Cognitive Accessible Designs is the newest BUZZ among Web Site and Store Shelve Designs in the new millennia, given the growing age of our baby-boomers and the growing special needs (brain) population in the U.S.. This translates to increased attention and demands placed on user access & use of everything from web sites to product packaging on store shelves. It transcends challenges posed by visual impairment, to the spectrum of learning disabilities, and autism, brain injury, and aging – each of which involves a diminished capacity to readily understand instructions & directions – and spans perhaps 25 percent or more of the U.S. population.
What does the term, “Cognitive Accessibility,” actually mean? Well, it means exactly as it sounds. It is defined as “reasonable” intellectual access to public places, things, and technology for persons with “cognitive” or “intellectual” disabilities, and from any number of etiologies (brain injury, learning disabilities, PTSD, developmental, aging).
Access means that the provider must undertake a reasonable amount of consideration & design preparation so persons with cognitive affected disabilities may understand and use the products. The prevailing law in this area comes under both the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 508 of the Rehab Act, but more in the latter, which holds specificity in access to web sites and somewhat in product user instructions.
Cognitive Accessible Designs would then be appropriate useful designs of web sites, product labeling, and instructions on products and premises that can reasonably be understood by persons with cognitive disabilities. The reason you haven’t that much about this thru the years is that up until more recently, it was difficult to ascertain what “reasonable & appropriate” designs were as the affected persons had such a broad spectrum of disability and aptitude. So designers didn’t know who & what level they were designing for.
But, over the last 10 years, several things have changed.
First, affected persons are more able to get out and about today thru revisions in social policy, educational, and work programs. Second, we have many in the military who have returned from combat with a spectrum of post TBI & post concussion disorders, and now we have far more awareness of it – as well as new research has become available. Thirdly, we have advances in, and much more availability of, cognitive aids, PDAs, mobile smart phones, etc. today, where many more people are using them, and this high usage is rapidly redefining cognitive accessibility parameters, where cognitive accessible designs are scrambling to keep up. Fourth, we have a significant age related “digital divide,” age 50-55 today, which is raising more and more challenges to our aging population, many of which are still computer illiterate. The tech industry resultingly left these 50M Americans out of consideration in their cognitive accessible designs. And now today, there is ever increasing on these Americans to learn to use tech. And fifth, lest not leave out the rising prevalence of dementias in our aging population. They have considerable cognitive disabilities, and their needs are yet to be met.
All said, there are a lot of Americans today with cognitive disorders. Most are out and about. Instructional designs have not kept up. And now we have a cognitive accessibility crisis!
I hope to get my CognitiveAccessibility.org site online soon. In the meantime, please visit our cognitive accessibility web page on our main web site: http://www.dollecommunications.com/cognitive_accessibility.htm One key emerging challenge lies in the cognitive accessibility of popular internet web sites like Google, Facebook, iTunes, and LinkedIn. Over the last few months, each of these sites have undergone a major update & redesign of their UI, or user interface. Each time a UI is changed, there is a new learning curve for the user. And where users have any medical condition, injury, or aging issue that limits the comprehension of the changes and architecture and subsequent use of the web site, we have a problem. And the problem(s) lie both in accessibility (cognitive), which are protected by disability law, and loss of productivity, which should be of major concern to employers & persons having to use such sites as part of their school or work.
In addition to cognitive accessibility and cognitive accessible designs, most web sites today still pose accessibility challenges due to the “digital divide,” that is, the educational exposure to technology by persons over the age of about 50 today. Such persons and internet users, not having grown up with or been schooled in technology, often find the Internet, tech, and mobile apps a significant challenge. And with so many of these being baby-boomers who have never fully adopted (if at all) the internet & tech boom of the last 15 years, web site and tech providers have a growing challenge. Now, add in the growing challenges of so many items on store shelves today, and the continual rearranging of products on store shelves, and stores and their products and packaging pose additional challenges in Cognitive Accessible Designs.
Take Target, for instance, who own 1700 stores nationwide. On average they rotate, introduce, relocate, or change the products on their store shelves several times per month. And after each change, customers have to re-familiarize themselves with location, product label, and missing/changed items. It presents ever-changing cognitive and visual challenges to shoppers. And if Target and other department stores, and product manufacturers, do not give ample attention to Cognitive Accessible Designs, you end up with a lot of confusion in stores, with lots of returns due to wrong items purchased. These experiences and added time/store visits then lower both accessibility and productivity.
Can you imagine how many man-hours across the U.S. in Target stores alone are at stake due to additional time and lost productivity in store returns? The figure is staggering. Yet, the trend in poor Cognitive Accessible Designs continues. You’d think we’d want to get this right, spend a little more time & money when creating these designs. But these are largely new issues for most of us in the U.S. because of our mobile population, aging baby-boomers, and millions of Americans today with learning disabilities, autism, post brain injury, neurological disorders, and the like. We must address this. It is a matter both of national productivity, and disability rights & accommodations!
I have written to several of the leading internet sites, but am yet to engage in any productive discussion yet. My web site suggestions thus far include:
1. When U.S. companies update their UIs and web sites, they should provide new instructions similar to that provided in “boxed” instructions, i.e. User instructions, A 1-page diagram of the site UI and architecture, and precautions & warnings for privacy & user settings.
2. Internet sites should adopt “UI standards” for display & site architecture as to how to set user privacy & notifications. Statistical data on affected internet users with brain and learning disorders requiring “Cognitive Accessible Designs” and protections under the American’s with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehab Act are considerable.
Some common disorders include:
1. Post TBI
2. Post brain tumor
3. Post stroke
4. Hydrocephalus, NPH
8. Post concussion disorder
9. Seniors w/ early onset of dementia
As web pages and web sites add more and more content and graphics, it makes the requisite design implications for cognitive accessible designs more and more critical. Recent updates and redesign of UIs including Apple, Norton, and LinkedIn, came without any notice or information that might have lessened the challenge for affected users needing to learn to use the updated UIs.
More than just issues with cognitive accessibility, Cognitive Accessible Designs also raise broad issues in Productivity and in the best use of our time. Clearly, as much as tech, web sites, smart phones, and super stores aid us in productivity, they’re resulting in our spending a huge amount of time trying to make them operational.
Cognitive Accessible Designs will be one of the rising public & educational challenges for the U.S. in the coming years. So we’d be wise to commit the sufficient amount of resources to get this right.
ABOUT ME: I suffered a brain injury in 1992 w/ 12 brain shunt operations to date. Background in medical technology, the neurosciences, music & drumming therapy, and considerable insight into technology, AI use of technology, and cognitive accessibility. Work part time as a neuroscientist in music & drumming therapy, medical software/apps monitoring, and the neurosciences.
Please contact me per the information below. Feel free to CLICK and SAVE my contact JPEG card.
Newport Beach, CA