Cognitive accessibility is closely tied to WCAG 2.0 Principle 3: Understandable which states that “Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable”. (WebAIM does a great job in explaining what Cognitive Disabilities actually are.) The guidelines under this principle are:
- Guideline 3.1 Readable: Make text content readable and understandable.
- Guideline 3.2 Predictable: Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Guideline 3.3 Input Assistance: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
There’s been an increase in articles about cognitive accessibility which is great because it’s the most difficult and typically least discussed. Here’s a great list of them below. Feel free to comment with any that were missed.
In WebAIM’s article Evaluating Cognitive Web Accessibility, the most varied and complex area of accessibility is addressed. Cognitive accessibility is more prevalent than all physical and sensory disabilities combined, but seems to be dealt with the least, probably because it’s most difficult to pinpoint as well as to solve. Much needed general principles and specific guidelines (referred to as a checklist in article) are provided in the article.
Here are the principles listed for cognitive accessibility:
- Improving web accessibility for this audience will improve access for everyone
The guidelines are categorized under:
- Assistive Technology Compatibility
- Focus and Structure
- Readability and Language
- Orientation and Error Prevention/Recovery
Although the article from webcredible is titled “7 tips for designing for older users“, the strategies are great for plain old usability and accessibility. Here is a summary with some comments.
- Make obvious what’s clickable and what’s not. (Please don’t mess with the underlines!)
- Use radio buttons rather than dropdown menus. (Unless you have over, say, 8 options.)
- Stay in one window.
- Implement the shallowest possible information hierarchy. (And forget 3 or 4-level cascading menus; they are also difficult to navigation with our without a mouse.)
- Include a site map and link to it from every page. (Also good for SEO.)
- Keep your language simple.
- Appear trustworthy.
In his article Writing for Accessibility, Joe Dolson explains that accessible copy is more than making non-textual elements available, it’s also about the main content! He continues to explain how tone and puncuation are very sensitive and important issues when writing for accessibility. Joe suggests:
- Keep your sentences on the short side
- Avoid excessive parenthetical statements
- Avoid excessive subclauses
- Read the sentence without giving any particular emphasis to the terms and see how easy it is to understand the statement
Cognitive disabilities are the least recognized in the world of web accessibility (as opposed to visual, auditory, and motor). The goal of WebAIM’s Steppingstones Project is to “help web developers consider issues of cognitive disability in their designs”. To assist in this process, WebAIM is inviting people to complete its Cognitive Disability and Web Accessibility Survey. It takes about 10 minutes.