Access for ALL: That means cognitive access too!

How we can make participation accessible for people who find it hard to understand or express concepts? Beth Marchbank explores this area.

Access for ALL:  That means cognitive access too!

When we think of fair access for all; we think of ramps and rails and accessible toilets for people with physical disability; Auslan interpreting and audio loops for people who are deaf or hearing impaired; Braille, large print or text-to-talk technology for people who are blind or vision impaired; but people often forget intellectual disability or see it as too hard.

“We can try to “walk in the shoes of others” with physical, vision or hearing disability; but it’s hard for intellectual disability, unless maybe we go to an astrophysics class”, says Beth Marchbank, DDWA’s own Disability Consultant.


Let’s think about cognitive access:

Cognitive access means making participation accessible when it is hard to understand or express concepts. Examples would be –  facilitating an adult to vote, by explaining in clear and simple terms what each political party is about, and then helping the person decide which party sits best with what they value; it may mean being alongside someone when they fill out a form and explaining “Are you an Australian citizen?” to them.

Cognitive Access usually involves:

  • Giving a second or third explanation
  • Giving extra time to think
  • Using shorter sentences; or talking about things in short chunks of information.
  • Using “easy English” such as “help with being able to talk/chat” vs “speech pathology”
  • Explaining things in different ways
  • Avoiding the use of complex or abstract words or jargon
  • Using visual and other cues; e.g. gestures, pictures, photos, demonstrations, along with what you are saying
  • Showing something rather than telling
  • Guiding a person through a task whilst enabling them to do it themselves
  • Giving time for lots of practice at doing something
  • Using calm, firm speech which perhaps emphasises important meaning-loaded words but not using patronising, pitying, motherese or tones of exasperation

“It really is amazing how helping others in the community to understand “cognitive accessibility” can help them to interact and speak in ways that offer better access to all kinds of life experiences for children and adults with intellectual disability”, says Beth.

Tell your friends and work mates!