New research aims to improve web content for those with a cognitive disability

Friday, 9 September 2016 08:46am

For years the WCAG 2.0 Guidelines have helped developers create a web experience that is more usable by people with disabilities. Now a research unit in the US is conducting a study to determine if simplifying text can further help comprehension for people with cognitive disabilities.

Logo of the IBM Watson supercomputer

Logo of the IBM Watson supercomputer

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Centeris part of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and is dedicated to understanding and improving the challenges faced by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families.

In conjunction with IBM, UMass Boston, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), the Shriver Center has begun research, which is claimed as a world first, in order to determine if simplifying text for people with cognitive disabilities improves their understanding of what they read online.

It will also be the first to leverage and develop the cognitive computing and natural-language processing of the supercomputer ‘IBM Watson’ to automatically simplify text.

“We want to prove that their comprehension increases after they read simplified text,” said John Rochford, the director of the Center’s INDEX program in a statement released to the media. However, text simplification by supercomputers has up till now been fraught with difficulties, “because machines don’t understand context,” said Rochford.

The object of this new study is to be able to create clear steps that can be followed by people to simplify text-based communication in order to enable those with a cognitive disability to make better informed decisions more easily and allow them to live more independently.

That’s also the aim of Media Access Australia’s Cognitive Disability Accessibility Guide, which is a practical resource for organisational support in the web and digital space. It can be freely downloaded, as either an accessible PDF or accessible Word document.


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