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Cognitive Accessibility Design Pattern: Provide Help with Directions

User Need

I need help understanding and using directions and navigation.

What to Do

Content is provided that helps users understand and use directions or navigational systems. This can include:

  • Providing landmarks that are easily recognized.
  • Providing cardinal directions (general or global) that can be related to a static object such as north of the tower.
  • Helping people avoid changes that confuse them, such as a change of orientation or routing.
  • Facilitating reorientation when leaving the route.
  • Supporting different ways people are aware of distances.
  • Allowing personalization of terms such as directions and measurements.

How it Helps

People with cognitive and learning disabilities experience different levels of difficulty with wayfinding directions or wayfinding applications. The help needed to address wayfinding issues can be different for indoor navigation, where there are more stimuli, and outdoors, where there can be more demands on memory. The help needed also varies with the individual.

Wayfinding requires many cognitive functions. Designs should accommodate a wide range of cognitive and learning disabilities including those supported by other design patterns. For example:

  • memory,
  • executive function,
  • spatial orientation,
  • visual/spatial attention, perception, and processing,
  • spatial disorientation anxiety,
  • language processing,
  • intellectual,
  • attention.

Some users may need more detailed help, such as step-by-step directions. Many users need to preview a route before following it. Then landmarks can help with recognition and orientation as well as reducing anxiety. Alternative relative directional terms and cardinal directions matching a user’s preferences are most effective. For example, the application could refer to “the driver’s side” or “the East Wing”. Helping people imagine relative and absolute distances can help, for example, “you’ve travelled half way”.

Due to the wide variation in personal requirements, personalization mechanisms can be very useful. For example, the units used for distances. Platforms or other technologies often provide personalization options for relative and cardinal directions and terms which can be used. For example, the platform locale settings.

Changes can be very confusing. A user may be prepared to change the route to save hours of traffic, but this will involve them pulling into a gas station to learn the new route. They may not want to change routes to avoid a small amount of traffic. Help the user to find the option that works for them.

For example, a person with traumatic brain injury is using a Global Positioning System (GPS). They review the route before leaving, and look at pictures of the turns. These preparations will enable them to follow the route. While driving, the route changes to avoid three minutes of traffic. They are no longer able to follow it and become lost.



  1. A second way to indicate left and right that is always available or a way to personalize the indication.
  2. Directions that use landmarks. For example, images of local landmarks are provided or can be added to help with orientation during wayfinding.
  3. Options that are available to avoid unwanted changes.
  4. Extra support that is available.


  1. Consistent reference to points of the compass including less well known ones (e.g. N by NE).
  2. Instructions that always assume that the person is at the expected location. They do not have an easy way to recover.
  3. Content that changes automatically in ways that the user does not want or control.

User Stories and Personas

User Story



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