Cognitive digital accessibility and hidden barriers

Perhaps you know:

  • an elderly relative who struggles with learning how to access new technology,
  • someone who is easily distracted by content that is flashy, or is only provided audibly or visually,
  • someone with PTSD who has adverse reactions to flashing components or abrupt sounds, or
  • someone who struggles with processing language or numbers.

Most of us create digital materials to be used by everyone. We are aware of and adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the W3C group to aid with the accessibility of the materials. The WCAG 2.1 standards address accessibility issues primarily related to visual, hearing, and motor disabilities.

Accessibility barriers also exist for other groups, including Cognitive Disabilities. Cognitive Disabilities are recognized by the World Health Organization as the largest of the disability groups and having the most diverse experiences with digital accessibility. Awareness of cognitive digital accessibility is increasing. The W3C created the Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility Task Force (Coga TF) to explore cognitive digital accessibility with the hope of creating cognitive digital accessibility related success criteria for inclusion in the WCAG 3.0.

What is Cognitive Digital Accessibility?

Cognitive Digital Accessibility removes barriers to digital content for individuals with “hidden differences”.

What barriers exist for users with cognitive disabilities that are, and are not, covered in the WCAG?

Cognitive differences or disabilities can relate, but aren’t limited, to barriers with:

  • Spoken-language
  • Written-language
  • Math
  • Reasoning
  • Attention
  • Motion components.

What can we do to support Cognitive Digital Accessibility?

While the CogA Task Force continues to explore the accessibility needs related to cognitive disabilities and differences, we can continue to learn about how our content’s format affects others.

With such a diverse group of differences, we see equally diverse accessibility needs related to cognitive accessibility. Many of these needs are already supported by the existing WCAG 2.1 criteria. Some of these are already addressed within the Folwell website design system and some are addressed during the content creation process.

Watch for future blog posts discussing how our content creation decisions affect cognitive digital accessibility related to:

  • form interactions
  • use and display of text and numbers
  • use and display of audio and visual media

Topics: Web