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Web Accessibility for People with Cognitive Disabilities: Universial Design Principles at Work!

Although there are standards for Web-sites regarding individuals that are blind or have restricted movement, there are no standards for compliance when it comes to the accessibility of Web-sites for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Neesha Mirchandani (2003), president of Niya, a non-profit with a Web accessibility practice, suggests using the universal design principle to make Web-sites more accessible to individuals with cognitive disabilities and therefore more accessible to everyone. This article discusses how the ADA Insights Web-site was recently redesigned to meet the needs of individuals with cognitive disabilities and highlights the newly-developed features. This article uses the ADA Insight Web-site project to showcase these features.

The ADA Insight project identified three primary rules for creating Web-sites that make them more accessible to individuals with cognitive disabilities.

  • First, keep the content and design of your Web-site simple. Try to stay away from using technical or legal jargon, professional buzzwords or word plays. If you must include more complex information you may want to provide a glossary of terms or create separate sections that will meet each of your stakeholder groups needs, for example, disability community, lawyers, policy makers, families and support individuals, and the general public.

  • Second, ensure that all Web-site navigation is in one location. It can be very confusing to individuals with cognitive disabilities as well as other novice users if links are scattered across the Web-pages. Mirchandani (2003) suggests that it may help users to have a site map to locate information in a hurry and to help process complex information.

  • Third, use illustrations, icons, and other visual tools to communicate key ideas. Mirchandan (2003) notes that pictures can be very effective in communicating complex information that may otherwise be lost in the middle of long in-depth content. And, yet this type of accommodation is often overlooked as an option to increase Web accessibility.


Mirchandani, N. (2003). Web Accessibility for People with Cognitive Disabilities: Universal Design Principles at Work! Retrieved on February 11, 2004 from