Easy e-mail client for people with intellectual disabilities


While our society has made good progress bringing down physical barriers in the work-place for people with physical impairments, access to employment for people with intellectual disabilities continues to be limited, especially in Spain. Indeed, in this digitalized XXI Century, where we depend so much on information and communication technologies in the workplace, people with intellectual disabilities are in clear disadvantages. For example, computer mediated communication such as e-mail clients which are necessary in the work-place are not well designed for people with intellectual disabilities.    These programs can be very difficult to operate because of their complicated menus or unclear functionalities.  Moreover, the main functionality of an e-mail client -- send and receive messages -- is not well adapted for a person with intellectual disabilities. Indeed, it has been suggested that in order for a message to be understood by people with intellectual disabilities, the text has to be written in an easy-to-read language (e.g. simplified text).  The fact that e-mail clients do not incorporate assistive technology such as text simplification limits access to the digital world and the work-place by people with intellectual disabilities.

Kolumba, an e-mail client specially designed for people with intellectual disabilities and maintained by our research laboratory, includes text simplification technology, text-to-pictogram translation, and voice synthesis, easing access to information by people with intellectual disabilities.

Kolumba is a technology which fills a gap in the field of accessibility, however Kolumba is for the moment a prototype which needs improvements before it can be released to the public.  



The objective of this project is to transform Kolumba into a robust, well-tested program which can become the e-mail client for people with intellectual disabilities. At the same time we would like to make it an option for other types of public, such as elderly people.   

Specific objectives:

  1. Investigate improvements to be implemented in Kolumba
  2. Implement in Kolumba the improvements according to the users’ needs
  3. Evaluate Kolumba both quantitatively and qualitatively with the target users
  4. Implement improvements following the results of the evaluation
  5. Add new functionalities to the program such as new languages (Catalan) and sets of pictograms
  6. Disseminate the results of this project widely on the Web, social networks, through research papers in journals or conferences

We propose to achieve the following goals:

  1. A robust implementation of the e-mail client Kolumba
  2. Inclusion of new languages (Catalan and ARASAAC pictogram language)
  3. Extension of Kolumba to clients other than Gmail
  4. Evaluation of Kolumba with the target users (people with intellectual disabilities) and their families and caretakers 


Advantages of the solution

Kolumba is an accessible e-mail client which fills a gap in current  information and  communication technologies offering a simple interface, easiness of operation, and most importantly, functionalities to make text easier to read and understand. A robust and thoroughly tested version of Kolumba would have impact in the way people with intellectual disabilities access information on the Web. Kolumba has the potential to become a useful communication tool for other users such as elderly people.  


Activities and technical description

  1. Interviews and questionnaires will be used to detect improvements to be made to Kolumba
  2. New functionalities will be incorporated such as support for  Catalan language
  3. A new pictogram language (ARASAAC) more appropriate for Catalan and Spanish users will be incorporated
  4. A new interface with all improvements will be developed
  5. Evaluation with final users will be carried out
  6. Dissemination activities will be carried out such as preparation of Web material   and presentations in conferences

Technical description

The article “Able to Read My Mail: An Accessible e-Mail Client with Assistive Technology” published in the  Web for All 2017 Conference  (W4ALL) and Winner of  the best communication paper award explains the system.

The Kolumba prototype was featured in several newspaper articles and press releases:


Expected results and impact (beneficiaries)

As a result of the project activities we hope to obtain:

  • A robust and accessible  version of the e-mail  Kolumba
  • Integration of functionalities for simplification in Spanish, Catalan, and English
  • Integration of a new pictogram language
  • Quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the technology  
  • Wide dissemination of the achieved results 



  • The community in general and people with intellectual disabilities in particular.  The success of this project would make the technology portable to other users.  In this project we propose to test Kolumba wit between 50 and 60 users.  


  • Family, friends, caretakers, and  people closed to the person with intellectual disability.  Government and industry will clearly benefit from Kolumba by allowing a better integration of people with special needs in the digital world.


- Campaign closed -