16 May 2024 - Morgan Conroy

Web Accessibility Solutions for People with Cognitive Disabilities


People with a passing familiarity of web accessibility typically know it applies to users with different types of disabilities and impairments. For instance, blind users need alt text for screen readers, deaf users need captions and transcripts for audio content, and color blind and low vision users need sufficient contrast to perceive text and image content.

What About People with Cognitive Disabilities?

Users with cognitive disabilities and impairments are less commonly included when considering web accessibility, but they make up a large portion of the pool of potential website users.

Cognitive disabilities cover a wide range of human conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, traumatic brain injuries, migraines, epilepsy, mood disorders, memory impairments, Down Syndrome, and others. Accessibility needs vary for users with cognitive disabilities, just like with other disabilities.

No perfect solutions exist that will work for all users. But in this post, we outline a few good solutions for improving common web accessibility issues that users with cognitive disabilities often face.

Use Click-Friendly Navigation

Many websites have a navigation menu with dropdown submenus that expand and collapse when a user’s mouse moves over them. The quick appearance and disappearance of the submenus can cause unnecessary distraction and confusion for many users.

Someone with an attention disorder like ADHD may have difficulty getting around a site with lengthy sub-navigation menus or they may immediately forget the contents of a submenu they just viewed. A user with tremors may struggle to target a link with their cursor if the menu collapses any time their mouse moves out of hover range.

One good solution is to design and develop menus that expand based on click or focus. If hover expansion cannot be changed, adjust sensitivity and timing so the expand/collapse activity is slower and less instantly reactive. Refer to the WCAG Success Criterion (SC) 2.1.1 for more.

Minimize the Impact of Moving Content

Some web pages have animations, videos, and other content playing continuously in the background and there’s no way for the user to stop it. This can be distracting for people with attention difficulties. The moving content can even trigger reactions from some users with seizure disorders. 

The ideal solution is to avoid the use of always-moving background content during the planning stage of website design. If it can’t be avoided, minimize the prevalence of these features or provide an option for users to turn off the content from looping continuously. Refer to the WCAG SC 2.2.2 for more.

Ban Long, Large Blocks of Text

People tend to dislike reading long sentences in large paragraphs where words are not distinguishable from one another. They have difficulty parsing the content, especially users with learning disabilities.

 Keep in mind best practices for structuring and sectioning content. Break up text content into smaller paragraphs. Separate text with other types of content like videos, images, and other visual communication. This will help with comprehension for all users. Refer to best practice resources like those from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) for more.

Help Users with Vision Issues

If web pages aren’t designed to allow text to reflow, users with vision issues may not be able to read it. Those who need to zoom in on content but it’s hidden behind other content are unable to access the information. If they need to side-scroll to read content in the zoom position, they’re likely to be distracted and have a more difficult time consuming the information.

The use of responsive styling and design will ensure that website content is fully usable when a person zooms in on it at 200% in the browser. Refer to the WCAG SC 1.4.10 for more.

Make Autofill Forms

If users need to enter information on website forms repeatedly, it can make the process less accessible for those with memory impairments, those who may become distracted, or have executive function issues.

Adding an autofill function is a great solution for accessibility. It offers an already-filled-out suggestion for them to click instead of typing in the information again and again. Another shortcut is allowing users to check a box indicating that their billing address and shipping address are the same. Refer to the WCAG SC 3.3.7 for more.

Partner with Engine Room

If you want your business to be compliant with the newest accessibility guidelines, Engine Room can help. We understand that companies need to take WCAG 2.2 enhancements seriously, especially because implementing them opens up your site to new customers. Put Engine Room to work for you.