Cognitive Disabilities

According to the 2010 US Census Bureau, 15.2 million American adults have difficulty with cognitive, mental, or emotional functioning. This includes people with Alzheimer’s disease, senility or dementia, intellectual and learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism or autism-spectrum disorders.

Web accessibility is often considered in terms of visual, auditory, and physical disabilities, but for a truly accessible web we must take all users – including those with cognitive disabilities – into account.

The major web accessibility issues for users with cognitive disabilities include:

  • Too many objects displayed at the same time
  • Too much and too difficult text
  • Too small text size and too long rows of text
  • Lack of logic; e.g. the same action leads to different results, and other issues with the user experience

Best Practices

To make the web more accessible for users with cognitive disabilities:

  • Minimize cognitive load: Don’t overwhelm the user. Apply a “less is more” approach. You will never hear someone complain that a user experience is “too easy.”
  • Consistency: Ensure that similar user interface elements and similar interactions produce predictably similar results.
  • Icons: Use common icons to mark important tasks and consider adding text labels as well.
  • Typography: Limit the number of typefaces in a document. If possible, use only one or two tyepfaces and utilize varying weights if need be. This will help with performance and readability.
  • Timing: Allow the user sufficient time to access and interact with the content. If you have timed content (forms, image galleries, etc.) provide controls, or allow users to request more time.
  • Forms: Ask users to confirm choices. Use shorter, multi-step forms for complex interactions, rather than lengthy, all-in-one forms.
  • Feedback: Provide prompts, feedback, and validations to let users know if they made the correct choice and to help them get back on track when they error.

Tools & Resources