Improving Web Searching for People with Cognitive Disabilities

Using a website search tool is difficult for people with cognitive disabilities. Finding a relevant result is often thwarted by spelling errors they make, their inability to detect them, or a lack of understanding about how to correct them. Determining which search results are best can be equally difficult.

This post is a synopsis of an approach to circumventing such problems. An example has been implemented on a web site of the German Institute for Human Rights, which is an easy-to-read version of a United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities. A typically-appearing site search incorporates novel spelling-correction features and a simplified presentation of search results.

Spelling Correction

The site search suggests spelling alternatives only for words that actually appear within the content of the website. Searches for correctly-spelled words that produce no search results would be very frustrating for anyone.

To enable spelling suggestions, a manually-edited index of syntactically-similar words was created. Point values were assigned for similarities in the number of the same letters and the word length. A higher value was given to alternative words with the same first letter, but that was not essential.

To enable search-word spelling correction within the fewest steps possible, the most-similar alternatives are displayed in a word cloud. Of those, typically three, the one with the highest probability of matching the intended search word is presented in a larger text size.

Example Spelling Correction

The German word for “contact” is “kontakt”. Initiating a search with the misspelled word “kontat” produces a word cloud as shown in the following image.

Of the displayed three words, Kommunikation Kontakt Kunst, the second is shown in a larger font. All are hyperlinks.

The developers believe the word cloud makes it very easy to recognize the correctly-spelled word, and to select a search word. I don’t know why the first letters are capitalized.

Simplified Search Results

Search results are presented in plain language. Each has a bulleted, succinct summary of information on the linked page; and a contextually-relevant image to aid comprehension.

Example Search Result

The following image shows a single search result translated from German to English using Google Translate.

Contact - Here you will find: The address and telephone number of the German Institute for Human Rights. And a contact form.

One aspect of the search results I do not favor is that links to the search-result pages are not underlined. It is only when the cursor is hovered over a link, such as “Contact” in the example search result, that an underline appears.

Conclusion

I am impressed with this approach. This is the first time I have seen search results presented so simply, and with accompanying relevant imagery. I think the spelling-correction features are also worthwhile. In a pilot study of them, 9 of 34 people with learning disabilities could use the search site independently. I expect the developers will continue user testing. With funding and time, I would like to develop a site search using similar techniques.

Notes

Tags: ,

4 Responses to “Improving Web Searching for People with Cognitive Disabilities”

  1. Cliff Tyllick Says:

    Hey, John, thanks for pointing out this example of a well-thought-out improvement for the site search feature. I’m going to look into what it would take to implement this on the website I help maintain, and I’m going to try to follow this work.

    As an aside, the reason the first letter is capped in each of the suggested terms is that the language is German and they are nouns. All nouns are initial-capped in German.

    Like

  2. John Rochford Says:

    Hi Cliff,

    It’s great that you want to explore these improvements. I am pleased to have brought them to your esteemed attention.

    Please keep me up-to-date with any progress you make. One barrier for me is I have no idea how to create an index of syntactically-similar words.

    Thank you for the information about the capitalized words.

    Like

  3. In Case You Missed It: Music, Comedy, and HTML5 | Yahoo! Accessibility Says:

    […] Improving Web Searching for People with Cognitive Disabilities This article shows how web searches can be more productive for people with cognitive disabilities by simplifying and adding spelling correction analysis. […]

    Like

  4. Improving Web Searching for People with Cognitive Disabilities « Clear Helper « MikyPedia Says:

    […] via Improving Web Searching for People with Cognitive Disabilities « Clear Helper. […]

    Like

Comments are closed.


%d bloggers like this: