Cognitive Disabilities and Dealing With Web: What we can do to Improve Usability?

According to Hudson, Weakley & Firminger, “those with cognitive disabilities and learning difficulties, appear to have slipped through the cracks to a large extent when it comes to website accessibility.” (6)

U.S. Census reported that nearly:

  • 17 percent of people 21 to 64 of age had some level of disabilities.
  • 50 percent of adults 65 and older  had some level of disabilities.  (1,5)

How Common are specific Disabilities?

Accessibility is a complex issue since technologies are always evolving.  Regardless of all the guidelines published by the government and companies mandating usability as part of their requirement, it is greatly misunderstood. A lot of times people think of usability and accessibility being the same. Whereas, usability is the “ease-of-use ” for the user as defined by Nielsen Norman (3) and accessibility is if you can get there at all or “the measure of a web page’s usability by persons with one or more disabilities.” (7)


An app or a website that has a great consistent visual design and user experience however missing “alt” tags for images or missing tab function may have good usability but would be completely inaccessible for someone who is visually impaired or is unable to use a mouse.

“Easy-to-use software doesn’t just happen. It requires focusing on the product’s potential users from the very beginning, and checking at each step of the way with these users to be sure they will like and be comfortable with the final design.” (2)


Accessible design does not just help people with disabilities, it helps everyone.  For example, a handicap automatic door opener button at mall doesn’t just help people with disabilities, it also helps people with small children and strollers.

Ultimately, whether you are just working on usability enhancements or simply improving your application, usability considerations for people with disabilities will go a long way.

Nielsen Norman Group’s report “Based on Usability Studies with People Using Assistive Technology”  states “Considering that current Web designs are three times easier to use for non-disabled users than for users with disabilities, there are huge benefits to be gained for companies and organizations that emphasize accessible and usable design on their websites and intranets. Employee productivity will skyrocket for employees with disabilities, but productivity will also increase for other employees, since many of the guidelines are helpful for all user”


  1. Census Bureau’s Public Information Office ( May 29, 2013). Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act: July 26.
  2. IBM  ( July 2012 ). White paper: conducting user evaluations with people with disabilities.
  3. Jakob Nielsen  (January 4, 2012 ). Usability 101: Introduction to Usability.
  4. Jim Thatcher. (9/8/2012). Web Accessibility – What not to do.
  5. Matthew W. Braul  ( July 2012 ). Americans With Disabilities: 2010 : Household Economic Studies.
  6. Roger Hudson, Russ Weakley and Peter Firminger ( 30 January 2005 ). An Accessibility Frontier: Cognitive disabilities and learning difficulties (2004).
  7. Glossary –  Accessibility .

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