How to Improve the Web Experience for Cognitive Disabilities

You've probably known people, maybe a neighbor or a co-worker, with a reading disabililty or attention-deficit disorder. So you know how users may struggle to write down information (e.g., fill out a form) or comprehend the information on web pages.

Cognitive disabilities take many forms, range in severity, and have numerous causes: low literacy, heredity, head injuries, and even differences in culture and language. Some may be temporary as the user gains the ability to read or speak a new language. Some may be permanent: the user may always struggle with reading and writing, get distracted or have short attension spans, or get confused with complex screen layout. Fine motot skills might be compromised when development is delayed due to conditions such as Down Syndrome.

Users with cognitive disabiltiies have difficulty with memory, problem solving, attention deficits, and math and visual comprehension.  They often rely on keyboards with large, high-contrast keys and very clear function labels, and programs like Kurzweil 3000 as an aid for learning, reading and writing.

Tips to Improve Web Accessibility

  1. Highlight new or urgent items on the screen.
  2. Try to avoid moving content, but when used, provide ways to stop screen motion and for a still view for all moving content.
  3. Simplify instructions and create short, sequential, numbered lists for steps.
  4. Design simple uncluttered site layouts. Keep forms simple and clearly labeled.
  5. Provide multiple ways of learning – text, audio, and pictures can help these users learn.
  6. Make sure the reading level is below 9th grade; use short sentences and paragraphs; use headers and lists so users can skim content more easily.
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