Defining Cognitive Disabilities In Relation To Web Accessibility

WebAIM has a good article that defines cognitive disabilities in relation to Web accessibility.  The article is entitled, naturally, “Cognitive Disabilities“.

  • Section / Page 1 discusses why classifying cognitive disabilities by functional disability, rather than by clinical diagnoses, is more useful in terms of Web accessibility.  It then discusses the functional limitations some people experience.
  • Section / Page 2 talks about how to accommodate these functional limitations, and offers some good, specific site-design / accessibility suggestions.
  • Section / Page 3 attempts to demonstrate how people with cognitive disabilities may have trouble with Web site content.  It presents an activity in which it asks the reader to follow a set of instructions, and shows how difficult that can be for anyone.

An important point this article makes is that “In many cases, the techniques for more making web content accessible to people with cognitive disabilities are nothing more than techniques for effective communication.”

Icon-Based, Web Site Navigation

I have been considering the use of a consistent set of icons throughout the future “Clear Helper” Web site to facilitate the navigation of it.

One ideal for such icons is that the messages or the concepts they convey are proven, through research and extensive testing, to be consistently understood by the users of them.  Accomplishing that is beyond the scope of this project, but may be an avenue for future, grant-funded research.

Another ideal would be the development of a set of navigation icons for use across Web sites.  I had hoped there was already an effort underway.    At the time of this writing, I have not found one.

Listed below are a few sites that attempt to use a set of icons for site navigation, particularly for people with cognitive disabilities.  The success or failure of the sites’ navigation is best judged by the reader.

  • The Consumer Corner section of the California Department of Developmental Services Web site has a clip art and text based navigation menu on the right of its pages.
  • Symbol World, for site navigation, uses very large icons accompanied by short text labels.  Most appear to be unique to page content, rather than being part of a consistent navigation set.
  • Children’s Society, on the right side of its pages, uses a common set of navigation icons.  Hovering the cursor over the icons produces related sound effects.
  • Symbol Rainforest uses photographs as navigation aids.  The use of photographs may be an answer to the criticism that icons are a poor substitute for realistic representations.  (Note: The Symbol Rainforest Web site can not be viewed in Firefox, but can be viewed in Internet Explorer.)
  • Check the Map uses a navigation strip of icons on the bottoms and on the tops its pages.  Most of the icons immediately make sense to me, but the home icon is odd.  Perhaps it would be better represented by an outline of a house.
  • Moorcroft School has a large navigation strip of icons (clip- and line art) on the bottoms of its pages.

None of the Web sites listed above use what I have in mind for navigation.  I do like the combination of navigation icons and related sound effects on the Children’s Society Web site, and will consider doing something similar.

Note: The “Icons” section of a WebAIM article on “Creating Accessible Images” is germane to the creation of Web site navigation icons.

Note: With the exception of The Consumer Corner, the sites listed above are either examples set up by The Widget Software Company or use symbols provided by it.  No endorsement is intended or implied.

Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist

One of the two purposes of this blog is to document my effort to create a Web site that follows best practices of accessibility for people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities.  So far, the clearest, most up-to-date set of these practices I can find are written by WebAIM.

In WebAIM’s article, Evaluating Cognitive Web Accessibility, principals of cognitive Web accessibility are discussed, and a detailed “Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist” is provided.  When creating the Web site, I plan to follow this checklist as much as practical and possible.

Of note is a posting by the Curb Cut blog.  Entitled “Access to the Web for People with Intellectual Disabilities“, it refers to older articles on creating Web sites for people with cognitive disabilities, and discusses barriers that keep them from getting online.


Literature Reviews, Part 1: WebAIM

A few years ago, Robert Bass, the director of New England INDEX, and I were helping the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services think about providing Web-based content to its constituency.  As part of this work, we had been asked by the department to determine best practices for developing Web content accessible to people with intellectual / cognitive disabilities.  I scoured the Web for such literature.  I found almost nothing.  We then contracted with the good folks at WebAIM at Utah State University to look for the same information.  They too found very little.  At the time, they told us they would have to conduct extensive research into the topic (on their own initiative).  Indeed they did.

WebAIM: Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Literature Review, found 159 related articles, and describes the process used to discover them.   Results from the review were broken down into six categories:

  • Conformance with standards / best practices
  • Common design elements
  • Language Use / Reading
  • Enhance Comprehension
  • Structure
  • Attention / Distraction

WebAIM’s literature review is a summary of the findings.  It does not provide references / links to the articles found.  It does list the numbers of literature articles that referenced the elements listed above, and their sub-elements.