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Cognitive Accessibility Design Pattern: Provide Search

User Need

I need to be able to find features and content easily.

What to Do

Provide a friendly search capability. Ideally search should include:

  • autocomplete,
  • grouping of results when appropriate with headings for each group,
  • ability to easily find previous searches, and
  • spell-checking.

How it Helps

Having a search capability allows users to find the content they need even if they cannot use the site menus. A user can learn how to use search and reuse that skill on many sites.

Menu systems and most site navigation require the user to understand the menu categories. Users with impaired executive function may be unable to identify the correct categories.

In some cases, users know the correct category via memory, rather than logic. For example, most users remember that the print function is often found under the file menu. Users with impaired memory may not be able to find these menu items based on recall.

Users with impaired short-term memory, age related forgetfulness, or who are easily distracted may also find navigating a site and going to many pages to look for content difficult. If it takes too long they may lose focus and forget what they are looking for.

Search is most useful when it corrects misspellings, finds appropriate or related content, and provides suggested auto-corrected versions of the search terms.

If there are many results from related topics, it helps if search results are presented under the appropriate heading and categories. This helps the user find the search results they are looking for.

More Details

Search is less important on small sites where every page is no more than two clicks away from the main page.



  1. Search with spell check or suggested terms.


  1. Search that presents many results that are not grouped or ordered by their relationship to the original request.

User Stories and Personas

User Story



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