Evaluating Cognitive Web Accessibility with WAVE


WAVE is a web accessibility tool that can greatly assist in the evaluation of web content. Rather than providing a complex technical report, WAVE shows the original web page with embedded icons and indicators that reveal the accessibility of that page. Before proceeding, be sure to read the Help page for an overview of using WAVE and details on specific things you may encounter.

WAVE, like any other automated tool, cannot tell you if your page is accessible, but it can help in human evaluation of web accessibility. Evaluating cognitive web accessibility is particularly difficult because it is very difficult to measure cognitive load, consistency, and other non-quantitative elements in an automated process. Despite these difficulties, WAVE does provide some assistance in evaluating cognitive web accessibility.

The following checklist outlines things you can do to evaluate and improve cognitive web accessibility. This checklist is broken into general areas of cognitive accessibility. Many of the items listed are things that you must check for yourself on the page. Some checkpoints may be difficult to measure or may not have a clear answer (for example, how do you tell if language is "simple"?). This checklist, however, should help you determine the general level of cognitive accessibility and can help you identify areas where improvements can be made. WAVE can facilitate evaluation of many of the checkpoints. WAVE icons that appear adjacent to a checkpoint indicate specific WAVE rules that can be of assistance to you. You can click on the icons to view details about that icon, why it might appear in your content, and what you can do to improve accessibility. If you see these icons in a WAVE report, pay particular attention to them because they likely indicate an aspect of the page that can affect cognitive accessibility.

You may use the WAVE web site (simply type the web page address at the top of this page), or use the WAVE Chrome or Firefox extension in conjunction with this checklist.

Cognitive Web Accessibility Checklist




Focus and Structure

Readability and Language

Orientation and Error Prevention/Recovery

Assistive Technology Compatibility

Users with cognitive or learning disabilities often use screen readers or other assistive technologies to access content through various senses or to modify content to be best perceivable to them. Users with other physical or sensory disabilities also have a higher prevalence of cognitive or learning disabilities. The vast majority of WAVE icons indicate assistive technology errors, alerts, or features. Below are particular items to be aware of when evaluating assistive technology support for users with cognitive disabilities.

Funding for this material provided by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Steppingstones of Technology Innovation Grant #H327A070057.