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RE: Breaking it Down: Types of Cognitive Disabilities

From: Chuck Hitchcock <chitchcock@cast.org>
Date: Thu, 6 Apr 2000 15:39:18 -0400
To: <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Message-ID: <NDBBLDFEGLNOMJEDCGPPKEKMEEAA.chitchcock@cast.org>

A fairly conservative list of cognitive issues is copied below from a paper
describing work funded by the NIH.  Note that these topics are concepts and
are difficult to quantify.  Many are perceived to be situational and have
more to do with what can be measured than how cognition actually works.  At
any rate, the list does provide a starting point for thinking about the
design of web pages and supports for at least a subset of these topics.  It
will be nearly impossible to take them all into consideration so
highlighting a few will be critical to the work.

I am attempting to fit this list or some other topic list related to CD into
CAST's Universal Design for Learning framework.  I'll share that when I am
just a bit further along.  You will note that I have a pointed interest in
how the Web is used for research and educational purposes so my thinking
about this will have that particular bent.

We are working on a significant upgrade to the CAST Website that will allow
users to experience the types of supports that we feel all learners should
have access to on the web.  A significant problem right now is
simplification (a cognitive overload issue).  As you know, built in
flexibility and redundancy can inflict complexity.  We intent to hide the
tools or support modules then gradually introduce them as users become
accustomed to having such supports.  Our intent is to provide information
about how various types of learners will benefit from these supports in
order to provide concrete examples of how web developers might design pages
(and tools) to improve access and learning opportunities.

It is important to note that the design of the page content is only part of
the solution.  We want to make certain that we don't create unintended
barriers for various cognitive differences.  We also have continued work on
our talking browser so that learners with reading problems will have text to
speech support with synchronized highlighting.  Navigation of complex pages
has been a bit challenging but significant progress has been made.  I
mention this tool to impress on the working group the  solutions required
for CD extend well beyond the preparation of content and it will be
difficult to keep in mind the complex interplay between tools and content.
In our case, we are using the Microsoft IE5 component as our talking browser
so we benefit from improvements that made to the user agent.

I apologize for not jumping in sooner but have had a bit too much on my
plate lately.  Further, my patience for discussions about an icon oriented
world simply ran out.




Paper prepared for presentation at:
The Third International ACM Conference on Assistive Technologies
ACM SIGCAPH (Computers and the Physically Handicapped)
Marina del Rey, California
April 15  17, 1998

Computer-Based Cognitive Prosthetics:
Assistive technology for the Treatment of Cognitive Disabilities

Elliot Cole, Ph.D.
Institute for Cognitive Prosthetics
33 Rock Hill Road, Suite 310
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

Parto Dehdashti, Ph.D.
Institute for Cognitive Prosthetics
33 Rock Hill Road, Suite 310
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

Major Cognitive Dimensions

Cognitive processing involves a broad range of activities involved with
"thinking." Cognitive dimensions are intimately involved with the
performance of everyday activities. Significantly, these dimensions are
intimately involved in learning how to use computing systems, and using
them. In attempting to turn to computer technology to overcoming cognitive
disabilities, one is confronted with a cure which is intimately involved
with the condition it seeks to address. The most widely accepted dimensions
in neuroscience are as follows :

Executive Function which includes diverse areas such as problem solving,
planning, self-monitoring, task sequencing, prioritization, and cognitive

Memory which subsumes facets such as short-term, long-term, verbal and
visual, procedural, declarative, and implicit memory.

Orientation and Attention including freedom from distractibility, focused
attention, and divided attention.

Visual-Spatial Processing which includes perception and integration of
visual information in space.

Sensory-Motor Processing

Language including expressive and receptive language, repetition, prosody,
and speech rate, and fluency.

Emotions encompassing control of and expression of emotions, detection and
understanding of emotions, and frustration tolerance.

Among psychologists and neuroscientists, there are a number of different
classification approaches to cognitive dimensions. But, what can be
generally agreed upon is that cognitive functions are not unidimensional.
Rather they are comprised of many distinct operations comprising a larger
network and are expressed differently depending on the particular situation.
Cognitive dimensions are constructs, methods of classifying a phenomenon for
some research purpose, and necessarily represent a simplification of a
process. These dimensions often are related to diagnosis, and to the design
of diagnostic tests (Lezak, 1995; Kolb and Whishaw, 1990; Bigler, 1988).
Received on Thursday, 6 April 2000 15:40:09 UTC

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