W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-er-ig@w3.org > March 1999

er-ig: Thoughts on Learning disability and Web Design

From: Leonard R. Kasday <kasday@acm.org>
Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 20:58:46 -0500
Message-Id: <>
To: w3c-wai-er-ig@w3.org
Here's my current thoughts on learning disabilities (LD) and web design.
This is a mixture of what we've discussed on the list following the issues
brought up by Jonathan Chetwynd, plus some thoughts following other things
I've learned about LD.  I'm still no expert in LD by any means so please
take these as proposals, not anything final.


   There appears to be several problems on web pages that affect people with
   learning disabilities (LD).
    1. Some people with LD do not read.
    2. Visual clutter can be a problem for some people with LD.  Visual
       clutter includes
          + ALT text that pops up as tooltips when the mouse passes over
            an image, as brought up by Jonathan (e.g. he described ALT
            text as "distracting, confusing, and demoralising" for people
            with LD).
          + flashing and flickering icons
          + Dense, complex layouts in general
          + Large amounts of text.  This presumably is clutter for people
            who do not read.  Also, even if the person has text-to-speech
            software, there may be  difficulties dealing with large
            amounts of speech, especially the speech from current
    3. Renditions in colors different than the object usually has can be
       a problem.  Perhaps this is a special case of a more general
       problem of unfamiliar renditions.
   The above problems suggest the following approaches.
    1. Means should be provided to stop the tooltip-style tags that popup
       with ALT text, e.g.
          + Provisions in the Browser to turn off popup ALT tags (or
            titles if those are what pop up).
          + External Repair tools that strip the ALT text (the Web Access
            Gateway already has this).
    2. Use word count on a page to predict usability by
       people with dyslexia.  Keep number of words less than 30 for a
       "text free site".
         1. It would be useful for search engines to include word counts.
         2. If page is a frameset, word count should include all frames.
    3. Use colors appropriate to object (and nationality) e.g. right
       color for busses to reduce confusion.
    4. Possibly include measures of reading complexity in evaluation
          + How to handle words not in dictionary?  Assume "hard"? Or
            accept if defined?
    5. Important to help reader get
         1. get the "big picture" of the site,
         2. Quickly understand how to navigate within the site,
         3. Quickly find particular information the user is looking for.
    6. Include logical structure not just physical (already in
       guidelines).  This is needed for accommodations in the following
    7. Possible accommodations are as follows. Note: at this point the
       benefits of  these are mostly speculative.
         1. Notating text blocks with symbolic icons.  A stylesheet could
            specify what icons are associated with different HTML tags
            and with classes e.g. within tags or within <SPAN>.
         2. Replacing the text blocks with those icons, and providing
            means for the user to hear the original text read when e.g.
            clicking on the icons.
         3. Marking standard links (e.g. HOME, CONTACT US, SEARCH) with
            standardized icons.  These links could be identified
            heuristically via tools, manually by page author, or
            semiautomatically by authoring tool.  Also, provide means for
            blind users--or any users for that matter to quickly select
            those standard links.
         4. Designing image maps so that clickable areas are clearly
            defined in the first place.
         5. Adding markings to image maps to show clickable areas.
         6. Provide means to shut off blinking and distracting animations
            (this is already in the guidelines).
         7. Typically, a page consists of  "gestalts" like a main image
            map, navigation bar, footer, etc.  Provide means to separate
            those with white space and allow viewing sequentially, e.g.
            by scrolling or paging.
         8. Regarding the screenreaders used by sighted people who do not
              1. Allow screenreader to access ALT text when images are
                 on.  This is best accomplished by interface standard to
                 screenreader.  In the meantime, repair tools that
                 present text next to image will help (as in Web Access

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 Sunday, 14 March 1999 20:57:38 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Tuesday, 6 January 2015 21:01:28 UTC