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Cognitive Accessibility Design Pattern: Do Not Rely on Users Calculations or Memorizing Information

User Need

I need navigation and processes that do not rely on memory.

What to Do

Create a process that does not require:

  • remembering digits to select for a short time,
  • performing calculations,
  • copying,
  • clear speech or fast responses,
  • memorizing characters, strings, or pin numbers,
  • using executive function to work out the category of the service they need,
  • recalling information over multiple steps. When going through multiple steps, each step in a process must contain the information needed to allow a user to proceed. They must not rely on memory from prior steps.

Instructions and labels should be located before a call to action or activation mechanism. When appropriate, provide a summary of information from previous steps, and a mechanism for traversing the process.

How it Helps

Often content has barriers which prevent users with cognitive and learning disabilities from completing a step or process, and as a result, prevents them from achieving whatever they wished to achieve.

To increase security when making a purchase, sometimes puzzles or calculations are required. For example: To finalize a purchase, a user is asked to enter the result of multiplying positions 1 and 2 of a number. This type of statement cannot be understood by some people with cognitive and learning disabilities. Both security and cognitive accessibility should be guaranteed.

Many users have an impaired working memory. They cannot remember many details at the same time. However, systems, such as dialog menus, rely on all users using working memory to make choices. They expect the user to remember several choices and to select one choice, whether by speaking or through a key press. The user needs to hold multiple pieces of transitory information in the mind.

Users with an impaired executive function may need more time to complete a task. But there can also be problems if the system response is too slow. For example, some people may need longer to compare similar options such as “billing”, “accounts”, and “sales” and decide which is the service they need. Using clear language will also help.

More Details

Good practice that reduces the reliance on memory skills include:

  • Each step in a process should contain the information necessary to allow a user to proceed. They must not rely on memory from prior steps.
  • Providing a simple way to go back without having to start at the beginning.
  • Inform users of where they are in the process, for example, through a step indicator.
  • If users make a mistake or error, provide help to fix it rather than restarting the process.
  • When useful, provide a summary of information from previous steps, and an easy mechanism for traversing the process is available.

For voice interfaces:

  • Pause between each option.
  • Waiting for a slow speaker to respond.
  • Listen for a quiet or hesitant speaker.
  • Allow simple, one word responses
  • State the option before the number to command to be selected.
  • Support forgetfulness and memory impairments.

Note that this is essential for critical systems such as health, finance, communication, water, and government services.



Processes that do not rely on memory. For example:

  • Using user interaction dialogs in which the first option “to wait for a person who can help you press 0 or say help”.
  • Using a user-interaction dialog, such as the standard “help” from any point, where there is easy access to a human operator who can help users achieve their goals.
  • Good error recovery so that the user knows how to go back from any point.
  • Advisory technique: Cue users to write something that may be useful at a later point, and give them time to do so.


  1. Processes that rely on memory. For example:
    • Requiring the user remember a code or a category from a previous step.
    • Long menu systems that make it hard to find a person.
    • Systems that require use of specific words that the user has to remember.

User Stories and Personas

User Story



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