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The personal site of Jamie Knight, an autistic web developer, speaker and mountain biker who is never seen far from his plush sidekick Lion. View the Archive

Topics: Autism Development

Cognitive Accessibility 101 - Part 2: How it effects me & the tools I use

This article is based on the content of my 2015 CSUN session of the same title. It’s a very light summery of the core content. I have split the talk up into a number of posts. Part 1, What is Cognitive Accessibility is a good place to start but this article should make sense on it own. For all posts, look in the CSUN15 category .


Much like the first post in this mini series, I need to start this article with a disclaimer. This post is about the tooling I use to access the web. I am one chap with autism, and even then I am very unusual in that I have experience of assistive technology via my job. This post is entirely anecdote, none of this is science.

How it effects me & the tools I use.

In my day to day use of computers and the web, there are a few challenges i face. Over the years i have developed a hodge podge toolkit to help me get the most from the web. My main challenges are, extremely slow reading, visual overload and complexity

Slow Reading

Oddly, its not that I read words slowly. If I just need to read and speak words I can do that very quickly. Understanding words is what takes time.

Theres a test out there, where you have to read a “color” name (eg, red, blue) but then say the color in which it is written. Most peolpe find this a challenge, I find it really really easy.

However, the comprehension of language, and words, is something I find difficult.

The tool I use to help is VoiceOver, I understand content better if I hear it and VoiceOver vocalises written content. It can also provide a nice summery of web pages and other long complex documents in a surprisingly handy format. I would encorage even sighted users to have a play with the VoiceOver Rotor sometime. It’s great.

Voiceover takes away the slow bit for me, but it also linearises content. It often knows where to start while I am still struggling to comprehend what I am looking at.

Visual Overload

Visual overload comes from needing to filter out the content I want from everything else on my screen. I filter content consciously, and that is both slow and draining. For example, when I am reading a news story, there are dozens of other distractions on my screen. The clock, toolbars and menus etc. They all add to the load. This visual overload makes it hard for me to focus and track the content I want to read.

The tool I use too compensate is the inbuilt screen magnifier in OS X. It allows me to smoothly zoom into an area of interest and in turn remove the visual overload from my screen. One of the reason I value high resolution displays (what Apple call “Retina”) is that they allow me to zoom in, without the text becoming pixelated.


Complexity comes in many forms, but one of my biggest challnges is in figuring out what is possible to do (affordances) and what I want to do (decisions).

Complex layouts, loud, or distracting adverts and hidden functionality all pose unique challenges. For content heavy websites, I often use the reader view built into safari, or as above, zoom into the central column of content.

Sometimes I just get stuck. In these situations I need to ask for help. For example, I was recently delayed about 10 days in booking a hospital appointment for a pressing health issue because the web service I had to use was simply to complex. I didn’t even get past the login screen alone. I had to wait for suitable help to be available and then also remember to ask for it.


As detailed above, online I face challnges with my reading speed, managing visual load and dealing with complexity. To aid me in these tasks I use a screen reader and screen zoom (even though I have vision) and I use tools and services to simplify web pages. Finally, sometimes it’s simply too complicated and i ask for help.

These tools work well for me, but I am very much an outlier. For the general population who face cognitive challenges online, the outcome is that they leave the site and go somewhere simpler. For example, I buy Apple products from the Amazon rather than the Apple store simply because the Apple checkout page was too confusing.

For more information on what I think cognitive accessibility is, checkout part 1 in this series called What is cognitive accessibility.

Published: 11 March 2015 | Categories: , Permalink


  1. Alastair · Mar 12, 11:08 am ·

    A really interesting article Jamie. As someone who has made a late career change to web development (and hopefully on the road to building truly accessible websites) it’s great to have these first-hand accounts to draw inspiration from.

  2. Raghavendra Satish Peri · Apr 1, 10:31 am ·

    Very interesting article Jamie, unfortunately I was not able to attend your session at CSUN..lot of great insights.

  3. Ay · Jul 6, 05:22 pm ·

    Great article. By the way you said:
    “ I buy Apple products from the Amazon rather than the Apple store simply because the Apple checkout page was too confusing.”

    I don’t suffer from cognitive issues, but I too find the Apple store checkout very complex and confusing.

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