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Cognitive Accessibility Design Pattern: Limit Interruptions

User Need

I need tasks to not have distractions.

What to Do

Avoid interruptions. This includes:

  • Providing an easy way to control interruptions, reminders, and changes in content unless they are started by the user or involve an emergency.
  • Allowing the user to control and limit types of content which could cause them distraction or an undesirable reaction.

This content includes: Social media, violent content, advertisements, distracting backgrounds and images, moving content, soft and loud noises, or triggers.

How it Helps

Interruptions stop people with memory or attention impairments from completing their task. This can include individuals with Dementia, those that have had a stroke or brain injury, and those taking medications with side effects impacting memory or attention. Certain types of interruptions or a certain number may cause them to stop, even if the task is very important. Interruptions can include sounds, content that visually appears or changes (such as advertisements on a page). Interruptions can be as simple as text notifications about the presence of new changes while working in a shared online document.

A site will work best for those with memory or attention challenges if they have:

  • a quiet and simple environment,
  • no interruptions at all,
  • an easy to use pause option so interruptions and moving content can be viewed later, or
  • a setting where users can select which types of interruptions they can manage and when.

Many news web sites have a lot of interruptions that can cause challenges for people needing to read important information, such as school closures due to bad weather. They may encounter breaking news text, advertisements, and pop-up windows. For those with difficulty focusing and sifting through the school names, or have two or three they need to check, these distractions may make the task impossible. By letting the user pause these distractions, and ideally temporarily remove them from the page, they will better be able to complete the task.

Some people are sensitive to noise and can easily become overwhelmed by too many stimuli.

Sometimes, noises and different types of content may adversely affect mental health. For example, noises, distractions, or distressing content may make the user more anxious or possibly trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There has also been research to suggest that too many interruptions and use of social media may aggravate depression and difficulty focusing. Allowing users to control this content could help them be more productive online.

Where standard techniques exist to remove or control distractions, they should be used.

For example, a person with traumatic brain injury is filling out their taxes online. The social media application pings them with notifications. They try to turn notifications off and then they try to turn off the application, but it is too complex. They are unable to submit their taxes without help.



  1. Tasks without interruptions.
  2. An easy way to control interruptions that may be needed. For example:
    • An application lets the user decide how they want to be notified about reminders and emails. Users can choose visual reminders, sounds, or none. They can flag users as essential contacts who can interrupt in most cases. These settings are easy to find from every screen. For some users, not having any notifications enables them to focus on a task and then go to their emails or calendar when the task is completed.


  1. Distracting content that is hard to turn off, or cannot be turned off. For example:
    • There are advertisements on a magazine article page that constantly change, interrupting a reader’s focus.
  2. Content that interrupts the user from completing their task. For example:
    • A pop up suggesting the user subscribers to the site. The pop up must be closed for the user to continue.

User Stories and Personas

User Story



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