Relevant Literature: Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities

The Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities has a Cognitive Technology Literature Database.  At the time of this writing, if the term “Web accessibility” is entered into the database’s search page, references to almost 30 research studies are produced.  Some are not strictly related to Web accessibility, but it is an informative collection.

Literature Reviews, Part 2: Paul R. Bohman

Web Accessibility for Cognitive and Learning Disabilities: A Review of Research-Based Evidence in the Literature, by Paul R. Bohman of George Mason University, is a working paper that, at the time of this writing, was last edited July 20, 2007.

This review summarizes and critiques seven relevant studies, and has an extensive discussion on potential reasons for the paucity of relevant research.  It notes common findings across studies, such as user difficulties typing text, understanding context, and navigating Web sites.

I was intrigued by the observation that Web sites could be more navigable / accessible to people with cognitive disabilities if the need for text input is reduced.  I imagine one way that could be done, at least for Web site searching, would be to enable users to select from a common set of search terms, rather than require them to enter the search terms themselves.

I found enlightening the brief discussions on resistance to the idea that people with cognitive disabilities are entitled to accommodations, and on the possibility there is reluctance to accommodate people with cognitive disabilities because it may require significant Web site redesign.

Literature Reviews, Part 1: WebAIM

A few years ago, Robert Bass, the director of New England INDEX, and I were helping the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services think about providing Web-based content to its constituency.  As part of this work, we had been asked by the department to determine best practices for developing Web content accessible to people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities.  I scoured the Web for such literature.  I found almost nothing.  We then contracted with the good folks at WebAIM at Utah State University to look for the same information.  They too found very little.  At the time, they told us they would have to conduct extensive research into the topic (on their own initiative).  Indeed they did.

WebAIM: Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Literature Review, found 159 related articles, and describes the process used to discover them.   Results from the review were broken down into six categories:

  • Conformance with standards / best practices
  • Common design elements
  • Language Use / Reading
  • Enhance Comprehension
  • Structure
  • Attention / Distraction

WebAIM’s literature review is a summary of the findings.  It does not provide references / links to the articles found.  It does list the numbers of literature articles that referenced the elements listed above, and their sub-elements.

Project Outline

I plan to put into practice the research and the suggested guidelines for developing a Web site accessible to people with cognitive disabilities.

As of now, my plan is to:

  • review the available literature;
  • examine relevant studies;
  • find examples of Web sites designed for people with cognitive disabilities;
  • build such a Web site;
  • place on it sample content of interest to people with cognitive disabilities;
  • try different types of content (picture-based, video-based, text, audio);
  • meet guidelines on the creation of accessible content;
  • experiment with different designs to see what works best;
  • have people with cognitive disabilities use and test the site;
  • based upon feedback, decide upon the best design or designs;
  • build up the content to make the site truly useful.

As I undergo the above tasks, I will be blogging about my efforts, successes, travails and ideas.  I will also have general blog entries about Web accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities.