F. Learning Disorders

Readers with learning disorders such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorders may have difficulty processing certain types of information. At Penn State, these users would primarily include those with learning disabilities, as this is the largest set of students registered with the Office of Disability Services.

Accommodations Needed

Experts generally recommend maintaining a consistent, simple interface so that users with cognitive impairments can process online information more easily. Specific recommendations include:

  1. Adjust writing style:
    1. Use shorter chunks of text grouped by headings. This style of writing assists screen reader users and also helps many users who skim information on the Web site fully comprehend the content.
    2. Use as little jargon as possible. If specialized terms and abbreviations are needed, be sure that definitions are included and easy to locate.
    3. Be aware that humor (including sarcasm and pop culture references) may not be understood by all audiences, including those whose first language is not English.
    4. Ensure that fonts are enhanced for legibility.
  2. Avoid automatic background audio, scrolling text, automatic slide shows and continuous animations, as these features can be distracting for many users.
  3. Place universal navigational schemes in a consistent location on all Web pages.
  4. Make sure a Home link is included on as many pages as possible. Do not rely on a clickable logo alone to act as a home link - many people do not know that convention. Some research indicates that most users expect the "Home" link to be in the upper left portion of a screen or menu.
  5. Links styling and buttons should be distinct from other elements on the page. This is also important for low vision users.
  6. Change CSS styles to add left and right margins, and to increase line spacing. Both of these provisions enhance readability.
  7. Ensure that your site works on a screen reader. Some users may use a visual screen reader such as the Kurzweil screen reader which highlights text as it is read aloud.

Balancing Needs

Ironically non-text media can benefit many users including those with some cognitive disbilities. The key is to ensure accessibility for those who need a text alternative.

  1. Images (including icons, charts, maps) may benefit many users, but alternative text also needs to be available for the visually impaired users..
  2. Some icons (e.g. arrows, trash cans) can be beneficial, but if an icon is too ambiguous, a supplemental text label may be needed.
  3. Presentations of information in a audio podcast or video can benefit some users, but a transcript should be included for hearing impaired users.

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Hidden Audiences for Cognitive Impairment Accommodations

The needs of different cognitively impaired user groups are subtle and not always well understood, but consider that:

  1. Many usability recommendations facilitate cognitive processing in general.
  2. Speakers whose native language is not English.
  3. In terms of course design or instruction, a student generally has a simpler cognitive model than an expert does.

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