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CPACC Notes: Disabilities, Barriers, Assistive Technologies, and Adaptive Strategies

I'm studying for the CPACC certification. These are some of the notes I've taken recently.

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This is a high-level taxonomy of different types of disabilities, the barriers that people who have them face, and the tools and strategies that help people overcome those barriers.

Visual Disabilities

Visual disabilities include blindness, color blindness, and low vision. Blindness is a spectrum, with some people unable to see at all and others able to see general shapes or perceive light vs. dark. Color blindness impairs the ability to distinguish between certain colors, usually red and green, but other colors can be affected as well, and it affects men at higher rates than women–1 in 12 compared to 1 in 200, respectively. Low vision refers to uncorrectable vision loss that impacts daily life and may require magnification or high contrast to be able to read text.

Barriers result from situations where information is only available visually, when content can’t be magnified or customized, or when tasks require sight to be completed, like a touch-only interface.

Some assistive technologies include canes for navigating, screen readers for interacting with digital interfaces, braille for text, and audio descriptions or transcripts for videos. Adaptive strategies include supporting screen readers, magnification, and color contrast modes in digital products, using braille on signage, and audibly announcing the content of digital displays.

Auditory Disabilities

Auditory disabilities cover the spectrum of hearing loss. Deafness is near total loss of hearing, while hard of hearing refers to mild to severe hearing loss that may be helped by the use of hearing aids. Sign language may be someone’s first language, and they may prefer it to written text, which may be harder to comprehend. However, not all deaf or hard of hearing people know sign language, especially if hearing loss happened later in life.

Central auditory processing disorder (APD) describes difficulty understanding speech or other sounds despite not having measurable hearing loss. It’s the inability to understand, not the inability to hear.

Barriers result from people speaking quietly, a lack of sign language interpretation, loud environments, audio-only information, or lack of captions in media.

Some assistive technologies include hearing aids, captions, transcripts, and haptic alerts or feedback. Adaptive strategies include sign language interpretation, providing personal listening devices, and using visual labels for notifications and alerts.

Deaf-blindness

Deaf-blindness includes deafness and blindness, but the people who are affected often have some hearing and sight–it’s rare to be fully deaf and fully blind. Because both vision and hearing are affected, deafblind people rely on touch as the primary method of communication. Braille is the most viable method for reading, and sign language is used for conversation by feeling the other person’s hands as they sign.

The barriers for deafblind people include the barriers for people with visual and auditory disabilities, and the main adaptive strategy is to provide braille for physical objects or digitally via text that screen readers can output to refreshable braille devices.

Speech Disabilities

Types of speech disabilities include slurred speech, stutters/stammering, lisps, or the inability to speak. Aphasia can interfere with the ability to comprehend speech as well as other language comprehension skills, like reading and writing. Mutism can be selective, where a person chooses not to speak or is unable to speak due to anxiety or other factors, or it can be total, where a person does not speak at all.

This is a barrier to communication, especially if there’s not a text-based (or sign language) mechanism for communication. Text-to-speech tools can help, and if language comprehension is a factor, allowing for more time to complete tasks may be necessary.

Mobility, Flexibility, and Body Structure Disabilities

These types of disabilities cover any reason that a person may not be able to perform tasks that require fine motor skills, mobility, or physical characteristics, like height or weight. That could be because of broken bones, challenges with dexterity, missing limbs, paralysis, or any number of conditions. These can be temporary or permanent, depending on whether they’re congenital, age-related, or caused by disease.

For digital accessibility, there are many assistive technologies, like switch devices, adaptive keyboards, eye tracking, voice recognition, sip and puff devices, etc. In the “real” world, wheelchairs, walkers, canes, ergonomically designed products, and many other tools are used to help people get around and perform common tasks.

Cognitive Disabilities

Cognitive disabilities include a wide array of conditions, such as intellectual/learning disabilities, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorders.

Given the range of differences, there are tons of different assistive technologies and adaptive strategies that may help, depending on the person. In general, simplifying interfaces and content, limiting distractions, providing help when needed, and allowing more time to complete tasks all help with cognitive disabilities.

Seizure Disabilities

General seizure disorders describe sudden electrical disturbances in the brain that can cause changes in behavior, movements, or consciousness, and most people who have a seizure never have another one. Photosensitive epilepsy is a condition where seizures are triggered by flashing lights or patterns, and some people with photosensitive epilepsy also have seizures at other times.

Driving, swimming, and other activities where suddenly losing consciousness would be very bad are risky for people with seizure disabilities. Videos and animations that can’t be turned off also present risks (no good time to have a seizure, really).

Protective gear and wearables with buttons to call for help can be used to mitigate the damage from seizures, and avoiding flashing lights or providing warnings or time codes can help people avoid situations likely to cause seizures.

Psychological/Psychiatric Disabilities

These disabilities include social anxiety, emotional disturbances, and behavioral disorders. People with these disorders face social stigma, limited mental healthcare services, and limited diagnoses and treatments. It feels like society is more so the problem here.

Assistive technologies and adaptive strategies seem limited here. Stress management and anxiety treatment may help in some cases, and other strategies are aimed at altering behavior, such as with positive reinforcement.

Multiple/Compound Disabilities

Multiple or compound disabilities describe when a person has more than one of the aforementioned types of disabilities at once. People with multiple disabilities face additional barriers and may require more assistive technnology or adaptive strategies to help them perform tasks.