Archive for the ‘Web Accessibility’ 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“.

New U.S. Plain-Language Law Good for People with Cognitive Disabilities


The Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed into U.S. federal law on October 13, 2010. Essentially, it requires federal agencies to create documents using plain language.

The law also requires a section, on each federal-agency Web site, that follows best practices of plain-language writing. If indeed that happens, I anticipate people with cognitive disabilities will find such information much easier to understand. This is particularly good for the people with intellectual disabilities whom I have interviewed. A common thread of our conversations related to their self-advocacy interest in contacting their government representatives, and for determining how their government could help them.

I hope U.S. federal agencies set a standard that others will follow. For people with cognitive disabilities, the accessibility of Web site content is just as important as the accessibility of a site’s design. Text must be written in plain, simple language. There are efforts all over the world to encourage the use of plain language, which helps everyone.

For more information, see:

How I Was Introduced To Computer Accessibility


This post is the first of a few in which I will explain how my work in computer accessibility developed into my interest in Web accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities.

Since 1992, I have been part of a team that develops software for people with disabilities. We have always made it accessible given the technology of the time, our awareness of it, and available funding.

In the early years, we relied upon third-party software to help make our own accessible. My first related assignment was to integrate multiple systems: single-switch, screen magnification and speech recognition. Each of their developers assumed their system would be the only one present on a computer. I thus had to force their software into non-competing RAM– and ROM regions; configure the interrupts of their hardware; work around conflicting copy-protection schemes; and develop a unified menu.

I was rewarded by overcoming the technological challenges and by helping people with disabilities use our software to find information essential to their lives. The work I just described originated from a project that is a good example. Known as The Massachusetts Accessible Housing Registry, it was and is now a database of accessible housing units throughout the state. Another example was The Massachusetts Assistive Technology Project, for which we developed a database of equipment. I worked with its director, Judy Brewer, who later became the director of The Web Accessibility Initiative at the World Wide Web Consortium. She was the first accessibility advocate I had ever encountered. She demanded that software be accessible at a time when the public was generally unaware of personal computers. Judy had a significant influence in my nascent career.

I found initial- and long-term satisfaction in helping people with disabilities use computers. For some, our software was the impetus for computer use. For them and others, the software I installed to help them with our own also enabled them to use computers like their peers without disabilities. I remember my amazement and gratification watching people who needed single-switch devices become computer users. Another memory is of a poignant moment. It occurred while I was showing a young woman how to use the speech recognition software. She cried as she told me it was the first time she would be able to write a letter to her mother.

To be continued …


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


10 Organizations That Promote Cognitive Web Accessibility


I have created a list of ten organizations that promote Web accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities. Of those in the list, the following are a few I believe have recently engaged in related activities (guidelines publication, Web site creation, conference presentations, training provision, etc.).

Organizations Recently Active


  • If you know of an organization not included in the list of ten, please create a comment that includes the organization’s Web address.
  • I plan to expand the list of promoters to include individuals. That will be the subject of a future blog post.

10 Reasons Against Cognitive Web Accessibility

  1. There is no generally-accepted, functional definition of “cognitive disability”.
  2. There has been little definitive research on creating Web sites for people with cognitive disabilities.
  3. The vast majority of related guidelines are not part of national- or world sets of Web accessibility standards.
  4. Making sites meet national- or world Web accessibility standards, by itself, is a lot of work.
  5. Because the scope of cognitive disabilities is so broad, the entire variety of needs can not be met even if all related guidelines are followed.
  6. Making Web site content accessible and providing alternate forms of content, which are necessary for people with cognitive disabilities, are typically outside the responsibility of designers.
  7. People with cognitive disabilities may also have physical- or sensory disabilities, which complicates efforts to make Web sites accessible to them.
  8. Web accessibility features (such as text-size enlargers and text-to-speech), which could benefit people with cognitive disabilities, may be a burden on other people, such as screen-reader users.
  9. It may be that no Web site can be made accessible to people with significant memory- and attention deficits, which are common characteristics of cognitive disabilities.
  10. Many people with cognitive disabilities, especially those with intellectual disabilities or Alzheimer’s Disease, do not have even basic computer skills.

Am I trying to make Web sites accessible to people with cognitive disabilities anyway? Yes, I am.

Cognitive Web Accessibility Guidelines: 2010 & 2009


I have created a growing list of resources, published in the last ten years, related to guidelines for developing Web sites accessible to people with cognitive disabilities.  Listed below are a few such resources published in 2010 and 2009.


For an extensive list, see Cognitive Web Accessibility: Guidelines 2010.


For an extensive list, see Cognitive Web Accessibility: Guidelines 2009.


A great resource for articles about cognitive disabilities and Web accessibility, continually kept up-to-date, is:

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.

First Thoughts on iPad Potential for People with Intellectual Disabilities


I am intrigued by the iPad’s potential as a computer for people with intellectual disabilities (ID). It could be set up as a Web-access only device, and essential functions could be Web-based. This could be done with computers, but the iPad has at least two distinct advantages.

  • no or low hardware-maintenance
  • minimal management of software updates and installation

These advantages alone are enormous in terms of overall ease-of-use. They are also great for dramatically reducing long-term technical support- and training costs compared to those needed for computers.

I think that to make an iPad truly useful for people with ID, an even simpler interface could be developed for it. I imagine that, upon being turned on, the iPad could present three or four buttons.

One button could start a Web-based e-mail app, such as CogLink that is designed for people with ID, or one with which a user is already familar, such as Yahoo Mail.

A button could start a Web browser app, like Web Trek, which is designed for people with ID.

Another button could start an augmentative-communication app. They exist already. Jane Farrall recently posted a list of iPhone/iPad augmentative communication apps on the Spectronics Blog.

An iPad, with a simple-to use interface similar to those presented by augmentative communication apps, would be a lot less expensive than single purpose AC devices or multi-function computers.

Readers may be interested in these articles:

Note: For the purpose of exploring the iPad’s potential for people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities, one was generously provided to me by the project for which I work, New England INDEX at the Shriver Center, part of The University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Conferences Related to Technology, Web Accessibility and Cognitive Disabilities


Two upcoming- and two recent conferences are listed below along with their related topics and presenters.

Upcoming Conferences

All Together Now: The Power of Partnerships In Cognitive Disability & Technology

  • October 21, 2010 – Westminster, Colorado, U.S.
  • Forty Years after PARC v The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Is there a right to technology access? – Gilhool, Thomas
  • A Partnership for Technology to Improve Quality of Life – Pietrangelo, Renee
  • Accessible TeleMEd and eHealth Strategies for People with Cognitive Disabilities – O’Hara, David
  • Technologies to Improve Quality of Life for People with Cognitive Disabilities – Kautz, Henry
  • Developing an Accessible National Information Infrastructure for People with Cognitive Disabilities – Coleman, Bill

Web Accessibility London 2010 Unconference

  • September 21, 2010 – London, England
    • “The unconference will have a motor impairment theme … ” but “… will also consider cognitive impairments and the wider-disability population.”

Recent Conferences

12th International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs

  • July 14 to 16, 2010 – Vienna, Austria
  • Track IV, Session C: People with Specific Learning and Cognitive Problems: ICT, AT and HCI
    • Developing a Multimedia Environment to Aid in Vocalization for People on the Autism Spectrum: A User-Centered Design Approach – Al-Wabil, Areej
    • EasyICT: a Framework for Measuring ICT -Skills of People with Cognitive Disabilities – Dekelver, Jan
    • Involving users in the design of ICT aimed to improve education, work, and leisure for users with intellectual disabilities – Gutiérrez y Restrepo, Emmanuelle
    • Methodological Considerations for Involving SpLD Practitioners in the Design of Interactive Learning Systems  – Karim, Latifa
    • PDA software aimed at improving workplace adaptation for people with cognitive disabilities  – Ferreras, Alberto
    • The Performance of Mouse Proficiency for Adolescents with Intellectual Disabilities – Wu, Ting-Fang
    • Towards an Interactive Screening Program for Developmental Dyslexia: Eye Movement Analysis in Reading Arabic Texts – Al-Wabil, Areej
    • When Words Fall Short: Helping People with Aphasia to Express – Al Mahmud, Abdullah
  • Track IV, Session D: Easy – to – Web
    • Adaptive Reading: A Design of Reading Browser with Dynamic Alternative Text Multimedia Dictionaries for the Text Reading Difficulty Readers – Chu, Chi Nung
    • Easy-to-web search for people with learning disabilities as part of an integrated conception of cognitive web accessibility – Erle, Markus
    • EasyWeb – A Study How People with Specific Learning Difficulties Can Be Supported on Using the Internet – Matausch, Kerstin
    • In-Folio: An Open Source Portfolio for students with learning disabilities – Ball, Simon
    • Supporting the web experience of young people with learning disabilities – Weber, Harald
    • The need for Easy-to-Read information on web sites – Bohman, Ulla

Annual Conference of The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Know of another such conference? Please post a comment.

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