This post summarizes the results from my assessments of the Web sites of 20 organizations that serve people with cognitive disabilities. It is my plan to perform 100 such cognitive Web accessibility assessments. The Clear Helper site has detailed information and results.
The following are the assessment criteria and the percentages of the sites that met them. The included links go to pages that provide details and results for the guidelines comprising the assessment criteria.
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.
My 10-point assessments are based upon WebAIM’s Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist. Three of its sections relate to site content and four to site design. Each section is an assessment criterion. I record one point for each of those that are met, plus a possible point for each of three simple design-related criteria I added to the assessments.
Scoring System Problems
Until now, I had not considered a couple aspects of my scoring system.
The design criteria outnumber the content criteria. This meant I was judging sites to be accessible that, like Bipolar Scotland’s, were strong in design but had content accessibility problems. This was not good practice.
Because meeting each criterion means one point, my simple design-related criteria had the same significance as the complex, detailed design criteria of WebAIM’s checklist. They should not have.
Scoring System Revision
Site content should have significantly-greater impact on my assessments; the simple design-related criteria should have less. To accomplish this, I now do not consider any site accessible unless, at a minimum, it meets all three content criteria and all four design criteria of WebAIM’s checklist. Any points recorded for the simple design-related criteria improve the total assessment score.
New Site Scoring System, By Points:
minimum for “accessible” = 3 content + 4 design
total score = those 7 + up to 3 simple design-related
I assessed the Web site of Bipolar Scotland. It was designed for people with cognitive disabilities. Summary assessment results show the site met all seven design-related criteria, but not the three content criteria. In my judgment, a site with significant content-accessibility problems can not be considered accessible to people with cognitive disabilities.
Other related problems include the use of jargon. For example, simple explanations could have replaced “hypomania” and “dysthymia” in Types of Bipolar.
Statement Site Was Designed For People With Cognitive Disabilities
Bipolar Scotland’s accessibility statement, in part, says:
In web accessibility terms, bipolar disorder falls under the category of cognitive/intellectual disabilities, one of the five needs that web accessibility aims to address. We tend to think of web accessibility as ways to help blind or deaf users view the web, but people with cognitive disabilities have particular needs involving memory, comprehension, attention span, and logic skills. Creating a site for people with bipolar disorder, who may or may not be experiencing those issues on any given day, poses a particular challenge: we are designing to accomodate the restrictions within the brain, not the body.
I agree with that statement. The one exception I take is with its last line. I think the reverse is true: the site’s design is good for physical disabilities (“the body”) but its content is not for cognitive disabilities (“restrictions within the brain”).
My next blog post will discuss the contradiction between the site’s good assessment score and my judgment it is inaccessible to people with cognitive disabilities.
Results of my cognitive Web accessibility assessments, for the 12 sites I have evaluated to date, show an average score of 5 out of 10 points. That datum is the launch point for this post, in which I consider the assessments’ consistency, accuracy, and related implications.
I hope the average score improves as I increase the sample size of assessed sites, but it will be unlikely if I encounter more like that of The International Dyslexia Association. It is the first Web site for which no points were scored.
I think the zero-point score is an accurate portrayal of the site’s accessibility. Comparing it to the two sites that scored all points and to the other assessed sites indicates to me my assessment system is internally consistent. It is obvious, for example, that the top scorers are much more accessible to people with cognitive disabilities than those sites with five points or fewer.
I suspect the top scores were achieved because the two sites were designed for people with intellectual disabilities and because my assessments are for the broader, perhaps-more-capable group of people with cognitive disabilities.
Given my experiences observing people with intellectual disabilities navigate Web sites, I am concerned even the efforts of the top-scoring sites may not mean they are truly relatively-accessible. I don’t know how my assessments could better judge such sites, but that is my main interest.
Extensive testing by people with intellectual disabilities may be a good indicator of accessibility. However, there is such a range of abilities within the population that I am unsure any Web site could be accessible to a significant portion of them. This may mean in practice I must produce criteria for minimum abilities needed and try to make the future Clear Helper site accessible to people who meet them.
I created a set of extensive pages that display aggregate results from my assessments of cognitive Web accessibility. I also evaluated three more sites.
Seven of the results pages are based upon the sections of WebAIM’s Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist. Amongst the pages are aggregated results from assessments of the 44 guidelines that comprise the sections. The guidelines are defined using WebAIM’s descriptions.
In-text results data are are always up-to-date. They are extracted dynamically from a draft database, as are those for the related charts created with Google Chart Tools.
Assessed Web Sites
These are the Web sites I just assessed, and their scores.
I performed cognitive Web accessibility assessments on five more sites. Two of them, both of organizations located in the United Kingdom, received all possible points. The results for the rest were varied.
The People First site features a large site-navigation menu (pictured below). For menu options, there are contextually-relevant icons, which are also used throughout the site.
The Mencap site incorporates many captioned videos (example pictured below) as an alternative to text content, and relevant images to augment it. The site’s My Life section is specifically designed for constituents, with plain language; simple navigation, and lots of images and videos.
Though the Web sites of Mencap and People First have minor problems, it is apparent the two organizations expended great effort to make them accessible to their constituencies. I offer my congratulations.
I now have a database of results from my assessments of cognitive Web accessibility. It is a work in progress.
I am displaying the database data on The Clear Helper Web site. Because, to date, I have assessed only 2 of my planned 100 Web sites, few data are presented. Yet it seems a good idea to start the database development and the data presentation now, partly in hope of soliciting feedback from followers of this project.
The assessments home page references two pages that display the same database data differently. Its main purpose is to describe the assessment criteria and methodology. I will use it to record any related changes I make as a result of what I learn from performing subsequent assessments.
A future page will show results by the guidelines that form the checklist’s sections. It might be interesting to create a page of results by country. It may be, for example, that cognitive-disability organizations in the countries of the U.K. are more likely than those in other countries to make their Web sites accessible to their constituencies.
I would like feedback. If you have suggestions for how I can improve my related efforts, or for other ways to display the results, please post a comment or contact me.