Making Content Usable for People with Cognitive and Learning Disabilities

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This document is for people who make Web content (Web pages) and Web applications. It gives advice on how to make content usable for people with cognitive and learning disabilities.

This document has content about:

The Objectives and Patterns presented here provide supplemental guidance beyond the requirements of WCAG. Following the guidance in this document is not required for conformance to WCAG. However, following this guidance will increase accessibility for people with cognitive and learning disabilities.

Status of This Document

This section describes the status of this document at the time of its publication. Other documents may supersede this document. A list of current W3C publications and the latest revision of this technical report can be found in the W3C technical reports index at

This is a Working Draft by the Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility Task Force (Coga TF) of the Accessible Platform Architectures Working Group and the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group. This version has been enhanced from the previous version to focus on an audience of designers and developers, and provide comprehensive user stories and design patterns. Please find the change log for those changes in this Working Draft. This document is ready for wide review prior to finalization as a Working Group Note.

The COGA TF encourages feedback on any aspect of the document. All comments are welcome. Some comments may not be addressed in the first Working Group Note, but will be considered for a later version of the Note. The TF would particularly like feedback on the following questions:

This document was published by the Accessible Platform Architectures Working Group and the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group as a Working Draft.

To comment, file an issue in the W3C coga GitHub repository. If this is not feasible, send email to (archives). Comments are requested by 04 September 2020. In-progress updates to the document may be viewed in the publicly visible editors' draft.

Publication as a Working Draft does not imply endorsement by the W3C Membership. This is a draft document and may be updated, replaced or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to cite this document as other than work in progress.

This document was produced by groups operating under the W3C Patent Policy. The groups do not expect this document to become a W3C Recommendation. W3C maintains a public list of any patent disclosures (Accessible Platform Architectures Working Group) and a public list of any patent disclosures (Accessibility Guidelines Working Group) made in connection with the deliverables of each group; these pages also include instructions for disclosing a patent. An individual who has actual knowledge of a patent which the individual believes contains Essential Claim(s) must disclose the information in accordance with section 6 of the W3C Patent Policy.

This document is governed by the 1 March 2019 W3C Process Document.

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Status of This Document
  3. 1. Summary
  4. 2. Introduction
    1. 2.1 How to Use this Document
    2. 2.2 Background about People with Learning and Cognitive Disabilities and the Web
    3. 2.3 Building the User into the Development Process
  5. 3. User Stories
    1. 3.1 Objective 1: Help Users Understand What Things are and How to Use Them
      1. 3.1.1 User Story: Clear Purpose
      2. 3.1.2 User Story: Clear Operation
      3. 3.1.3 User Story: Symbols (pictographic or ideographic that represent concepts)
    2. 3.2 Objective 2: Help Users Find What They Need
      1. 3.2.1 User Story: Findable
      2. 3.2.2 User Story: Searchable
      3. 3.2.3 User Story: Clear Navigation
      4. 3.2.4 User Story: Media
    3. 3.3 Objective 3: Use Clear and Understandable Content
      1. 3.3.1 User Story: Clear Language (Written or Audio)
      2. 3.3.2 User Story: Visual Presentation
      3. 3.3.3 User Story: Math Concepts
    4. 3.4 Objective 4: Help Users Avoid Mistakes or Correct Them
      1. 3.4.1 User Story: Assistance and Support
      2. 3.4.2 User Story: Undo
    5. 3.5 Objective 5: Help Users to Maintain Focus
      1. 3.5.1 User Story: Distractions
    6. 3.6 Objective 6: Ensure Processes Do Not Rely on Memory
      1. 3.6.1 User Story: Previous Steps
      2. 3.6.2 User Story: Accessible Authentication
      3. 3.6.3 User Story: Voice Menus
    7. 3.7 Objective 7: Provide Help and Support
      1. 3.7.1 User Story: Help
      2. 3.7.2 User Story: Support
      3. 3.7.3 User Story: Directions
      4. 3.7.4 User Story: Cognitive Stress
      5. 3.7.5 User Story: Task Management
    8. 3.8 Objective 8: Support Adaptation and Personalization
      1. 3.8.1 User Story: Adapt
      2. 3.8.2 User Story: Extensions and API’s
  6. 4. Design Guide
    1. 4.1 Design Guide Introduction
    2. 4.2 Objective 1: Help Users Understand What Things are and How to Use Them
      1. 4.2.1 Pattern: Make the Purpose of Your Page Clear
        1. 4.2.2 Pattern: Use a Design that the User is Likely to Recognize and Understand
          1. 4.2.3 Pattern: Use a Consistent Visual Design
            1. 4.2.4 Pattern: Make Each Step Clear
              1. 4.2.5 Pattern: Clearly Identify Controls and Their Use
                1. 4.2.6 Pattern: Make the Relationship Clear Between Controls and What They Affect
                  1. 4.2.7 Pattern: Use Symbols that Help the User
                  2. 4.3 Objective 2: Help Users Find What They Need
                    1. 4.3.1 Pattern: Make it Easy to Identify the Most Important Tasks and Features of the Site
                      1. 4.3.2 Pattern: Ensure the Hierarchy of the Site and Menu Structure is Logical, Easy to Identify and Navigate
                        1. 4.3.3 Pattern: Use a Clear and Understandable Page Structure
                          1. 4.3.4 Pattern: Ensure the Most Important Things on the Page are Easy to Find
                            1. 4.3.5 Pattern: Break Media into Chunks
                              1. 4.3.6 Pattern: Provide Search
                              2. 4.4 Objective 3: Use Clear and Understandable Content
                                1. 4.4.1 Pattern: Use Clear Words
                                  1. 4.4.2 Pattern: Use a Simple Tense and Voice
                                    1. 4.4.3 Pattern: Avoid Double Negatives or Nested Clauses
                                      1. 4.4.4 Pattern: Use Literal Language
                                        1. 4.4.5 Pattern: Keep Text Succinct
                                          1. 4.4.6 Pattern: Use Clear, Unambiguous Text Formatting and Punctuation
                                            1. 4.4.7 Pattern: Include Symbols and Letters Necessary to Decipher the Words
                                              1. 4.4.8 Pattern: Provide Summary of Long Documents and Media
                                                1. 4.4.9 Pattern: Separate Each Instruction
                                                  1. 4.4.10 Pattern: Use White Spacing
                                                    1. 4.4.11 Pattern: Ensure Foreground Content is not Obscured by Background
                                                      1. 4.4.12 Pattern: Explain Implied Content
                                                        1. 4.4.13 Pattern: Provide Alternatives for Numbers
                                                        2. 4.5 Objective 4: Help Users Avoid Mistakes or Correct Them
                                                          1. 4.5.1 Pattern: Ensure Controls and Content Do Not Move Unexpectedly
                                                            1. 4.5.2 Pattern: Let Users Go Back
                                                              1. 4.5.3 Pattern: Notify Users of Fees and Charges at the Start of a Task
                                                                1. 4.5.4 Pattern: Design Forms to Prevent Mistakes
                                                                  1. 4.5.5 Pattern: Make it Easy to Undo Form Errors
                                                                    1. 4.5.6 Pattern: Use Clear Visible Labels
                                                                      1. 4.5.7 Pattern: Use Clear Step-by-step Instructions
                                                                        1. 4.5.8 Pattern: Provide Flexible Form Inputs
                                                                          1. 4.5.9 Pattern: Avoid Data Loss and "Time Outs"
                                                                            1. 4.5.10 Pattern: Provide Feedback
                                                                              1. 4.5.11 Pattern: Keep Users' Information Safe and Help Users Understand Known Risks
                                                                                1. 4.5.12 Pattern: Use Familiar Metrics and Units
                                                                                2. 4.6 Objective 5: Help Users to Maintain Focus
                                                                                  1. 4.6.1 Pattern: Limit Interruptions
                                                                                    1. 4.6.2 Pattern: Make Short Critical Paths
                                                                                      1. 4.6.3 Pattern: Avoid Too Much Content
                                                                                        1. 4.6.4 Pattern: Provide Information So a User Can Complete and Prepare for a Task
                                                                                        2. 4.7 Objective 6: Ensure Processes Do Not Rely on Memory
                                                                                          1. 4.7.1 Pattern: Provide a Login that Does Not Rely on Memory or Other Cognitive Skills
                                                                                            1. 4.7.2 Pattern: Allow the User a Simple, Single Step, Login
                                                                                              1. 4.7.3 Pattern: Provide a Login Alternative with Less Words
                                                                                                1. 4.7.4 Pattern: Let Users Avoid Navigating Voice Menus
                                                                                                  1. 4.7.5 Pattern: Do Not Rely on Users Memorizing Information
                                                                                                  2. 4.8 Objective 7: Provide Help and Support
                                                                                                    1. 4.8.1 Pattern: Provide Human Help
                                                                                                      1. 4.8.2 Pattern: Provide Help and Alternative Content for Complex Information and Tasks
                                                                                                        1. 4.8.3 Pattern: Clearly State the Results and Disadvantages of Actions, Options, and Selections
                                                                                                          1. 4.8.4 Pattern: Provide Help for Forms and Non-standard Controls
                                                                                                            1. 4.8.5 Pattern: Make It Easy to Find Help and Give Feedback
                                                                                                              1. 4.8.6 Pattern: Provide Help with Directions
                                                                                                                1. 4.8.7 Pattern: Provide Reminders
                                                                                                                2. 4.9 Objective 8: Support Adaptation and Personalization
                                                                                                                  1. 4.9.1 Pattern: Let Users Control When the Content Changes
                                                                                                                    1. 4.9.2 Pattern: Enable APIs and Extensions
                                                                                                                      1. 4.9.3 Pattern: Support Simplification
                                                                                                                        1. 4.9.4 Pattern: Support a Personalized and Familiar Interface
                                                                                                                      2. 5. Usability Testing, Focus Groups and Feedback
                                                                                                                        1. 5.1 Usability Testing Introduction
                                                                                                                        2. 5.2 Finding People to Include
                                                                                                                        3. 5.3 Informed Consent
                                                                                                                        4. 5.4 Usability Testing
                                                                                                                          1. 5.4.1 Differences from Usability Testing with the General Population
                                                                                                                        5. 5.5 Test Objectives
                                                                                                                          1. 5.5.1 Does the User Understand What Things Are and How to Use Them?
                                                                                                                          2. 5.5.2 Can Users Find What They Need?
                                                                                                                          3. 5.5.3 Is the Content Clear and Understandable?
                                                                                                                          4. 5.5.4 Can Users Avoid Mistakes and Easily Correct Them
                                                                                                                          5. 5.5.5 Can the Users Maintain Focus?
                                                                                                                          6. 5.5.6 Can Users Complete Processes without Relying on Memory?
                                                                                                                          7. 5.5.7 Is there Enough Help and Support?
                                                                                                                          8. 5.5.8 Is Adaptation and Personalization Supported
                                                                                                                      3. 6. Use Cases / Persona
                                                                                                                        1. 6.1 Alison: An Aging User with Mild Cognitive Impairment
                                                                                                                          1. 6.1.1 Alison Scenario 1: Learning How to Use New Technologies and Interfaces
                                                                                                                          2. 6.1.2 Alison Scenario 2: Correcting Typos and Writing Fluently
                                                                                                                          3. 6.1.3 Alison Scenario 3: Coping with Online Banking and Shopping
                                                                                                                          4. 6.1.4 Alison Scenario 4: Giving Feedback
                                                                                                                        2. 6.2 Amy: A Computer Scientist who has Autism
                                                                                                                          1. 6.2.1 Amy Scenario 1: Coping with Poor Layouts and Illogical Navigation
                                                                                                                          2. 6.2.2 Amy Scenario 2: Changing Color Schemes, Flashing, Blinking and Automatic Playing Videos or Music
                                                                                                                          3. 6.2.3 Amy Scenario 3: Designs that Make Use of Abstract Imagery and Metaphors
                                                                                                                        3. 6.3 Anna: A Student who has Dyslexia and Poor Eye Hand Coordination
                                                                                                                          1. 6.3.1 Anna Scenario 1: Logging In
                                                                                                                          2. 6.3.2 Anna Scenario 2: Finding Accessible Content
                                                                                                                          3. 6.3.3 Anna Scenario 3: Filling in a Form to Ask for an eJournal Article
                                                                                                                          4. 6.3.4 Anna Scenario 4: Overlooking Important Information
                                                                                                                          5. 6.3.5 Scenario 5: Pressing the Correct Button
                                                                                                                        4. 6.4 Carolyn: A Yoga Teacher who has ADHD
                                                                                                                          1. 6.4.1 Carolyn Scenario 1: Gathering Key Points from a Heavy Text Based Document or Web Page
                                                                                                                          2. 6.4.2 Carolyn Scenario 2: The Power to Stop Scrolling Carousels and Banners
                                                                                                                          3. 6.4.3 Carolyn Scenario 3: Losing Focus when Completing Tasks
                                                                                                                          4. 6.4.4 Carolyn Scenario 4: Learning Information from a Video
                                                                                                                        5. 6.5 Frank: A Retired Lawyer with Dementia
                                                                                                                          1. 6.5.1 Frank Scenario 1: Managing Dates and Booking Holidays
                                                                                                                          2. 6.5.2 Frank Scenario 2: Coping with Icons that are not Recognizable
                                                                                                                          3. 6.5.3 Frank Scenario 3: Support when Using Search Engines
                                                                                                                          4. 6.5.4 Frank Scenario 4: Making a Medical Appointment
                                                                                                                          5. 6.5.5 Frank Scenario 5: Using the Heating
                                                                                                                        6. 6.6 George: A User who Works in a Supermarket and has Down Syndrome
                                                                                                                          1. 6.6.1 George Scenario 1: Using Symbols for Communication
                                                                                                                          2. 6.6.2 George Scenario 2: Understanding Netiquette and its Impact on Social Media Sites
                                                                                                                          3. 6.6.3 George Scenario 3: Controls on Videos and Popup Windows
                                                                                                                          4. 6.6.4 George Scenario 4: Finding ways to Read Instructions
                                                                                                                        7. 6.7 Jonathan: A Therapist with Dyscalculia
                                                                                                                          1. 6.7.1 Jonathan Scenario 1: Coping with Quantities when Shopping Online
                                                                                                                          2. 6.7.2 Jonathan Scenario 2: Remembering Pin Numbers and Passwords
                                                                                                                          3. 6.7.3 Jonathan Scenario 3: Using Spreadsheets Shared with Colleagues
                                                                                                                        8. 6.8 Maria: A User who has Memory Loss
                                                                                                                          1. 6.8.1 Maria Scenario 1: Finding Key Information on Dynamic Websites
                                                                                                                          2. 6.8.2 Maria Scenario 2: Remembering Information Entered During a Previous Step
                                                                                                                          3. 6.8.3 Maria Scenario 3: Pressing the Correct Button
                                                                                                                        9. 6.9 Sam: A Librarian who had a Stroke and Aphasia
                                                                                                                          1. 6.9.1 Sam Scenario 1: Having Well-spaced Text with Words that are Easy to Pick Out
                                                                                                                          2. 6.9.2 Sam Scenario 2: Using Edit Boxes where the Instructions Disappear
                                                                                                                          3. 6.9.3 Sam Scenario 3: Trying to Activate Elements that have been Mis-recognized
                                                                                                                          4. 6.9.4 Sam Scenario 4: Coping with Complex Language
                                                                                                                        10. 6.10 Tom: A Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor
                                                                                                                          1. 6.10.1 Tom Scenario 1: Using Speech Recognition to Navigate the Web
                                                                                                                          2. 6.10.2 Tom Scenario 2: Finding the Right Words to Use for Searching
                                                                                                                          3. 6.10.3 Tom Scenario 3: Being Confident that he Understands the Content
                                                                                                                          4. 6.10.4 Tom Scenario 4: Understanding where Information is in a Hierarchical Structure
                                                                                                                          5. 6.10.5 Tom Scenario 5: Cognitive Overload
                                                                                                                          6. 6.10.6 Tom Scenario 5: Struggling with Directions
                                                                                                                      4. A. Appendix: Mapping User Needs, Persona and Patterns
                                                                                                                        1. A.1 Objective 1: Help users understand what things are and how to use them
                                                                                                                        2. A.2 Objective 2: Help the user find what they need
                                                                                                                        3. A.3 Objective 3: Use clear and understandable content and text
                                                                                                                        4. A.4 Objective 4: Help Users Avoid Mistakes or Correct Them
                                                                                                                        5. A.5 Objective 5: Help the user focus and restore context if attention is lost
                                                                                                                        6. A.6 Objective 6: Processes do not rely on memory
                                                                                                                        7. A.7 Objective 7: Provide help and support
                                                                                                                        8. A.8 Objective 8: Adapt and Personalize
                                                                                                                      5. B. Appendix: Considerations for Uptake in Different Contexts and Policies
                                                                                                                      6. C. Appendix: Testable Statements for Each Pattern
                                                                                                                      7. D. Appendix: Business Considerations
                                                                                                                        1. D.1 The Aging Population as a Market
                                                                                                                      8. E. Appendix: Change Log
                                                                                                                        1. E.1 Significant editorial changes since the First Public Working Draft
                                                                                                                      9. F. Appendix: Acknowledgments
                                                                                                                        1. F.1 Participants active in the Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Task Force at the time of publication
                                                                                                                        2. F.2 Other Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Task Force contributors, commenters, and previously active participants
                                                                                                                        3. F.3 Enabling funders