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Re: How can we better accommodate learning disabilities?

From: Leonard R. Kasday <kasday@acm.org>
Date: Tue, 02 Mar 1999 08:59:06 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: "Silas S. Brown" <ssb22@cam.ac.uk>
Cc: <w3c-wai-er-ig@w3.org>
I'm not an expert in learning disabilities by any means. Also, from what
I've seen, "learning disabilities" is a complex and somewhat controversial
subject.  Definitions here in the US may differ from those in the UK.  But
here's my opinion.

First of all, at least by definitions common in the US, people with
learning disabilities can have average or above average intelligence
overall, but with difficulties in rather specific areas.  In fact, by
definition, a learning disability exists only when a specific ability is
below what is expected on the basis of overall intelligence.  So in general
it should be possible to construct web pages that accommodate people with
learning disabilities.  In fact, many well designed pages should be
accessible as is.

Also, there's the case of people who may have difficulties with written
English because their native language is sign language (e.g. ASL).  One
person I knew for example, a college grad, was very bright, and you'd never
suspect just speaking with her (she read lips) that she had any
difficulties--but she was often frustrated that her reading level was well
below college grad level (at least that's how she felt about it).  This is
another case where these folks are just as smart as anyone else and
perfectly able to understand anything that might be on a web page, provided
the right accommodations are made.

If there are folks on the list with more info in this area, please fill us in.


At 09:50 PM 3/1/99 +0000, Silas S. Brown wrote:
>I have seen some 80 people with severe learning disabilities (my father 
>is an instructor at Bridport social education centre) and I'm sorry to 
>say that they are probably incapable of understanding most information 
>no matter what form it's put in (although of course it's possible that 
>the ones I've seen were more severe cases than others are).  We can't 
>make the whole web accessible to them any more than we can make it 
>accessible to a very young child.  This is of course not to say that 
>there can't be specialist web pages for them, and of course there are 
>probably *some* pages out there that could be made more accessible to 
>them.  (Anyone think they can hack out a graphical client for 
>http://infinity.digital-web.net/~lionman/checkers.html ?  I fancy they 
>might be weak players though.)
>One problem is that computers are very complicated things, and perhaps 
>people with learning difficulties can't form the concept of just how 
>complicated they are.  This means that they had better not go wrong.  If 
>they do (and print up a funny message), confusion will happen.  In the 
>world of the Web there are zillions of things to go wrong.  "The server 
>may be down or it is not responding", "The access gateway failed to 
>retrieve the page", etc etc - I suppose you could have a graphic of the 
>computer "falling asleep" or something but that would be a nightmare 
>for the poor technician who has to wake it up.
>-- Silas S Brown, St John's College Cambridge UK
>"Do not reveal the confidential talk of another" - Proverbs 25:9
Leonard R. Kasday, Ph.D.
Universal Design Engineer, Institute on Disabilities/UAP, and
Adjunct Professor, Electrical Engineering
Temple University

Ritter Hall Annex, Room 423, Philadelphia, PA 19122
(215} 204-2247 (voice)
(800) 750-7428 (TTY)
Received on Tuesday, 2 March 1999 08:59:56 UTC

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