The purpose of this study was to develop an understanding of the design elements that influence the ability of persons with severe mental illness (SMI) and cognitive deficits to use a website, and to use this knowledge to design a web-based telehealth application to deliver a psychoeducation program to persons with schizophrenia and their families. Usability testing was conducted with 98 persons with SMI. First, individual website design elements were tested. Based on these results, theoretical website design models were used to create several alternative websites. These designs were tested for their ability to facilitate use by persons with SMI. The final website design is presented. The results indicate that commonly prescribed design models and guidelines produce websites that are poorly suited and confusing to persons with SMI. Our findings suggest an alternative model that should be considered when designing websites and other telehealth interventions for this population. Implications for future studies addressing the characteristics of accessible designs for persons with SMI and cognitive deficits are discussed.
Keywords: accessibility; cognitive deficits; severe mental illness; telehealth; website.