People with cognitive disabilities use the web for the same reasons we all do, primarily: to communicate; to consume content; and to purchase goods and services. Where they differ is in how able they are to engage in these endeavors, and to overcome the barriers presented by websites not designed with simplicity in mind.

How easy is it to find and buy something?

Shopping sites are good examples of complexity. Retailers apparently believe that to attract customers their websites must have animated promotions, display large numbers of products, and employ sophisticated site-navigation systems. These same features overwhelm people with cognitive disabilities.

The following video is of Martin visiting the website. Note the one action common sense would say Amazon would want to make the easiest, that of purchasing an item, is quite difficult for him to accomplish. He makes good points about why that is.

How easy is it to find information?

Other than shopping, common interests among people with intellectual disabilities I have interviewed include:

  • using social media sites and web-based email; and
  • finding information related to local movie schedules, food recipes, self advocacy and disabilities.

Related to the latter interest, I interviewed Mary about her use of the website, the home to this blog.

Mary told me the home page, represented by the following image, was too full of choices.  I designed it, and I agree with her. It is cluttered with many links and images.

web page with over 50 links, over 25 images, and 3 columns of information

Trying to use the site’s search box proved equally overwhelming for Mary. Like most people, she did not know what human service terms to use to find relevant information. Tangentially-relevant search terms and spelling errors also thwarted her efforts to find the information she needed. Once Mary found some search results, trying to understand their content and determining their relevancy was troublesome.


Finding and understanding information is very difficult for people with cognitive disabilities. It is just as important for to facilitate those tasks as it is for to enable its users to buy products. The next blog post will focus on how to make websites more usable by people with cognitive disabilities.


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