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Web Accessibility for Cognitive Disability

person's head with puzzle pieces over it

When we speak about cognitive disability we make reference to a wide array of conditions related to learning, memory, emotional regulation, communication, or the ability to focus. According to statistics by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately “10.9 percent of U.S. adults have a cognitive disability with serious difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions” which means that more than 10% of American citizens will be dealing with anything from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to autism or Alzheimer’s disease. 

Having said all of the above, we understand that the term ‘cognitive disability’ has the semantic implication that an individual dealing with one such disability is less able than an individual that does not. We believe that is not the case. The idea of neurodiversity is more suitable for looking at cognitive disability in the context of web content accessibility, as it reflects more accurately the fact that there are different individuals, with different neurocognitive ways of perceiving and processing information. 

In the course of designing a website, web content accessibility is one of the key points of focus as businesses have progressively started to face web accessibility lawsuits filed by individuals who deal with disabilities and who are becoming more aware of their right to access granted by accessibility laws such as ADA Title III or Section 508. These lawsuits can be avoided with the help of the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), a web accessibility compliance standard created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which can be found represented in accessibility and web accessibility laws around the world. 

But how can you design your website in a way that does not prevent users with cognitive disabilities from accessing and navigating it? Below is a list of web accessibility tips to help you have content accessibility built into your website:

  • The WCAG has 3 levels of compliance, with level AA being the recommended level. Decide what you are aiming for in order to set a clear goal. 
  • Right at the beginning of the design process, create user personas with neurocognitive differences which you should then define. Next, see how their particular neurocognitive difference might affect their interaction with your website. 
  • Test often. Depending on the complexity of your content, accessibility audits performed every few months will help you adjust the content and keep you safe from potential non-compliance with web accessibility laws.
  • Make your website predictable. The WCAG’s Understandable principle encourages the designing of web pages with web content that “appear(s) and operate(s) in predictable ways.”
  • Offer users clear, unambiguous instructions. For instance, if a date field requires a specific format (dd/mm/yyyy) you should always provide an example and, in the case of forms, instructions should be placed at the beginning of the form rather than at the end as some users may not even notice these.
  • Don’t put time limits on interactions. Individuals with ADHD, for example, might require more time to interact with your website and having a time limit is likely to cause anxiety. If you can avoid these altogether, you should consider doing so, but if you must use time limits, provide clear instructions and as much control as possible to users, such as allowing them to turn off, adjust or extend a time limit.
  • Take into account ATC (Assistive Technology for Cognition). Many users with disabilities will make use of ATC such as screen magnifiers, reading masks, or others. You can improve their experience with your website in various ways. A few of these ways include but are not limited to, writing accurate alt-text, designing your website in such a way that it is responsive, meaning that if the user disables images or changes the font, your website will still display correctly. 
  • Build consistent navigation mechanisms. The web content accessibility guidelines of the WCAG, particularly Success Criterion, SC 3.2.3, states that “navigational mechanisms that are repeated on multiple Web pages within a set of Web pages occur in the same relative order each time they are repeated, unless a change is initiated by the user.” Making sure that your website’s navigation is consistent throughout the pages is not only important for attaining the AA level of compliance, but also for building a better user experience.

  • Find a compliance tool that can be easily integrated into your website, allowing users various adjustments to colors, fonts, display, or navigation and facilitating web accessibility compliance for you. This saves you the headache of compliance with the various accessibility laws in force at this time, and helps your business create a higher level of trust as well as cast a wider net.

This is in no way an exhaustive list of tips as web accessibility comliance is ever evolving alongside disability and neurodivergence, but it is a good starting point for businesses looking to achieve level AA of compliance. For a better understanding of WCAG compliance we have created an overview which you can find here


How can Clym help?

Clym believes in striking a balance between digital compliance and your business needs, which is why we offer businesses the following:

  • All-in-one platform: One interface combining Privacy and Accessibility compliance with global regulations, at an affordable price;
  • Seamless integration into your website;
  • Adaptability to your users’ location and applicable regulation;
  • Customizable branding;
  • ReadyCompliance™: Covering 30+ data privacy regulations;
  • Six preconfigured accessibility profiles, as well as 25+ display adjustments that allow visitors to customise their individual experience.

You can convince yourself and see Clym in action by booking a demo or reaching out to us to discuss your specific needs today.