Alzheimer’s Foundation of America: Accessibility Paradox

Alzheimer's Foundation of America home page Detailed results from my cognitive Web accessibility assessment of The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America revealed an apparent, related effort on its content.  Paradoxically, it seemed there was little on the accessibility of its design.


Textual content is crafted to be readable. For instance, a lot of technical language is used but is followed by attempts at simple explanations. Also of note is that this site conforms to every aspect of readability criteria: line length and height; text spacing and size, etc..

Textual content is also designed so site visitors’ attention is focused on it. White space is used well. Distractions are avoided. Content is written in visual chunks and using lists. The home page is an exception to these successes.


The site met only 25% of design criteria. Indications that little attention is paid to accessibility guidelines are 49 related errors on the home page (as reported by WebAIM’s WAVE). Alternative text for images, which is a basic sign that site designers are aware of accessibility, is generally absent. Misspellings and typographical errors make its rare use problematic.


It is reasonable to assume a significant portion of the site’s visitors are seniors. Those who do not have Alzheimer’s Disease may have cognitive deficits, as happens to all of us as we age. The site’s content creators apparently recognize this. In my opinion, their efforts do not make up for the site’s accessibility design failures.


Teaching Web Searching To People With Cognitive Disabilities

I have often seen people with intellectual disabilities struggle with how to perform Web searches during my interviews with them. The same problem was described by Henny Swan in her article, “‘Where’s my Googlebox?!’ – adventures in search for silver surfers“. It and its subsequent discussion inspired me to write this post.

I think there are two principles that could be used to teach Web searching to people with cognitive disabilities. For the purposes of this post, I am defining “searching” solely as the mechanics of submitting text via a search box.

That search boxes have the same- or similar characteristics, whether they are part of a Web browser, a Web site, or a search engine, means that learning to use them may not be difficult.  People could be taught to recognize search boxes and to submit simple searches with them.

First Principle

Search boxes can easily be recognized / located.

  • Appearance
    • All search boxes are rectangular and have white backgrounds. Many contain the word “Google” or have it and/or the Google logo nearby.
      • There are exceptions, but usually due to poor design.
  • Location
    • Search boxes within the latest versions of popular Web browsers (Internet Explorer 8.07, Firefox 3.6.3, Opera 10.53 and Safari 5.0) are located in the top, right corner of the browser window.
      • An exception is Chrome 5.0. In my opinion, this is one of Chrome’s accessibility problems.
    • Fortunately for people who use browsers such as Chrome, search boxes can still be found at the top, right corner of the screen because that is the common placement convention of many Web sites.
      • Search engines are the significant exception.

Second Principle

Search boxes can be used in the same, 3-step way.

  1. Prepare the search box for text entry by tabbing to it with the keyboard.
  2. Enter text.
  3. Invoke the search with the Enter / Return key.

Unneeded Training

  • To use a search box, people need not learn to discriminate between a browser, a site, and a search engine. Recognizing a search box is enough.
  • A mouse could be used to click inside a search box to prepare it for text entry, but I think the related instruction would be an unnecessary complication. Likewise, people could be trained to invoke searches with a mouse, but such instruction would be confusing for users when encountering a search box without an activation button.


Teaching the mechanics of search-box use may have advantages.

  • The resultant skills acquisition could generalize to encompass the search boxes of search engines.
  • Using a browser’s search box would provide consistent interface interaction across Web sites.


  • Such training would likely require revisiting over a multi-month period of consistent Web activity.
  • People being trained would need, at the least, basic literacy- and keyboard skills.


  • Constructing effective search terms and interpreting search results are beyond the scope of the proposed principles.
  • I am interested in how to teach people with cognitive disabilities to use the Web because that is my intention for the future Clear Helper site.

The ArcLink: Features of a Cognitively Accessible Web Site

Today, I attended the presentation, “Making Your Information Available to People with ID by Building Accessible Websites” by Lynne Tamor, Ph.D., of The ArcLink Incorporated.

Dr. Tamor’s work mirrors that of my own and of others who specialize in cognitive Web accessibility. The principles she described and/or demonstrated included:

  • Create uncluttered pages with consistent layout
  • Use Plain language/People First language/Low readability score
  • Make the site accessible to screen readers, operating system narrators, and text-to-speech software
  • Use graphics, audio, and video to support text
  • Avoid jargon, including Internet-related jargon
  • Use large print and simple fonts
  • Try to limit scrolling
  • Make sure pages will print as seen on the screen
  • Use a consistent and straightforward navigation system
  • Include a “how to use this site” section
  • Make the homepage informative for people who come to the site via search engines

Taylor, Lynne. “Features of a Cognitively Accessible Website” handout distributed at “Making Your Information Available to People with ID by Building Accessible Websites.” Annual Conference of The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Providence, Rhode Island. 9 June 2010.

Notes: The presentation was also credited to Nancy Ward, Oklahoma Disability Law Center. No endorsement of The ArcLink Incorporated is intended or implied.

Cognitive Web Accessibility Assessments: Detailed Results By Site

I published an index of detailed results, by site, of my cognitive Web accessibility assessments.

For each Web site, the detailed-results page displays:

  • the applicable guidelines the site met or did not meet;
  • the numbers of points scored by sections (Content, Design and Design-Related); and
  • the site’s assessment score and conclusion (accessible or inaccessible).

Notes: This post is part of a continuing series on Cognitive Web Accessibility Assessments. I have also published an index of aggregate results.

Good, Basic Internet Skills Foiled By Confusing Content

Anne uses her computer almost solely for e-mail and finding information. This is typical of many people, even those without intellectual disabilities. Perhaps unlike them, Anne has significant difficulty with content she receives and finds.


Anne understands e-mail messages from people who know her. She has been using basic functions of e-mail for years, but still gets confused with them because she is distracted by spam. It is especially difficult for her to differentiate it from legitimate messages and to determine its intent.

Finding Info

Anne has been using Google to learn about medications, and to look up definitions of words within their descriptions.  This indicates finding such information is simple enough for her, but the content she finds is not.


It is bad enough that Web content is not written in plain language. Worse is e-mail content designed to deceive. Content comprehension problems put Anne at a significant disadvantage despite her facility with e-mail and Google.

I do not know how anti-spam efforts could be particularly helpful for people with cognitive disabilities. I do know that designing simple Web content is a much easier proposition.