2 Accessible Versions, 1 for People with CD: Rough Draft In Action

I have working a rough draft of the idea I outlined in my previous post, “Switching Between 2 Accessible Versions, 1 for People with Cognitive Disabilities“.  On the Clear Helper Web site, I have enabled visitors to switch between two versions.  Both meet all accessibility standards.  One contains all content and the other contains only primary content.  This should help people with cognitive disabilities complete core tasks, such as finding the information they need, without the distractions of extraneous content.

Pictured below is the top half of the home page.  Its default style is two columns.  The left one contains the primary content.  The right one has the accessible, text-to-speech (TTS) player and a column of links.  At the top of the page, on the right side, is a menu that includes the choices “Regular” and “Simple”.  A click to one changes the page’s style respectively.

2-column Web page. Primary text on left. Player and links on right.

Clicking the “Simple” link changes the home page’s style to the one pictured below.  The column of links is gone, the TTS player is moved to the bottom of the page, and all of the footer content (not pictured) is also removed.  The primary, textual content expands across the width of the page.

1-column Web page displaying only textual content

In my implementation of the style switcher, I made one significant improvement over ones I have used on other Web sites.  I am using server-side scripting instead of JavaScript.  This means better accessibility for assistive-technology users and certainly for those who disable JavaScript.

I am open to suggestions for improvement.  I will continue to experiment and report on my progress.  It almost goes without saying, of course, that a “simple” style will be the default for the future Clear Helper Web site.

Switching Between 2 Accessible Versions, 1 for People with Cognitive Disabilities

It is a well-accepted axiom that a Web site can meet all accessibility standards yet still be unusable by people with a wide variety of disabilities.  The W3C discusses this in its article “Understanding Conformance“.

It is also true that a Web site can both meet all accessibility standards, and be usable by a wide variety of people with disabilities, yet still be unusable by a subset of people.  For instance, a Web page with columns of links, tables and image-based advertisements may be accessible to all who use assistive technology, yet be inaccessible to people with cognitive disabilities.

The WC3’s new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) define a technique entitled “C29: Using a style switcher to provide a conforming alternate version“. It is intended to allow Web developers to provide a version of a Web site that conforms to accessibility standards when its default version does not (meet a standard or standards).

For the future Clear Helper Web site, I am considering employing this technique a little differently.  I would like to enable users to switch between a version that meets all accessibility standards and contains all content, and a version that meets all accessibility standards but contains only primary content.  This would help people with cognitive disabilities complete core tasks, such as finding the information they need, without the distractions of extraneous content.

The details of how I might implement this will be the subject of a future blog post.

Readability: Free Tool Strips All Distractions From Web Pages

People with intellectual disabilities can be overwhelmed by Web pages cluttered with numerous links, images, advertisements, etc.  Faced with such interfaces, they can not complete core tasks such as finding the information they need or making a purchase.  (See bottom of this post for a couple examples.)

I recently found a free tool, called “Readability“, that is a Web browser bookmarklet. It strips all distractions from Web pages, and attempts to show only the primary text content.  Before a user adds it to the Web browser’s toolbar, it can be set to show text in one of four styles, a font size can be chosen, and the width of left- and right margins can be selected.

Example Transformation

A Wikipedia page about bananas, an image of which is below, has columns of links, images, tables and other non-text elements.

Wikipedia page with columns of links, images & tables

Clicking the Readability bookmarklet strips all elements from the page except for its central text.  The image below shows the same page, but it displays only the main, single column of text.

Wikipedia page showing only a central column of text

That is a great result.  Unfortunately, on numerous other sites I tried, all those of online newspapers, the results were poor.  Either Readability could not determine which was the main text content, or it displayed only a snippet of it.  Readability has promise, however, as is demonstrated with the example above.

Readability’s utility gives me an idea for the future Clear Helper Web site.  Perhaps I can enable users to switch between two interfaces: one with main content only, and one with extra elements.  More on this will be the subject of a future blog post.

Note: A description and a video-demonstration of Readability can be found on the Arc90 Lab Experiment Web site.

Previous, Related Blog Posts

CogLink E-Mail for People with Intellectual Disabilities: A Review

Coglink is e-mail software designed for use by people with intellectual disabilities.  This is a review of it.


I purchased CogLink for $49.   At the time of this writing, this is a one-time cost. There are no continuing subscription fees.  This is surprising given that a great feature of this product is toll-free, live technical support from 9 AM – 5 PM (PST).  My understanding from a conversation I had with a CogLink staff member is that the project is currently grant-funded.  This helps explain why the live technical support does not have to be funded by subscription costs.


Coglink is intended to be managed by a “Helper” who installs it and provides at least some initial help through its training and use.  Helpers may log-in to a Web site to enable and to disable CogLink’s advanced features, and to set up the people, called “Buddies”, with whom its user will communicate by e-mail.  Statistics are presented on the last time the e-mail software was used and the last time an e-mail message was sent.  There is an option to receive monthly usage reports.


Coglink’s interface is clean and simple.  A text instruction always appears at the top and a list of “buddies” is always on the left.  Contextually-relevant buttons are located at the bottom. The opening screen instructs the user to “Click a name to read and send mail”.

CogLink paneled interface. List of buddies on left, instructions at top.

A click presents the user with the same simple interface, but with a message text composition box on the right.

CogLink paneled screen. Buddies listed on left, text-compose box on right.

As the user types a word, a menu box of possible words appears.  The user can choose one, which is then entered into the message.  This word-prediction feature can be disabled.  A button at the bottom will speak aloud the message text at any point.  When done, the user can simply click the “Send” button or the “Cancel” button.


I believe CogLink is easy to use by its intended customer base.  It has many customizable-, accessibility- and safety features.

Other Versions

CogLink has “Pack”, a portable version contained on a USB drive. It also has a version called “TeenMail” with social-connection features for teens with intellectual disabilities.


Development of these products is “…supported by a National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research SBIR grant, Why Go It Alone?: The Use of Public Resources to Enhance Computer Accessibility for Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities, grant number H133S070096.” Retrieved from http://www.lifetechnologiesllc.com/products.html


For a review of the training that accompanied the Coglink e-mail software, see my blog post entitled “CogLink E-Mail for People with ID: Review of Its Training“. No endorsement is intended or implied for CogLink.

CogLink E-Mail for People with ID: Review of Its Training

Coglink is e-mail software designed for use by people with intellectual disabilities.  This is a review of the training that accompanies it.  The next blog post will be a review of the e-mail software itself.


CogLink arrived on one CD for the training software and one for the e-mail software.  A nice touch is they were labeled with my first name.

Both the training- and the e-mail software are Java-based.  The CogLink Web site says they require Windows XP, but I found they run just fine on Windows Vista. Installation of the training software took what most people would consider to be a long time.  After a little while, an animation does appear, presumably to indicate activity is occurring, but there is no progress bar typical of software-installation programs.

Interface Attributes

The training had three sections: how to use a mouse, how to use a keyboard and how to use the e-mail software.  Each was animated and narrated.  Their screens had simple, written instructions at the tops.  At the bottoms were two buttons, one for restarting the lesson and one for returning to the main menu.  The interface was free of distracting and/or irrelevant elements.screen with text instructions at top, mouse picture in center and buttons at bottom

Lesson Interactivity

Lessons required responses from the learner for each step.  Sessions had multiple practice instances.  Feedback occurred via voice- and written prompts. Most correct responses were followed by a visual- and an audio prompt that simply said, “Correct”.  The consequences for incorrect responses were basically a brief prompt that said, “Not quite”, and a repeated instruction to elicit a correct response.

It was evident the lessons were designed to limit mistake frequency.  Much of the time, the software did not react at all to mistakes, but only to correct responses.  This is good practice.

In the mouse training, an intentional mistake by me was recognized by the software as a correct response.  This is antithetical to the foundation of errorless learning, an instructional technique upon which the training is supposed to be based.  As well, at least one lesson included an instruction on a mistake not to make.  Within the field of applied behavior analysis, this is considered an inadvisable training technique.


The training software does not appear designed to be used with assistive technology, such as screen readers.  However, I judge it accessible to its target population.  In addition to the accessibility attributes mentioned above, it uses simple language, large fonts and contextually-relevant imagery.


The training provides instruction and practice for the most basic skills needed to use the e-mail software.  It was a good choice to include lessons on using a mouse and a keyboard.  Overall, I judge the training to be a fine attempt at helping people with intellectual disabilities to learn how to use the e-mail software, and one that is accessible to them.

Note: This is a follow-up to my previous post entitled “E-Mail Software for People with Cognitive Disabilities“. No endorsement is intended or implied for CogLink.

Good Info from a Self Advocate & a Person with ID

Today, I received good information from Mary, a self advocate, an active member of her community and an occasional Web user.  Mary is also a person with an intellectual disability.

Success & Suggestion

Mary told me she had used Google with success to find the mailing address of her local state representative.  She explained many people she knew would like to find similar information, and suggested I create a tutorial on how to do so.  That is a great suggestion for the future Clear Helper Web site.

Challenge & Resolution

She reported trouble using the DisabilityInfo.org Web site.  The home page, she said, was too full of choices.  I designed that site, and I agree with her.  Since I have been designing sites back when the Web was born, people have insisted that everything must go on the home page.  This makes for a very cluttered, confusing page that does not convey the site’s core message, and does not enable visitors to access its information easily.

When I first designed the DisabilityInfo.org Web site a few years ago, it met accepted accessibility standards (WCAG 1.0 AA compliance) and was given a good accessibility review by testers who were blind.  It is not perfect.  For instance, it does not use headings as well as it should.  Yet, most importantly to my current awareness, it has no accessibility features specifically intended for people with cognitive disabilities.  I will be redesigning it next year.  I will apply to its new design the accessibility- and the usability lessons I learn with the Clear Helper project.

Focus Group

Next month, Mary is hosting for me a focus group of ten people with intellectual disabilities.  I will be asking them the questions I outlined in my blog post on Interviewing People with ID about Web Accessibility.  I am sure they will have a lot of good ideas for me.  I will report them in a future post.

Note: Mary told me she wanted to learn American Sign Language to communicate with coworkers, but was unsuccessful finding on the Web such a training program.  (The agency that serves Mary found a local one geared for people with intellectual disabilities.)  If anyone knows of a Web resource listing training programs intended for people with intellectual disabilities, please tell me.  If there is not one, it may have to be a future project for me.

Web Site Design Suggestions for People with Dyslexsia

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects reading, writing, spelling and language.  It is diagnosed in people of all levels of intelligence.

Academic research on designing Web sites for people with Dyslexia is limited, just as it is for people with intellectual disabilities. I thus turned to what should be considered “primary” sources of such information, among them the blogs of people who themselves have Dyslexia.  Unsurprisingly, there was significant commonality among the relevant recommendations.

Design Suggestions

  • Provide a way to view the Web site using low-contrast pages.  Standard black text on a white background can be tiring and can be seen as blurry.
  • Use narrow column widths (60 to 80 characters).  Tracking lines of unbroken text across a page can be difficult.
  • Display text boxes, especially with lightly-contrasted backgrounds.  These are found to be helpful in understanding important points.
  • Use italics sparingly.  That italicized characters lean over slightly means they can be difficult to read.
  • If requiring users to enter text, provide a spell-checker function.

Design Suggestions Common Across The Cognitive-Disability Spectrum

  • Use left-aligned text.  Fully-justified text has an effect known as “rivers of white”.  People see white patterns flowing through text more prominent than the text itself.
  • Employ text fonts that are large, sanserif, and of even color.
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs expressing one idea.
  • At least upon the first occurrence, spell out abbreviations and acronyms.
  • Don’t use moving images or text, which are very distracting.
  • Implement document structure such as headings, bulleted lists and extra-vertical line spacing.

The point can not be made often enough that the suggestions listed above will help everyone.  Web designers would do well to heed this advice.


Bradford, J. Designing web pages for dyslexic readers. Dyslexia Parents Resource. Retrieved from http://www.dyslexia-parent.com/mag35.html

Davis Dyslexia Association International, Dyslexia the Gift Web site. (2009-12-14). Web Design for Dyslexic Users. Retrieved from http://www.dyslexia.com/library/webdesign.htm

Page, T. (2009-06-13). Text justification – issues and techniques. Retrieved from http://www.pws-ltd.com/sections/articles/2009/justified_text.html

Pickard, J. (2005 – 2006). What problems would a dyslexic user face?  Retrieved from http://www.thepickards.co.uk/Articles/Designing_for_Dyslexia.cfm

Pedley, M. (2006-10-16). Designing for Dyslexics. Retrieved from http://accessites.org/site/2006/10/designing-for-dyslexics-part-1-of-3/

Vassallo, S. (2003-05). Enabling the Internet for people with dyslexia. Retrieved from http://www.ebility.com/articles/dyslexia.php

Note: This post updated on 2009-12-15 to correct content- and formatting errors.  I thank Cliff Tyllick for calling my attention to them.

News Articles Accessible to People with Cognitive Disabilities

Voice of America (VOA) Special English News is a Web site designed for audiences who are not native speakers of English.  The same characteristics that make its news articles accessible to that population also help make them accessible to people with cognitive disabilities.

Special English Written News

The news articles have “… a core vocabulary of 1500 words.  Most are simple words that describe objects, actions or emotions.  Some words are more difficult.  They are used for reporting world events and describing discoveries in medicine and science.  Special English writers use short, simple sentences that contain only one idea. They use active voice.  They do not use idioms.”

Special English Audio News

News articles are also offered as podcasts.  The “… Special English broadcasters read at a slower pace, about two-thirds the speed of standard English.  This helps people learning English hear each word clearly.  It also helps people who are fluent English speakers understand complex subjects.”

Special English TV

Weekly, five short features are broadcast on satellite television. Each lasts about four minutes.  All are closed captioned.  A RSS subscription is available for them.  (This means they can be downloaded and watched.)


The Voice of America Web site is not designed to be accessible to users of assistive technology, such as screen readers, nor does it have accessibility features for people with cognitive disabilities.

Quotes above retrieved from Voice of America. Helping People Understand Their World, http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/about_special_english.cfm

No endorsement is intended or implied for VOA Special English News.

Great Text Accessibility Toolbar for People with Cognitive Disabilities

I recently discovered Talklets, a text accessibility toolbar for Web sites that could be of great help to people with cognitive disabilities.  It can be seen in action on the Web site of Rok Talk, the developer, and on the Web site of Regional Support Centre, Scotland North & East.  Take a look at it on the latter site.  To do so, click the button entitled “Click to Show Text Reader” on the right of the home page, near the top.  The toolbar then appears at the bottom of the page.  The main part of it looks like this.

strip of round, colored buttons with symbols for play, stop, record, etc.


Via simple buttons, the toolbar enables Web site visitors to:

  • listen to the text of the entire page or just to the text to which a user points the cursor;
  • record the text to a MP3 file that can be easily downloaded;
  • enlarge, reduce or restore the text size;
  • highlight the text in different colors; and
  • see a help window that explains how to use each feature.

Extra features include enabling users to retrieve the definition of any word, change the pronunciation of a word, and highlight words as they are read.

The developer says the toolbar does not interfere with screen readers, and can be used by people who are blind (and don’t have access to a screen reader) via keyboard controls.


I will be contacting Rok Talk to discuss its pricing structure and to determine if it would be willing to let me experiment with the toolbar on the future Clear Helper Web site.

Note: No endorsement is intended or implied for this product.

Interviewing People with ID about Web Site Accessibility

I will soon be conducting more interviews with people with intellectual disabilities.  I have three primary areas of interest:

  1. the sites they find inaccessible and accessible, which I am conveying as “easy to use”;  (I will explore the reasons.)
  2. which site features do they find helpful or not, “like and dislike”; (The answers may help me choose for which sites I should create tutorials.) and
  3. what they would like to learn about using the Web.  (This is to help inform me about the subject matter of future tutorials.)

These are the questions I will be asking of people:

  • Which sites are hard to use but you really want to use?
  • Which sites do you find easy to use?
  • Which parts of Web sites do you like, and which do you dislike?
  • What would you like to learn to do on the Web?

To obtain this information, I am visiting self-advocacy groups, and meeting in person with people with intellectual disabilities.  I anticipate having a computer available at each interview so people can show me as well as tell me.  I will be recording responses in narrative form.

Later in the project, as I design the site, I will need people to test it regularly and give me feedback every step of the way.  I have not yet figured out how best to organize that, but I am open to suggestions.

Note: The W3C has a good article about Involving Users in Web Projects for Better, Easier Accessibility.  I shall rely upon it to help guide my project.