Finding & Understanding Web Info: Considerations for People with CD

How can a search tool be created that is easy to use by people with cognitive disabilities, and indeed by everyone?  How can search results be designed and written to be understood by the widest audience?  Considerations related to these questions are the subjects of this- and the next several blog posts.

So far, in my interviews of people with intellectual disabilities, I have been told that finding relevant information on the Web is difficult.  This is true for many people.  How can searching be made easier for the kind of content that would be of interest to people with cognitive disabilities?  Well, I know of one effort to make finding such information easier for people with disabilities in general.

Example Web Site: MADIL

The Massachusetts Aging and Disabilities Information Locator (MADIL) is a good Web site to review because it is designed to provide a simple search interface for thousands of records in disparate databases.  It is a single point of entry to the Web sites of its partners (listed on the MADIL home page).  All contain disability-specific information for people residing in Massachusetts.

In this post and the next, I describe the MADIL features created to make searching as easy as possible, and how effective they may be for people with cognitive disabilities.


MADIL meets the accessibility standards of the time (2007) I created it.  It does not have ones intended specifically for people with cognitive disabilities.  Such features, with which I will experiment on the future Clear Helper Web site, include options for easy- and standard versionstext-to-speech; and plain-language content.

Directory of Resources

MADIL has “Quick Guides”, which are categorized sets of links to resource Web sites.  They were set up to be used by site visitors who find MADIL’s search tool to be difficult to use, or who want to find resources grouped by subject matter.  That’s good for people with cognitive disabilities. The Quick Guides home page, pictured below, also has a couple features that are good for people with cognitive disabilities.

  1. Its first link is to a list of phone numbers site visitors can call for help. This means they can receive personalized assistance determining which resources are relevant.  They don’t have to rely upon coming up with effective search terms or figure out the often complicated terminology and acronyms inherent to the resulting information.
  2. It uses contextually-relevant images for each link (although I now realize they are too small). Such imagery can help visitors grasp the meaning of the associated content.

Quick Guides home page: list of categorized links with relevant images

Content In Languages Other Than English

MADIL has a translation feature based on Google technology, which enables searching and results in languages other than English. This does make content more available to a wider audience.  Unfortunately, even the best of readers will find that it is good enough only to grasp the gist of the content. People with cognitive disabilities, who speak languages other than English, will thus not find this feature compelling.

Next Up: Search Tool

MADIL’s primary interface element is a text- based search tool. An analysis of its components will be the subject of my next blog post.