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How Do We Perform Accessibility Testing for the Impact of Cognitive, Learning, and Neurological Disabilities?

Mar 5, 2019

This article is part of a five-part series that highlights some of what we look for when testing websites and apps to identify the accessibility barriers people with certain disability types may experience.

Part 3: Accessibility testing for people with cognitive, learning, and neurological disabilities

Cognitive, learning, and neurological disabilities represent a broad range of neurological, behavioral, and mental health disorders that may or may not affect the intelligence of a person. These disabilities can impact how people express or receive information in communication, their motor abilities, their vision, their hearing, and their ability to understand and consume information.

When we test for accessibility impacts on people with cognitive, learning, and neurological disabilities, here is what we look for:

Predictable navigation mechanisms, controls, and page layouts that are not unnecessarily complex to use and understand

Websites should have consistent and usually simple methods of navigation with consistently- and accurately-labeled forms, buttons, and other controls. This is important so people can understand both how to move around a site and where they are at all times. If, for example, you use a standard navigational masthead that contains a series of links and a search bar, keep those elements consistently positioned and labeled.

Related: Web Design and Accessibility: Basics every new designer should know

Words and sentences are not overly-difficult to understand

Sentences should be structured in a way that is clear and easy to understand, with words that are appropriate and relevant to the subject being discussed. When writing for a specialized audience or when it's necessary, jargon or highly-technical language can certainly be appropriate — when writing for the masses, it's usually best to keep it simple.

Content includes sufficient visual breaks and long blocks of text are broken up by, or main points or context are highlighted by, headings, images, or graphs, as applicable

Long paragraphs of text that all looks the same can be intimidating and hard for anyone to get through, and can be more difficult to consume for people with certain disabilities. Text is naturally pretty accessible, but a sea of text without breaks can present challenges. For digital content, it's usually a best practice to break up sections with clear headings and to consider the use of lists or other easy-to-distinguish styles. Additionally, some people learn and consume information more easily in visual or non-textual forms — consider using images or diagrams to help with visual breaks and also to support and supplement text, when appropriate.

Related: How to Create Accessible Content and Designs for People with Dyslexia

Animations; audio; and moving, blinking, or flickering content can be paused or hidden

Any movement of visuals or sound that starts automatically must have a way to easily turn it off. Elements like animations, videos, audio, and GIFs can be distracting, especially for people with certain disabilities. Additionally, flashing content can be dangerous for people with certain seizure disorders. As such, it's important that flashes stay below the three flashes or below threshold.

Related: Epilepsy awareness and accessibility considerations

Ability to adapt page designs and controls

Independent of or related to cognitive, learning, or neurological disabilities, many people adjust digital content to make it easier to perceive and use for them. Therefore, it's important that there is nothing about a website or app that prevents people from using assistive technology or making necessary adaptations.


We believe our four-point hybrid testing provides the best path to achieving, maintaining, and proving digital compliance. Our comprehensive testing combines the best of human and artificial intelligence. Learn more about our testing methodology.


Contact us to learn all the ways we can put our testing and support strategies to work for you. Or, get started with a free and confidential website accessibility scan.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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