The accessibility persona spectrum and intellectual disability

persona 300The accessibility persona spectrum is a great reminder that accessible design is not niche; that accessible design includes everyone, not just people with a disability.

The spectrum breaks an audience into three key accessibility segments:

  • people with a permanent disability
  • people with a temporary disability
  • people with a situational disability

Examples of each of these segments usually focus on physical disabilities, such as the examples for touch, sight, hearing and speaking provided in Microsoft’s Inclusive Toolkit Manual.

To show how the spectrum works for ‘touch’, Microsoft uses these instances:

  • Permanent disability: someone with one arm.
  • Temporary disability: someone with an arm injury, such as a broken arm.
  • Situational disability: a new parent with one arm free because they are holding a baby in the other.

Accessible design meets the needs of all three segment types, not just the person with a permanent disability.

Microsoft’s toolkit focuses on physical disabilities. It does not provide examples of the spectrum for intellectual disability. This is a common omission when people talk about the spectrum.

Persona spectrum for intellectual disability

Below are some examples for how the spectrum could be applied to people with intellectual disability.

Intellectual disability is notoriously difficult to define. However, examples of permanent intellectual disabilities could include:

  • genetic conditions such as Down syndrome;
  • permanent medical diseases and conditions such as dementia and stroke; and
  • acquired brain injuries.

Accessible design for people with intellectual disability typically means presenting information in a way that is very digestible: for example by providing information in ‘Easy Read’, which uses short sentences, easy grammar and supporting images to make sure communication is clear and easy to understand.

In what types of situations might a person’s cognitive abilities be affected temporarily? Possible examples might be:

  • Someone learning communication skills, such as a migrant or a young person.
  • A person who doesn’t know the technical aspects or jargon of something they are trying to understand.
  • Someone with a medical condition that temporarily affects how they process information, such as depression or anxiety.
  • A person taking medications or drugs that inhibit cognitive function.

In all these instances, information that is in a format such as Easy Read will be more easily and quickly understood.

It’s easy to think of situations in which people’s ability to think or learn is impacted by their surroundings – especially with modern technology such as texts, messaging, emails and multiple screens providing a relentless stream of interruptions.

A person subject to constant distraction will more quickly comprehend communications designed for people with intellectual disability, such as Easy Read.

Graphic representation

Representing these personas graphically in a similar way to other disabilities is no easy task. Intellectual and cognitive disabilities are often invisible. The graphic below takes one approach – using wingdings for graphics!

personas 740

The views expressed here are my own, and do not represent those of the Council for Intellectual Disability where I work.


1 thought on “The accessibility persona spectrum and intellectual disability

  1. Pingback: Understanding Disability Types for Effective UI Design: 3 Key Factors for Empathetic Problem-Solving - Perficient Blogs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s