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Cognitive and Learning Disability Resources Overview

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Cognitive and Learning Disabilities

Cognitive and learning disabilities include long-term and and sometimes permanent difficulties relating to cognitive functions, such as:

These are usually hidden difficulties and may be age related. The terminology and definitions used for cognitive disabilities varies between countries and users are less likely to have a formal diagnosis of a disability than individuals with physical and sensory difficulties. Cognitive disabilities may include intellectual impairments affecting comprehension alongside written and spoken expression. People may also experience a co-occurrence of difficulties such as dyspraxia / developmental coordination difficulties and ADHD should also be taken into account.

It should be noted that by addressing barriers to accessibility for users with cognitive and learning disabilities, improvements to digital technologies can be achieved and there is the potential to improve user experience for everyone.

Barriers faced

People with cognitive and learning disabilities may be unable to use web content because of the design choices of the author. Examples include:

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.

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.

Design Guide

The Design Guide provides a number of Design Patterns that help web content providers meet the needs of people with cognitive and learning disabilities.


The Personas provide some context and help understanding by outlining fictional people with various cognitive issues and the challenges they face.

Glossary of Terms

We are compiling a Glossary for the terms used around Cognitive and Learning Disabilities.

Usability testing notes

There are some differences when testing for cognitive accessibility, and that includes when testing with people who have cognitive impairments:

Find Resources for Cognitive and Learning Disability

Select the guides from below according to what you want to do:

Develop Web sites that are inclusive of people with cognitive disabilities

These resources are useful for procurers, designers and developers

Develop policies that are fully inclusive of people with cognitive disabilities

These resources are useful when creating policy

Create technical standards that include cognitive disability requirements

These resources are useful for procurers, designers and developers

Cognitive Accessibility at W3C

Summary of the W3C activity on Cognitive Accessibility

Other WAI Standards that are relevant for cognitive and learning disabilities include:

User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG)

The 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)

The ATAG covers tools used to create web content. Examples include 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. (!!!)

General Standards that provide benefits

Some other standards are highly relevant - eg Web Authentication can be a barrier if passwords are required.

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This is an unpublished draft preview that might include content that is not yet approved. The published website is at