50+ Resources Related To Cognitive Web Accessibility Guidelines

I have created an index of resources related to cognitive Web accessibility guidelines. At the time of this writing, there are over fifty. I will add more as I find them.

Characteristics Of Guidelines Listings

  • All have links to the original sources.
  • All are annotated with related information, primarily edited quotes from source pages.
  • A few are original studies.  The majority are Web articles. The remainder are organizations that develop such guidelines.
  • The publication dates of original studies and articles range from 1999 to the present.

Links to Guidelines Index & RSS Feed

Future Indexes

I will soon publish other such indexes. To see a list, please refer to my previous post, “Upcoming Indexes of Resources Related to Cognitive Web Accessibility“.


100+ Resources Related To Cognitive Web Accessibility Research

I have created an index of research resources related to cognitive Web accessibility.  At the time of this writing, there are over one hundred.  I will add more as I find them.

Characteristics Of Research Listings

  • All have links to the original sources.
  • All are annotated with related information, primarily edited quotes from abstracts.
  • Most are original studies. Others include literature reviews, articles that cite research, and organizations that conduct related research.
  • Many have publication dates, from 1999 to the present.

Links to Research Index & RSS Feed

Future Indexes

I will soon publish other such indexes.  To see a list, please refer to my previous post, “Upcoming Indexes of Resources Related to Cognitive Web Accessibility“.

Note: Have a resource suggestion? Please contact me.

Upcoming Indexes of Resources Related to Cognitive Web Accessibility

I will soon be publishing several indexes of resources related to cognitive Web accessibility.

In each index, listings will include:

  • a link to the resource;
  • a brief description; and
  • the publication year, as appropriate.

In the order of indexes listed below, I will publish as many resources as I can, then announce the corresponding indexes.  I will continually add resources to them, so there will be a RSS feed for each. (What Is RSS?)


  • Cognitive Web Accessibility
    • Sub-Indexes
      • Research
      • Guidelines
      • Assistive Technology
      • By Publication Year
      • Web Sites Designed for People with Cognitive Disabilities
        • Web Sites Designed Specifically for People with Intellectual Disabilities
      • Organizations that Promote Cognitive Web Accessibility
      • Funders of Research and Development Related to Cognitive Web Accessibility
  • Organizations for People with Cognitive Disabilities
    • Sub-Indexes
      • Organizations Specifically for People with Intellectual Disabilities
      • By Country
  • Master Index of All Resources
    • Sub-Index
      • All Resources Specific to Intellectual Disabilities

I will add other indexes as I think of them.  As always, I am open to suggestions.

Definitions of “Cognitive Disability”


Find a recent, functional definition of “cognitive disability” written by an appropriate U.S. federal government agency, and adopted by government agencies and education institutions throughout the country.

Goal = Wishful Thinking

It appears no authoritative source has published a widely-used and accepted functional definition, nor a clinical one. Because I intend the Clear Helper Web site to be accessible to people with cognitive disabilities, it would have been helpful to find an authoritative, functional definition.

Definitions from Federal-Government Sources

The closest I came to my goal, at least for an authoritative source, is a clinical definition on the Web site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families.  The definition is part of an explanation of why the term “cognitive disabilities” was not used instead of “intellectual disabilities” on the Web site of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

“Cognitive disabilities” is often used by physicians, neurologists, psychologists and other professionals to include adults sustaining head injuries with brain trauma after the age 18, adults with infectious diseases or affected by toxic substances leading to organic brain syndromes and cognitive deficits after the age 18, and with older adults with Alzheimer diseases or other forms of dementias as well as other populations that do not meet the strict definition of mental retardation.

Retrieved from: http://faq.acf.hhs.gov/cgi-bin/acfrightnow.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=934&p_created=1068052784 (Published December 4, 2009)

The next-closest to my goal, in terms of a functional definition from a federal-government agency, is on the Web site of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Cognitive disabilities cover a wide range of needs and abilities that vary for each specific person. Conditions range from person having a serious mental impairment caused by Alzheimer’s disease, Bipolar Disorder or medications to non-organic disorders such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, poor literacy or problems understanding information. At a basic level, these disabilities affect the mental process of knowledge, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. Simply put, the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University defines cognitive disability as: “a disability that impacts an individual’s ability to access, process, or remember information.”

Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/accessibility/technology/disabilities.htm (Published December 29, 2008).  Syracuse University definition retrieved from: http://thechp.syr.edu/definitions_support_terms.html

I also found an older, brief, functional definition on a Web site of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Cognitive disability – Limitation of the ability to perceive, recognize, understand, interpret, and/or respond to information.

Retrieved from: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/sidewalks/appb.htm (Published January 20, 2004)

I could not find any evidence that the above definitions have been adopted by anyone, let alone widely-adopted.

Definitions From Other Sources

I found the following definition on the Web site of the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, at The University of Colorado.

When we refer to “cognitive disabilities” on this website we are primarily referring to mental retardation and developmental disabilities, acquired brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and severe and persistent mental illness. …

Cognitive disability stems from a substantial limitation in one’s capacity to think, including conceptualizing, planning and sequencing thoughts and actions, remembering, and interpreting the meaning of social and emotional cues, and of numbers and symbols.

Retrieved from: https://www.cu.edu/ColemanInstitute/background.html (Published December 14, 2006)

The most useful information I found is on the WebAIM Web site.  It provides general clinical- and functional definitions in the context of accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities.  It has a list of categories of functional deficits, with a relevant synopsis of each.

Cognitive Disabilities: Introduction (Published May 3, 2009)

The WebAIM article’s discussion of clinical- versus functional- definitions closely matches that of another useful article, posted on the Disabled World Web Site.

Cognitive Disabilities (Published February 10, 2009)

Search Term

In all my searches, I used variations of the search term: “cognitive disability” definition

Sources Searched

Note: If you know of a definition or a source of a definition for “cognitive disability”, please contact me or post a comment.  Thank you.

UMMS Faculty Position Open: Web Accessibility for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Below is the official recruiting advertisement for a new faculty position at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where I work.  It was recently decided we should include for the position the research area of Web accessibility, particularly for people with intellectual disabilities.  I would like to get the word out through our accessibility community.  If you or anyone you know may be interested in this opportunity, please contact me directly via e-mail (clear.helper@neindex.org) or via Twitter (@ClearHelper).  Please spread the word!  Thank you.

Faculty Positions

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center

University of Massachusetts Medical School

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), invites applications for research faculty positions with specialization include any of the following areas: behavior analysis, psychopharmacology, child clinical, health psychology, gerontology and behavioral medicine.  We are especially interested in research programs that are appropriate for individuals with developmental disabilities.  Programs are located in Central Massachusetts and suburban Boston.

Qualifications include an appropriate degree (e.g., M.D., Ph.D., Ed.D.), an established track record in NIH funded research, and potential to contribute to the Center’s current and future directions.  Start-up funding and a range of faculty incentive programs are available.

Applications & Information

To apply for any of the above positions, please submit via e-mail a CV, contact information for three or more professional references, and a statement of professional interests to Dr. Charles Hamad charles.hamad@umassmed.edu.  For all of the above positions, review of application will begin immediately and continue until the positions are filled.  Each position offers a competitive salary and excellent benefits.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action employer. Women and minority candidates are strongly encouraged to apply.

Behavior Modification to Teach People with ID How to Access Web Sites

A research study was published in 2007 that used behavior modification to teach people with autism and intellectual disabilities how to access Web sites.  After training, participants (N = 3) were able to access specific Web sites independently.

Breakdown of Task

“The following 13-step task analysis was conducted to develop the requisite skills necessary to access a specific Web site:
  1. Press the computer power button.
  2. Press the monitor power button.
  3. Place hand on the mouse.
  4. Move the cursor with the mouse until it points to the Internet Explorer® icon.
  5. Double click the Internet Explorer® icon.
  6. Move the cursor with the mouse to the Google® search box.
  7. Left click in the box.
  8. Type in the search topic of interest.
  9. Place hand back on mouse.
  10. Move cursor to the box labeled ‘search.’
  11. Single click the box.
  12. Move the cursor with the mouse down to the Web site of choice.
  13. Single click the Web site of choice.”

Note: Steps 12 & 13 should say “Web site link”.


To teach these steps, the behavior-modification techniques of backward chaining, errorless learning, and most-to-least intrusive prompting were used. After completion of each step, whether prompted or unprompted, participants received edible items as a form of immediate reinforcement.  Participants were also given five minutes of their preferred Internet activity after the completion of the last step.


Subsequent to training, the three participants were able to complete all thirteen steps independently.  They were also able to take the skills they had learned on the test computer, and apply them to a different computer.


I am keenly interested in teaching people with intellectual disabilities how to use the Web.  They can not if they don’t know the first thing about it.  This research study taught people the rudiments.

My interest in it coincides with the intended purpose of the initial tutorials to be presented on the future Clear Helper Web site: to teach people with intellectual disabilities how to use the Web, specific Web sites, and/or features of them.  Because the tutorials will be entirely Web based, the level of training used in this research study will not occur.  The consequential indication is that people who require such training may not be able to take advantage of the Clear Helper tutorials.  It is a disappointing reality.


Jared Jerome, Eric P. Frantino, & Peter Sturmey (2007). The effects of errorless learning and backward chaining on the acquisition of internet skills in adults with developmental disabilities.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40, 185-189.  Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1868816/PDF of the article.

Web Site Design Suggestions for People with Dyslexsia

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects reading, writing, spelling and language.  It is diagnosed in people of all levels of intelligence.

Academic research on designing Web sites for people with Dyslexia is limited, just as it is for people with intellectual disabilities. I thus turned to what should be considered “primary” sources of such information, among them the blogs of people who themselves have Dyslexia.  Unsurprisingly, there was significant commonality among the relevant recommendations.

Design Suggestions

  • Provide a way to view the Web site using low-contrast pages.  Standard black text on a white background can be tiring and can be seen as blurry.
  • Use narrow column widths (60 to 80 characters).  Tracking lines of unbroken text across a page can be difficult.
  • Display text boxes, especially with lightly-contrasted backgrounds.  These are found to be helpful in understanding important points.
  • Use italics sparingly.  That italicized characters lean over slightly means they can be difficult to read.
  • If requiring users to enter text, provide a spell-checker function.

Design Suggestions Common Across The Cognitive-Disability Spectrum

  • Use left-aligned text.  Fully-justified text has an effect known as “rivers of white”.  People see white patterns flowing through text more prominent than the text itself.
  • Employ text fonts that are large, sanserif, and of even color.
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs expressing one idea.
  • At least upon the first occurrence, spell out abbreviations and acronyms.
  • Don’t use moving images or text, which are very distracting.
  • Implement document structure such as headings, bulleted lists and extra-vertical line spacing.

The point can not be made often enough that the suggestions listed above will help everyone.  Web designers would do well to heed this advice.


Bradford, J. Designing web pages for dyslexic readers. Dyslexia Parents Resource. Retrieved from http://www.dyslexia-parent.com/mag35.html

Davis Dyslexia Association International, Dyslexia the Gift Web site. (2009-12-14). Web Design for Dyslexic Users. Retrieved from http://www.dyslexia.com/library/webdesign.htm

Page, T. (2009-06-13). Text justification – issues and techniques. Retrieved from http://www.pws-ltd.com/sections/articles/2009/justified_text.html

Pickard, J. (2005 – 2006). What problems would a dyslexic user face?  Retrieved from http://www.thepickards.co.uk/Articles/Designing_for_Dyslexia.cfm

Pedley, M. (2006-10-16). Designing for Dyslexics. Retrieved from http://accessites.org/site/2006/10/designing-for-dyslexics-part-1-of-3/

Vassallo, S. (2003-05). Enabling the Internet for people with dyslexia. Retrieved from http://www.ebility.com/articles/dyslexia.php

Note: This post updated on 2009-12-15 to correct content- and formatting errors.  I thank Cliff Tyllick for calling my attention to them.

Interviewing People with ID about Web Site Accessibility

I will soon be conducting more interviews with people with intellectual disabilities.  I have three primary areas of interest:

  1. the sites they find inaccessible and accessible, which I am conveying as “easy to use”;  (I will explore the reasons.)
  2. which site features do they find helpful or not, “like and dislike”; (The answers may help me choose for which sites I should create tutorials.) and
  3. what they would like to learn about using the Web.  (This is to help inform me about the subject matter of future tutorials.)

These are the questions I will be asking of people:

  • Which sites are hard to use but you really want to use?
  • Which sites do you find easy to use?
  • Which parts of Web sites do you like, and which do you dislike?
  • What would you like to learn to do on the Web?

To obtain this information, I am visiting self-advocacy groups, and meeting in person with people with intellectual disabilities.  I anticipate having a computer available at each interview so people can show me as well as tell me.  I will be recording responses in narrative form.

Later in the project, as I design the site, I will need people to test it regularly and give me feedback every step of the way.  I have not yet figured out how best to organize that, but I am open to suggestions.

Note: The W3C has a good article about Involving Users in Web Projects for Better, Easier Accessibility.  I shall rely upon it to help guide my project.

INMD: Summary of Final Report on Web Accessibility for People with ID

In October, 2009, Inclusive New Media Design (INMD) published its final report on including people with intellectual disabilities (ID) in the World Wide Web.

It describes INMD’s effort to identify the best ways of encouraging Web designers to build Web sites accessible to people with intellectual disabilities.  It also examined the effectiveness of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to achieve such inclusion, and identified the factors that influence Web designers to embrace accessibility efforts.

Training & Actions Taken

INMD ran accessibility training workshops with Web designers and people with intellectual disabilities. It collected data about the work and the accessibility practices of Web designers.

As a result, participants took or planned action related to ID inclusion, and shared their knowledge with others. Action taken included:

  • “adapting use of imagery to support text;
  • using large fonts and simple text;
  • re-checking previous work for ID accessibility;
  • passing on information at work, or through blogs.”

Adaptations According to Disability Level

INMD’s success in contributing to inclusion was primarily for people at the mild end of the ID spectrum. While participants acknowledged that related adaptations could be beneficial to all people, they also recognized that adaptations for people with severe- or profound intellectual disabilities may be intrusive to non-disabled, Web site visitors.  Thus participants indicated they would be less likely to accommodate that segment of the population in their future work.

Barriers To Accessibility

Participants saw the WCAG as too complex to understand and to implement, though they did acknowledge their value.  They feared too much attention may be paid to meeting the guidelines rather than focusing on true accessibility.

Participants identified barriers to accessibility for people with ID and for other people with disabilities:

  • “the attitudes of decision-makers, who may not share participants’ commitment to an accessible web;
  • the nature of the projects they work on;
  • an absence of understanding of the accessibility needs of ID audiences;
  • an absence of guidance about how to address these needs, for example within the WCAG guidelines.”

Potential Accessibility-Barrier Solutions

The impairment diversity of people with ID, and their related accessibility requirements and assistive technologies, account for such absences, as does the paucity of expertise about ID among the WCAG working groups. This caused the INMD to conclude that:

  • “WCAG guidance needs to be exceeded to address ID accessibility needs
  • Information about how to do this, and on ID accessibility, needs to be made widely available, for example through the development of an online resource.
  • Key decision-makers in the web design process  –  clients, line managers, copy writers, editors – play an important role in ensuring maximum accessibility.
  • In order to achieve inclusive new media design and ID accessibility, it  is necessary to engage with these stakeholders of web design in future action research.”

Recommendations on encouraging ID-accessible design included:

  1. “Develop an online resource about  ID accessibility: including  tips, how-to videos, examples of good practice and of user interaction; information about how to exceed WCAG guidelines; and the facility to build a community of web professionals committed to ID accessibility.
  2. Engage with intellectually disabled web users: most participants cited user testing as the most beneficial aspect of our workshops. User testing put a human face on the issues discussed with participants, and addressed their lack of understanding about ID audiences and their accessibility needs.
  3. Engage a diverse range of stakeholders:  decision-makers affect accessibility practice. Further research needs to engage with a more diverse range of stakeholders – line managers, copy writers, policy makers – in order to make ID accessibility happen.
  4. Develop research with people at the severe/profound end of the ID spectrum: people at the severe or profound end of the ID spectrum are more likely to be left out of the web, because accessibility measures which address their needs are more intrusive to non-disabled audiences than measures which address mild ID, or sensory or physical impairment. Therefore further action research is needed to attempt to achieve their digital inclusion.”

View the INMD final report (PDF).

An Evangelist of Web Accessibility for People with Cognitive Disabilities

A project by Inclusive New Media Design in England is evangelizing Web accessibility for people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities, which it also refers to as “learning disabilities”.  It has been running workshops to train Web designers and developers, and to include people with cognitive disabilities as testers.

Its Web site has a section of tips on making Web sites work for people with cognitive disabilities, which includes links to examples of Web sites designed for the population, and information about assistive technology.

Its Web site has several nice features I plan to incorporate into the future “Clear Helper” Web site.

  • a design using HTML 5 and CSS 3;
  • a Flash-based, text-to-speech applet on every page;
  • CSS-based switching of page-background coloring (light / dark);
  • large font sizes;
  • breadcrumbs for site navigation;
  • contextually-relevant icons;
  • presentation of content in multiple formats (text, audio, video); and
  • embedded, closed-captioned videos.

I anticipate learning much from this great resource.