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6 Tips for Browsing the Web with Cognitive Disabilities or If You Have Trouble Understanding Web Content

Mar 28, 2019

If you experience difficulty with reading, memory, focus, or problem-solving, and that difficulty interferes with your ability to easily consume web content, you're not alone. Whether you identify as having a cognitive disability or have temporary or minor challenges understanding digital information, some of these tips may help you.

This is the fifth and final article in this series on easier web browsing:

Note: For your convenience, several third-party products are linked to from this article. They are provided for informational purposes and we don't endorse or guarantee them.

1. Disabling pop-ups and animations

Pop-up windows, advertisements, and animations that blink, flash, or flicker can be distracting. The good news is that all the major web browsers — including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge — have built-in functionality or add-ons for blocking pop-ups.

Using ad blocking software can also help filter out content that disturbs your focus. Some popular ad blocking tools are AdBlock, Adblock Plus, and uBlock.

Finally, animations that blink and rapidly change can prevent you from concentrating on the website itself. You can find instructions online to block animations in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

2. Reading websites out loud with text-to-speech tools

Some people are auditory learners, preferring to acquire information by hearing it. Whether you’re on a computer or mobile device, there are several text-to-speech tools that can help.

Text-to-speech browser extensions include:

Safari and Microsoft Edge have built-in text-to-speech capabilities:

  • Safari: Select the Reader View icon, and then go to Edit > Speech > Start Speaking.

  • Microsoft Edge: Highlight the text that you want to read aloud, and then right-click on it and select “Read aloud.”

If you’re browsing the web on a smartphone, both iOS and Android devices have text-to-speech capabilities. Finally, you can also use dedicated screen reader software to vocalize the text content on your screen.

Related: Free Accessibility Tools and Assistive Technology You Can Use Today.

3. Generating text summaries

Websites with long portions of text can be fatiguing to read. Instead of reading the entire text, you might prefer to automatically generate a summary of the most important parts. There are a variety of free text-summarization tools available online, such as Text Compactor and SMMRY.

4. Using bookmarks

If you find a website overly-complicated or taxing to navigate, you can use bookmarks to store links to frequently accessed pages. All major browsers include bookmarking functionality; the standard keyboard shortcut to add a bookmark is Ctrl+D. You can find guides for bookmarks in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge online.

5. Finding transcripts and closed captions

Time-based media such as videos and audio clips can be challenging sometimes. Textual alternatives such as transcripts and closed captions can be a more accessible option, allowing you to absorb information at your own pace. Recommendations such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) require websites to include these alternatives; unfortunately, not every website is compliant with WCAG.

6. Converting text into symbols

A few specialized web browsers and services convert text into small pictures and symbols that might be easier to understand for some people with cognitive difficulties. For example, SymWriter 2 is a symbol-based word processor that converts between symbols and text.


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