WebAIM: Insights into Cognitive Web Accessibility

My idea for the future Clear Helper Web site, and the reason I named it “Clear Helper”, is that it will offer tutorials intended for people with cognitive disabilities.  My current thinking is that each tutorial will be offered in three modes: text-only, text with pictures, and video.  Visitors to the site, presumably, would choose the mode easiest for them to follow.

So it was with interest that I reviewed the notes from a brief, related study conducted by WebAIM, and reported by Jared Smith, Associate Director of WebAIM.  The notes were from a presentation entitled “Insights into Cognitive Web Accessibility.”  It was of a user test that attempted to measure the efficiency, the effectiveness, and the satisfaction of participants (N = 8, grade 6 – 12 students with cognitive- or learning disabilities).

Among the findings, detailed in the presentation notes, were that participants did better with: larger text; images paired with text; short line lengths; and video-based instruction.  Insights included recommendations to “make your page LOOK easy” (“simple and intuitive”); “provide error recovery mechanisms”; and “keep visual aids clean, simple, and complementary to the content”.

I will keep these findings and recommendations in mind when designing the tutorials on the future Clear Helper Web site.

Lessons on Web Site Usability by People with Cognitive Disabilities

An event on “Cognition and Accessibility” was held by Standards.Next on September 19, 2009, in London.  There were presentations that focused on usability.  From what I have read in the reports of the event by the presenters, there were two that are of particular interest to me.

One, entitled “Accessibility Beyond Code”, was by Antonia Hyde.  For her presentation, she made two videos, which she calls “exploratory”.  They feature Martin, a man I assume with a learning disability, who attempts to navigate two Web sites; eBay, which he visits often and Amazon, which he had never previously visited.

The Amazon.com video is below.  Note that the one action common sense would say that Amazon would want to make the easiest, that of purchasing an item, is quite difficult for Martin to accomplish.  He makes good points about why that is.

Watch this video using the Easy YouTube Player.

The other presentation at the conference that I found of particular interest was entitled “Lessons Learnt User Testing”, and was given by David Owens.  In his notes on the presentation, Mr. Owens makes the following points.

  • Disabilities, including cognitive impairments, aren’t discrete.  Many people have multiple disabilities, which makes using Web sites more difficult.
  • Usability-testing scripts need to use real scenarios and tasks.  They can’t include complex instructions or abstract concepts.
  • Make the source- and the tabbing order run in the direction in which people typically read a Web page.
  • Don’t count on people to know how to use their browsers.  Place helpful objects such as font sizers on Web sites to help them.
  • Place helpful things up front.  Don’t make people look for them.

I shall keep these lessons in mind when constructing the future Clear Helper Web site.  I thank Antonia Hyde, Martin and David Owens for them.