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Cognitive Accessibility

1 March 2020
Sarah Karsenti
Ducks crossing sign

Cognitive accessibility is a term referring to a simplification of an environment so to make it easier to understand or navigate.

Cognitive accessibility is meant to assist the cognitively impaired population, such as those suffering from neurological developmental disabilities, autism, brain injuries, dementia, learning disabilities, or people dealing with psychological disabilities. They all involve some damage to their abilities to perform processes that involve thinking: difficulties in understanding instructions, remembering, symbolizing, abstracting, quantifying, reading and writing. These difficulties affect their ability to conduct themselves independently throughout their everyday life.

Cognitive accessibility can be implemented on several levels, from the most basic level to the highest level. Hereby are some examples:

1.Content pages: phrasing content simply along with graphic accessories.

2.Pictures/signs: simplification of the environment so to make it easier to navigate through or comprehend. For example, one can place easily understood signs instead of written instructions or color each flight of a large building's parking lot a different color so to make it easier to locate one's parking spot.

Signs with simply understood pictures instead of written instructions

3.Tool Tips: subtitles which pop every time one points at an icon or a word displayed, containing information on this word.



Examples of tool tips:

4.Manuals: a manual phrased simply along with graphic accessories.

I wish to share an example from my personal experience of a project in which I am taking part this year.

In short, I've learned that cognitive accessibility can be implemented not only simply or for cognitively impaired audiences (as seen in the aforementioned examples), but also for wider audiences. This project is a complex one with all parties involves located in a different country. The processes itself is a repetitive cycle, though each cycle involves different participants. Due to the multitude of participants and the location complication, the discussions between the participants and myself (as project manager) are conducted online. We also keep our shared documents on a cloud on a SharePoint page, so that everyone can edit, and update said documents simultaneously.


Here's one issue that requires some improving. I believe that saving the file on the cloud so that all parties can work on it simultaneously is critical for an efficient management of such a project. However, over time I've discovered that some teams prefer other work methods. Some have never worked with shared files saved on clouds and can work better with features on a document and save precious time. Some were just intimidated by the size of the document and did not know how to start working on it.

What did I do? I created a work manual on working on documents saved on clouds. The manual includes an explanation how to edit and save the documents on the cloud, a link to the SharePoint page on which the documents are saved, graphic accessories, screenshots, tips on how to work with navigation and comment windows, emphasis and directions regarding efficient and correct work on these documents.


an example of said manual


In conclusion, I've explained what cognitive accessibility is and how it is implemented in familiar environments. Furthermore, and this is this article's main value added, while its main contribution was to the cognitively impaired (and is rightfully defined as such)- but we all use it on a daily basis. We all use a manual, and we all use manuals- fine examples of cognitive accessibility.


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