Improving Access to Information and Technology for Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities

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Individuals with disabilities have widely differing needs when it comes to accessing information and using technology. While there is still work to be done, great strides have been made over the years to incorporate features into computer technologies to enable individuals with sensory disabilities, such as those with visual and hearing impairments, to access information and navigate software and the internet. In addition, a multitude of hardware devices and associated software have been devised to enable individuals with physical disabilities to be able to access everyday technologies more independently. Unfortunately, one of the largest populations that is still waiting for similar opportunities are those with cognitive disabilities. Individuals with cognitive disabilities represent a diverse group of individuals, such as those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, individuals with autism, those with traumatic brain injuries, and individuals with age-related cognition issues -- a group of over 28 million in the U.S. alone. Emerging efforts are underway to encourage incorporation of cognitive design strategies into operating systems, software applications and mobile devices so that this vast population is not left on the sidelines in our increasingly technological society. Despite the fact that the concept of equal opportunity also applies to digital inclusion, unfortunately the needs of users with cognitive disabilities have not yet been considered to the degree necessary by developers of mainstream technologies.

There is no time like the present to incorporate cognitive accessibility into everyday technologies to enable access for individuals with cognitive disabilities. This is the call from individuals, their families, and professionals in the field of cognitive disability as underscored by the recent declaration introduced at the 2013 Annual Coleman Institute National Conference on Cognitive Disability and Technology (see video This declaration of “The Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities” calls for a movement to accelerate the delivery and implementation of cognitive technology. By making a concerted effort to make technologies accessible to all, including those with cognitive disabilities, technology developers can have a dramatic impact on improving quality of life -- and in doing so, will likely result in easier to use technologies for everyone (including family, friends, and oftentimes, themselves) across the lifespan.

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