From Cognitive Accessibility Task Force

COGA (accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities) Issue Paper - Keeping Users Safe Online

Unfortunately, the internet is not a safe place. Examples of types of criminals active on the internet include:

  • Con-artists or cheats, who misled people into giving them money.
  • Hackers, who may steal identity, information, or money without the user being aware of what is happening.
  • Sexual predators, who use the Internet to identify vulnerable people and exploit them, either online or offline.

Challenges for People with Cognitive Disabilities

People with cognitive disabilities are particularly vulnerable to all types of cyber crime.

Hackers. People with cognitive disabilities may not be able to cope with the additional security measures such as two steps authentication or keep passwords safe and unique.

Ironically extra security precautions such as increasing the requirements of password strength often make this group more vulnerable to "human error". It can lead to a reduction in their security by encouraging inadvisable behaviour such as keeping a list of passwords on their desk which can be stolen by "helpers" or people who come into their room. Another case may be where people ask a helper or friend to assist with the completion of the security procedures, once again raising the risk of abuse.

Con-artists. People with impaired reasoning, attention or memory may be more vulnerable to con-artists who trick people into trusting them. People who do not understand social cues may also be more vulnerable, as they may find it harder to notice if something seems "out of place". Also at risk are people who are more likely to believe false information and will find it harder to validate facts.

Sexual predators. People with cognitive disabilities may be more at risk of being a victim of a sexual crime. This is more likely if:

  1. they tend to be unaware of a fake identity or misleading information;
  2. they are dependent on care givers and family who they are afraid of disappointing - leaving them open to blackmail;
  3. they tend to believe false information and find it harder to validate facts;
  4. they are less likely to identify requests put to them that are unreasonable.

Proposed Solutions

When making content accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities extra care should be applied at the same time to keep them safe.

General: All user information must be kept safe, to the fullest extent possible. Any clues that the user has cognitive disabilities (such as a request for a simplified version) should be protected information.

Hackers: Security should be strong AND easily used by those with cognitive disabilities, such as a biometrics option. For a full discussion see the issue paper on security.

Sexual predators and con-artists.

  1. A site with a chat option should prevent any exchange of personal information.
  2. Users should be regularly warned to avoid scams.
  3. Getting help and /or reporting something worrying should be extremely easy to do. Users should know they will never be penalized for reporting something.
  4. Users should find it easy to report to the cyber crime fighters in your jurisdiction.
  5. Provide easy to use videos and tips that provide explanations about cyber criminals, how to stay safe, and how to report anything you find odd.
  6. Server side solutions can be employed for finding cyber-criminals, such as analytics.
  7. Advertisements and paid articles should be vetted for reliability. They should be clearly marked as external content in an easy to understand way.
  8. Users should be made aware when they are leaving your site or going to a less trustworthy site, including when following links they have been given by users.
  9. Sites offering sexual content or intended for chats of sexual nature should state that clearly.

Thanks to Crimes against Children Investigations Israel National Cyber Unit for the review.

Jonathan Lazar, Libby Kumin, and Jinjuan Heidi Feng. 2011. Understanding the computer skills of adult expert users with down syndrome: an exploratory study. In The proceedings of the 13th international ACM SIGACCESS conference on Computers and accessibility (ASSETS '11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 51-58. DOI=10.1145/2049536.2049548 Available from:

Interesting paper showing that those with Downs Syndrome do not necessarily have difficulties with CAPTCHAS.