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Cognitive Accessibility Design Pattern: Explain Implied Content

User Need

I need to understand the meaning of the text. I do not want unexplained, implied, or ambiguous information because I may misunderstand jokes and metaphors.

What to Do

Provide definitions or explanations for implied or ambiguous information such:

  • body gestures,
  • emotions,
  • jokes,
  • sarcasm,
  • metaphors and simile, and
  • facial expressions.

These definitions and explanations should be provided in text close to the implied content or in the markup (see best practices).

How it Helps

Implied content can be difficult for some users because the meaning is not clear. This includes abstract content, sarcasm, or metaphors. The meaning is not clear and requires the user to have additional knowledge to understand.

When using body gestures, emotional communication, and facial expressions as the only way to communicate something, it is important to include this in another way to ensure all users understand. One way this can be done is through supplementary text.

For example, an image is used in a social media post to communicate a person’s true feelings. Some individuals may not be able to understand the emotion being demonstrated by the image. They miss the point the author is trying to make without more context.

Similarly, a research study asked autistic people to watch a movie that had a lot of implied content. They were watching the actors’ mouths, but information such as sarcasm is communicated by their facial expressions. When asked what happened in the movie, some missed the implied communication and the point of the dialogue.

More Details

This includes:

  • graphics used alone to identify that something is important, or should be remembered,
  • sarcasm in text, and
  • animations used to add importance or communicate something contrary to the literal meaning of the paired text.

Note that standard emojis often come with an explanation or alternative text.



  1. Supplementary text such as (sarcasm) when writing sarcastic comments in emails and social media posts to help readers understand the intent of the communication.
  2. Personalization semantics (once it is mature) to add non-literal text alternatives. See [[personalization-semantics-help-1.0]].


  1. Unexplained metaphors and similes. For example: “You are my sunshine.” rather than saying “You make me happy.”

User Stories and Personas

User Story



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