Introducing Cognitive and Learning Disabilities

Understanding Cognitive and Learning Disabilities

The concepts of Cognitive and Learning disabilities cover a wide range of conditions and they are often experienced as one part of wider conditions that may also include other disabilities. This variability and 'hidden' nature means supporting users requires careful design choices that might not be obvious.

In general the are 2 common ways to view Cognitive and Learning Disabilities:

* Clinical: a medical diagnosis such as autism, Down Syndrome, traumatic brain injury or dementia.
* Functional: a description of an area of difficulty including memory, attention and language or maths comprehension.

Here are 3 example user stories of people with cognitive and learning disabilities (note they use both clinical and functional classifications):

In general, for web accessibility the functional view is more useful as it allows a useful understanding and remediation of the barriers people experience with technology.

Diverse Abilities and Barriers

People with cognitive and learning disabilities may be completely unable to use web designs that others can, even if they appear to be accessible. Not only are extra difficulties experienced with perception, operation and understanding but any one person will have an individual set of techniques that help them compensate for the specific combination of barriers they experience.

Here are some examples of barriers people with cognitive and learning disabilities may experience because of the design choices of the author:

Designing for Cognitive and Learning Disabilities

The wide variation of user requirements of people with cognitive and learning disabilities requires extra in design to avoid introducing access blocking barriers. In particular, care is needed with, structure, navigation, dynamics and especially content.

There are many usesful techniques which can be grouped into the following Themes so they are more manageable:
The Design page covers these in detail.

Any individual is likely to have their own personal requirements for good cognitive accessibility. In addition, they may require other accessibility considerations such as those for low vision. In order to have any possibility of providing a workable personal experience some form personalisation according to user preferences is required. Personalisation is thus particularly import when designing accessibility for cognitive and learning disabilities. This will allow all users to select how they individually experience and interact with the design, better matching their personal coping mechanisms and other requirements.

W3C Support for Users with Cognitive and Learning Disabilities

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international consortium that develops web standards. W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) focuses on making the web accessible to people with disabilities. Standards that are particularly relevant for cognitive and learning disabilities include:

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
WCAG materials include guidelines and techniques for making websites and web applications work better for people with disabilities, including some that support people with cognitive and learning disabilities.
User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG)
UAAG explains how to make web browsers and media players accessible. Some browser features are particularly important to people with cognitive and learning disabilities as the distinction between chrome and document may not be understood. For example, allowing personalization through specifying preferences.
Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)
Authoring tools are used to create web content. Examples of authoring tools are HTML editors and Web content management systems (CMS). These need to be both accessible to people with cognitive disabilities, and also must create content that is also fully accessible. In addition, the ability to allow authors to provide content alternatives supporting personalisation. (!!!)
Other standards
Some other standards are highly relevant - eg Web Authentication can be a barrier if passwords are required.

The W3C has 2 task forces that are focused on creating the standards and guidance for supporting  people with Cognitive and Learning Disabilities. They are also working to help ensure the above standards incorporate requirements for cognitive and learning disabilities or personalisation.

Coga TF

Outline of work - and opportunity to join in

Personalization TF

Outline of work - and opportunity to join in

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