Accessibility of Digital Information and Technology for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities


Presented at 11:45am in Colorado G-H on Friday, November 10, 2023.



  • Barry Isaacs, Director , Surrey Place
  • Sandra Law, Dr., Athabasca University/OCAD University

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Intermediate
  • Type of session: General Conference


This study explored accessibility to information and communication technology (ICT) for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There were three components: 1) a scoping review to examine the current research, 2) consultations with advisors with IDD and supporters to explore their experienced with ICT and the barriers identified in the Literature review, and 3) to develop a decision tree to guide research and development in overcoming the barriers that people with IDD experience


Current standards and guidelines for accessibility to information and communication technology (ICT) do not take into account the specific needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), whose challenges differ from the broader population of people with learning and cognitive disabilities. This leads to barriers that prevent people with IDD from accessing ICT and being fully enfranchised members of a world in which much of daily life is conducted online. This project was designed as a first step in addressing this problem.

A scoping review identified seven barriers and challenges that individuals with IDD face when using ICT: heavy use of text, complex information, complex security features, unfamiliar technology, need for manual dexterity to operate hardware, lack of training and support, and task complexity.

Eight people served as project advisors, 6 with IDD and 2 who supported someone with IDD to use ICT. Advisors took part in 3 sets of meetings with each set of meetings building on the previous discussions. The advisors indicated that they themselves had encountered all the barriers identified in the literature review and provided detailed descriptions of their experiences. For example, websites often contain text that advisors with IDD could not understand; website layouts were often too complicated to navigate; the need to enter search words or complete on-line forms was a challenge because many of the advisors had trouble with spelling. Lastly, available assistive technology was often ineffective.

A decision tree was developed based on the WCAG 2.1 guidelines and identifies areas where no guidelines or solutions exist to meet the needs of people with IDD.

Based on the information gathered in the literature review, the consultation and the decision tree, recommendations were developed to begin addressing the needs of people with IDD when interacting with ICT.


  1. Current web accessibility guidelines need to specifically consider the needs of people with IDD
  2. Establish guidelines on the development and updating of hardware and software as none currently exist
  3. Promote and support research using UX and Co-design approaches to address barriers to ICT for people with IDD

Disability Areas


Topic Areas

Uncategorized, Web/Media Access

Speaker Bio(s)

Barry Isaacs

Barry Isaacs is Director of Research, Evaluation and Education at Surrey Place in Toronto. He received his PhD from York University in 2004. He has over 30 years of experience in research and evaluation in health and social services for people developmental disabilities and their families.

Sandra Law

Sandra Law is a learning designer at Athabasca University who has had an interest in accessibility, UDL, and inclusive design for a few decades. She recently completed a MDes in Inclusive Design at OCAD University. She has worked on special projects around making courses in mathematics and the sciences more accessible for more than a decade, specifically around the use of MathML in such courses. She sat on a committee involved in the development of a set of UDL modules intended for use by instructors working at Alberta colleges and universities. She also has a PhD in Educational Technology that used game-based learning as a tool to increase scientific literacy.