I have problems visualising text because of significant diplopia), I wished to design a platform so that students, including students with visual impairments, can easily practice verbal reasoning tests. I’d like law students who are applying through these SHL tests to get good at them. The online practice platform I’ve designed is an example of disruptive technology; I am currently studying innovation management as part of my special electives on my MBA at BPP Business School (as a full-time student).

Disruptive technologies are not always disruptive to customers, and often take a long time before they are significantly disruptive to established companies. I have no intention of making my platform ‘disruptive’ to SHL. In fact, I want students, including people like me with disabilities, to perform well or even shine at these tests when they’re applying for the corporate firms that use them. This unfortunately goes along with the idea popular amongst disabled trainees and disabled seniors that often that you have ‘to be better than the competition’, just to get to play on the “equal playing field”, sad but true, if true.

Disruptive technologies are often difficult to recognise. Indeed, as Professor Clayton Christensen points out and studies have shown (Clayton is Chair in Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, it is often entirely rational for incumbent companies to ignore disruptive innovations, since they can compare so badly with existing technologies or products, and the deceptively small market available for a disruptive innovation is often very small compared to the market for the established technology. SHL is a well-established provider of psychometric tests in the “grown-up world” of legal recruitment; my platform is run to help students who wish to succeed to the best of their ability in an incredibly competitive marketplace.

Disruptive technologies like my psychometric testing platform, too, can be subtly disruptive, rather than prominently so. Previous examples include digital photography (the sharp decline in consumer demand for common 35 mm print film resulting from the popularity of memory cards). In fact, my online assessment platform contains many of the features that work about the SHL verbal reasoning tests (such as a chance to know how much time has elapsed etc.). The subtle disruption I’m introducing is a simple button where you can enlarge the size of text, a simple innovation, but one which can make a huge difference to the wellbeing or happiness of students doing such tests. The point about my test is that the student can now concentrate on getting the answers to the verbal reasoning problems correct, not concentrate on surviving reading the text with enormous difficulty in the time limit.

For example, here’s the sample question for the learner without reasonable adjustments.

Now, here’s the sample question for the learner with reasonable adjustments for visual impairments, in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.

I hope that students with visual impairments, dyslexia or dyspraxia know that they can “ask for reasonable adjustments”. If legal recruiters fail to make such reasonable adjustments on the production of appropriate evidence, they may indeed be acting unlawfully under equality discrimination here in the UK. I believe my innovation is actually a low end disruption.  Arguably, Spotify is an example of a ‘low end disruption’ (see for example here). This is a powerful concept in innovation management, described here for Spotify:

At first, a disruptive product fails to deliver a superior offering to the incumbent technology in one or more characteristics of the job-to-be-done. But consumers switch nonetheless because the disruptor has a systemic advantage in at least one of these characteristics. We gave up minicomputer performance for the cost advantage of PCs, we gave up plasma television contrast for the slimness of the LCD, and we gave up the personality of written letters for the speed of emails.

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5 thoughts on “Low end disruptive innovation in psychometric testing for students with disabilities

  1. Colmmu says:

    It’s astonishing to me that given the nature and use case of these tests that high level accessibility is not built in to the online design, essentially if designed correctly from the outset with accessibility in mind, there should be no need for either reasonable adjustment to divert from the design flaw (ie not embedding accessibility into the design) or a disruptive technology. If accessibility was built into the system there wouldn’t be a disability (non medical model) and thus would be a true example of “equality”. If I were a law firm using this tech, I would seriously question this.

  2. Thanks very much for posting. I believe that it’s not just an aspirational need for students to be ‘at the heart of the system’, consistent with HM Government’s ‘White Paper’, but it is also a lawful obligation of certain bodies to ensure ‘reasonable adjustments’, consistent with the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) and Equality Act (2010). Which bodies are in fact accountable under this legislation is of course a literal legal point (except when their Lordships have seen fit to discuss it), but I believe corporate law firms and commercial psychometric testing should have the wish correctly aligned on their ‘moral compass’. I fully agree with your wider point about I am correcting a design flaw or oversight, or introducing a disruptive technology. I do not happen to believe in a medical model that labels disabled students as ‘sick’; sure there are clinical issues which need to be addressed (in my case profound diplopia), but there’s no need for disabled law students to be labelled as ‘sick’. For this reason, I have become confused in lumping together dyslexia, dyspraxia and visual perceptual difficulties as ‘disabilities’, as this somewhat ignores the individuality of students. An ‘educational’ model is much less demeaning than a ‘medical’ model in my personal view, and I’m grateful to you for flagging up this critical issue.

  3. […] time that they can take for each test from 19 minutes to 39 minutes. You can read more about this here if you’re […]

  4. It’s shocking if such tests don’t include accessibility options as standard, especially if a test is timed
    Does turning on Windows or browser accessibility options not help at all?

  5. Thanks Elizabeth. Indeed, there are ways of doing it ‘centrally’ through browser options. The British Psychological Society offers very comprehensive guidance for the conduct of online assessments, and for the effectiveness of such assessments for visually-impaired learners. It would be good practice, in my opinion, if test providers, including SHL, could however make it as easy as possible for the text size to be adjusted. It is also essential that compatibility issues are not stressful for the learner about to do an assessment – this includes making sure that the test will work without difficulty on various browsers, is compatible for both Macs and PCs, and, most importantly, the learner who has decided to do the assessment entirely voluntarily (but at the request of the corporate) does not have to spend ages in discovering how to resolve any problems. This could be considered as simply unprofessional behaviour, and not a behaviour where the corporate or the test provider are not treating the learner with the respect they deserve.

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