Archive for the ‘About Project’ Category

Learning To Teach Basic Web Skills to People with Cognitive Disabilities


All people need basic skills to use the Web. A significant part of my effort to teach them to people with cognitive disabilities, via the Web itself, is to implement instructional-design techniques. This post is about my first experiment.

For people of all abilities, examples of basic Web skills are:

  • opening a Web site / using Web addresses;
  • navigating by clicking links and using the back button;
  • performing simple searches with a search engine.

Teaching such a skill includes:

For people with cognitive disabilities, an additional basic Web skill is enlarging the text/font size of a Web site. Thus to learn how best to teach such a seemingly-simple skill, I am continuing my effort to create related instructions.

Guiding me is Janet S. Twyman, Ph.D., BCBA, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at The University of Massachusetts Medical School (Shriver Center), where I work. Dr. Twyman is an expert in instructional design.

Notes: Future blog posts will provide details on each step we take in this experiment. This post is the first in a series about Teaching Web Page (Text) Enlargement. Next up: “Teaching People How To Enlarge Web Pages: Task Definition“.

20 Sites Assessed For Cognitive Web Accessibility


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 assessments have 10 criteria. Seven are based upon WebAIM’s latest Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist. Three are intended to help evaluate general Web site accessibility.

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.

Content Criteria

Design Criteria

Design-Related Criteria


University Web Site for People with Learning Disabilities: Starting a Redesign


Today, I visited a local university that has a campus-based program for students with learning disabilities. I am helping to make the program’s Web site more accessible to its students. I met with the program director, two representatives of university Web services, and an adjunct-faculty member responsible for managing site content. We discussed possible cognitive-accessibility features and next steps for the project.

We will focus on content first.

  • Outdated information will be pruned or updated.
  • Text will be rewritten into plain language.
  • Contextually-relevant images will be added, especially photos taken during program activities.
  • After the above tasks are accomplished for one to five pages, they will be evaluated by program students.

We will then revise the site’s design. To do so, we will determine which cognitive-accessibility features we can incorporate using the university’s content management system (CMS). Examples:


  • Other development steps will be outlined in future posts. For example, the My Web My Way idea could be expanded such that site visitors could choose their own mixture of content types.
  • Program students will be included in every step of the site development.

My Current Cognitive Web Accessibility Projects


The following are brief descriptions of projects I have undertaken to help make the Web more accessible to people with cognitive disabilities.

Note: If you would like to help with any of these projects, please post a comment or contact me.

Helping a Nonprofit Provide PC- & Web Access to People with Intellectual Disabilties


Yesterday, I visited a nonprofit that serves several hundred people with intellectual disabilities. I met with the executive director, the director of information services, and a representative of the people being served. We discussed setting up a computer lab, providing computers to people living in their residences, and training.

Generally, the people being served do not possess computers. There is a small number who use the computers of public libraries. A poll taken by the representative indicated significant interest in acquiring and learning to use computers, with e-mail being the main purpose. The executive director expressed the need for people also to learn basic employment-related skills, such as word processing, spreadsheet use and job finding.

About computers in a lab and in residences, identified questions included the following.

  1. Should and could technical staff resources be extended to set up and maintain computers, related infrastructure, and end-user support?
  2. Which other resources should and could be provided: e.g., Internet connections, computers, software, training?
  3. How could the agency help protect people from nefarious activities such as scams and malware infestations?
  4. What assistive-technology hardware and/or software might be needed? Who would purchase and support it?

I suggested an overall approach. We brainstormed about some potential solutions.

  1. Have the three groups (executive, information technology, and the people being served) work together to develop policies. The policies would both offer and reasonably limit:
    1. hardware and software installation;
    2. maintenance and technical support;
    3. services such as broadband Internet connections, and how they could be supported financially;
    4. minimum security standards;
    5. end-user training;
  2. Start with setting up a computer lab in part to train people who want a computer in their residence.
  3. Set up central management of the computers, as schools and businesses do, to:
    1. prevent installation of rogue software;
    2. keep operating systems and applications up-to-date; and
    3. revert computers to a previously-stored state either regularly or if trouble occurs.
  4. Consider router / firewall services:
    1. requiring computers to meet minimum standards before attaching to a network or to the Internet; and
    2. providing anti-virus, anti-malware and, perhaps, Web site-restrictions.
  5. Install on computers exclusively a Web browser and software ancillary to it.
  6. Train people on the basics of Web-based applications such as Google Docs or Microsoft Office Live.
  7. Show people how to use Web-based e-mail or perhaps an e-mail product designed for people with intellectual disabilities.
  8. Develop training not only for the people being served, but also for support staff who could help them maintain newly-acquired skills. The representative of the people being served expressed ideas for related funding.
  9. Perhaps bring into the residences, after the work with the computer lab has gone well, sharable broadband connections and/or computers.
  10. Consider, instead of computers, a device such as the Apple iPad. Potential advantages are:
    1. low purchase cost, especially if it could be used in place of very-expensive assistive technology;
    2. low maintenance, in part because hardware support would be provided by the manufacturer, not by the agency’s technical staff;
    3. a simple-to-use interface that would not require learning how to use a mouse or a (external) keyboard;
    4. built-in connection to the Internet via a wireless- or cellular network.

I agreed to continue in a technical-advisory role. I also committed to work directly with people to learn about their difficulties using computers and the Web, and to help train them to overcome those problems. Such training would be passed on to support staff so long-term assistance could be provided.

I will post updates about the project as it progresses. Have advice? Want to get involved? Please post a comment or contact me.

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.


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.


Cognitive Web Accessibility Assessments: Significant Scoring Revision


I have fundamentally revised the scoring of my cognitive Web accessibility assessments. The impetus was my troubling assessment of the Web site for Bipolar Scotland. It achieved a good score, but I judged it to be inaccessible to people with cognitive disabilities.

Scoring System

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


Web Site Designed For People With Cognitive Disabilities But Inaccessible To Them


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.

The bullets below list the sections of WebAIM’s Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist. Each section is an assessment criterion. Each is considered met if at least 75% of its applicable guidelines are implemented on the Web site.

Site Design Strengths

  • Consistency (100%)
  • Transformability (75%)
  • Orientation and Error Prevention/Recovery (75%)
  • Assistive Technology Compatibility (86%)

The site also attempts to meet W3C accessibility guidelines, has an accessibility statement, and explains at least one accessibility feature (the font size changer).

Site Content Problems

  • Multi-modality (0%)
    • Text is not offered in video- or audio alternatives.
    • With few exceptions, contextually-relevant images are not used, and icons/graphics are not paired with text.
  • Focus and Structure (67%)
    • Design does not focus attention on page-body content.
    • On every page there is a large, distracting element (a constantly-changing image inside an Amazon widget).
  • Readability and Language (50%)

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.

Retrieved from:


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”).


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