Search Wizard Substitute for Text Queries: Discussion, Examples

How can a Web site be designed to make searching its resources as easy as possible for people with cognitive disabilities?  What would be a better search interface than the text-query, Google-based interfaced used by The Massachusetts Aging and Disabilities Information Locator (MADIL)? (This is a follow-up my two previous posts, which describe the MADIL Web site’s search features.)

MADIL relies upon visitors to construct text-string search queries to find relevant information in the databases it indexes.  Visitors must determine how to describe an interest, which human-service-industry terms to use, and the appropriate search-query syntax.  This may be beyond the capabilities of the average Google-type-search user, as well those of people with cognitive disabilities.

Search Wizard

Perhaps a series of questions could be asked that would help define site visitors’ interests. As they are answered, the search results could progressively be narrowed.  Tools such as these are commonly known in the computer industry as wizards, which take a user through a task step-by-step.  For searching, the wizard would choose which set of questions to display next based upon a site visitor’s answers.  Unfortunately, coming up with sets of questions to ask and the decision-tree logic for all possible combinations of answers would be a lot of work, and would be highly unlikely to address all possible subjects of interest.

Example Search Wizard

A more economical approach is taken by, a site of resources for elders living in Massachusetts.  It has a feature called “Assess My Needs“.  Narrowing content by focusing on site visitors’ needs rather than requiring them to navigate it based upon how a developer decided it should be organized is a great aspect of this feature.  The vast majority of Web sites with similar features are designed using the latter orientation.

Step 1

The first page of “Assess My Needs” is a categorized list site visitors can select to define their interests.  A zip (postal) code is required to narrow results geographically.  The number of miles a visitor is willing to travel to receive services can also be entered.

Step 2

Submission of selected needs brings site visitors to a list of relevant general-need categories.  A prompt is presented to choose one.

Search Results

For all selections, the first record displayed is of the regional elder-care agency related to the zip code entered.  Below that is a list of programs, the number of which is determined by the specific needs selected and the number of miles entered, if any.  For each program, the list displays contact information, a brief description, and a link to the full record.

Possible Modifications

For people with cognitive disabilities, presenting a single page with forty-four possible, categorized choices may be overwhelming.  Perhaps the categories could be presented first, along with contextually-relevant imagery.  Selection of a category would produce a smaller set of choices.

This idea is represented by the Easy Health UK Web site.  It presents site visitors with a set of six content categories.  Sub-category lists of varying lengths are displayed on subsequent pages.  All choices are accompanied by a relevant photograph and by a text-to-speech option.

The Easy Health UK Web site’s interface is a content drill-down rather than a question-and-answer search wizard.  An advantage is that content is provided after two- or three clicks.  This may be impractical, however, for a search wizard on sites such as that contain thousands of records.  A possible compromise would be to implement a search wizard only for common, broad-based, general needs such as housing or medical care.  Of course, relevant imagery and text-to-speech along the way would be a great addition.

Related, Previous Posts

Note: No endorsement of Easy Health UK or of is intended or implied.