For many developers and designers, web accessibility means designing for screen reader users. This directly aids blind and low-vision users but does little to aid people with cognitive disabilities.
According to current reports, cognitive disabilities are far-ranging
- 5.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia (National Institutes of Health).
- 1 in 5 children have a learning disability.
- The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that 5 percent of American children have ADHD. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the number at more than double that.
- The overall prevalence of current adult ADHD is 4.4%.
Goals of successful design
These improvements fall into two categories. These buckets are the backbone of modern software design.
Easy to learn
A site or app should be easy to learn. Within moments of opening the app or site, it should be intuitive to the user. Designs should be simple, clear, and consistent. Links should look like links. Buttons should behave like buttons. This builds a better experience for any user but has a dramatic impact for people that find it difficult or impossible to decipher new elements.
Tasks can be completed quickly
For users with cognitive impairments, it can be overwhelming to remember how they got to the page they’re on, or where to go next. For these users the stress of not being able to complete a goal can result in increased panic or anxiety.
Pages that are well organized, uncluttered, and focused help users stay on track. Good designs enable users to resolve goals as quickly as possible. Streamlined copy, short line length and paragraph length, clear and easy click-paths, pages that load quickly, and links that make sense benefit everyone.
We accept the challenge
Designing and developing for individuals with cognitive disabilities is an enormous challenge. While accessibility standards can't fully meet the needs of everyone, there are still important design and development elements that can be a real help.
These suggested improvements often require new visual designs, a mix of content and media types, and serious reworking of information architecture. The result, however, can positively impact not only the usability for users who are cognitively challenged but also for all users.
Designing for Cognitive Web Accessibility
iSoftStone North America has helped design, test and launch websites, apps and solutions for major brands. Here are our notes for designing for common cognitive disabilities. Here are some of our tips for designing for cognitive disabilities.
Memory deficits are a wide-ranging disability that impacts people in very different ways. Here are our tips for designing for memory disabilities that impact a broad set of people:
- Focus on navigation. Standardize designs, controls, buttons, menus and placement across the entire site or app. Keep colors and styles consistent.
- Provide ways to easily start an action over, if possible, without losing information. We like the use of breadcrumbs and reminders.
- Use prompts and feedback to give users clear guardrails for decision making.
- Avoid having users re-enter information. When possible, allow the user’s device to access stored information — especially for form fills.
- Create a process map. If you have a complex process, provide a summary and make a process map easily accessible while the user completes the task.
- Create information chunks. Think one idea per paragraph, section, or even page. Leave plenty of white space on your web pages.
- Don’t worry about creating too many clicks. More clicks aren’t a bad thing, as long as they make sense and are easy to click. Keeping concepts simple and isolated are much better for memory impaired users.
Learning disabilities can range from attention disorders to reading and comprehension problems. Here are some tips for designing for a variety of users with learning challenges that also enhance the experience for abled users.
- Use plain, simple language.
- Use a mix of media, including images, text, and video.
- Focus pages on a single theme or task.
- Embrace an uncluttered design to avoid distractions.
- Surface critical information. Avoid extraneous information altogether.
- Use images and icons to help users remember content.
- Keep decisions to a minimum. Focus users along a narrow decision path when possible.
- Avoid menus that appear or disappear with mouseover.
- Allow users to control media. Don't use auto-playing videos or sounds.
- Use adequate contrast.