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Digital Accessibility in Salesforce: Tips for Cognitive Differences

Unlike physical (dis)abilities, cognitive differences are not easily seen. You can never truly know the abilities of the people around you.

Part 3 of a 3 Part Series

In the first two parts of my series on digital accessibility in Salesforce, I focused on adapting technologies to replace physical capabilities. These include the ability to see, hear or physically control inputs (like handling a mouse). But humans are more than bodies; they are minds too. That’s why mental capabilities should be considered along with physical ones when designing digital experiences in Salesforce.

Cognitive differences are one of the most widespread yet understudied and underidentified areas of (dis)abilities. But combined they affect more people than physical disabilities do.

What are Cognitive Differences?

Cognitive differences may be anything that affects your ability to understand, process and remember your activities. They include challenges in comprehension, memory and attention. They can be permanent or temporary. Cognitive differences may be caused by learning disabilities, dementia, ADD, mental illnesses or other natural or acquired conditions.

Cognitive challenges can affect not only how someone does something, but whether they do it at all. For example, people with autism tend to prefer consistency and may be especially sensitive to cluttered web interfaces. Some people affected by anxiety may be prevented from filling out a form unless they receive feedback that what they’re doing is correct. Attention challenges can prevent users from completing a complex, multi-step process, which causes them to leave your Salesforce system with half-finished records or, worse, leave your system entirely.

Cognitive differences may be anything that affects your ability to understand, process and remember your activities. They can be caused by any number of natural or acquired conditions.

How Can You Make Salesforce Easier for People with Cognitive Differences?

Use clear, consistent navigation.

Keep your page layouts consistent across objects. For example, if you place related Opportunity records in the right sidebar for Accounts, use the same placement of related Opportunity records when making your layout for Contacts. Well-chosen section headings, along with clear and specific field labels, help categorize information in useful buckets.

Your choice of field placement and tab navigation (top-to-bottom or left-to-right) provide a subtle cue to the progression of information. For example, if you typically enter donation information starting with the donor’s name, then the amount, then the date, make sure you place the fields in the order in which you would fill out those fields.

Keep it simple.

Show users only the actions and choices that are relevant to the business process that they’re performing. Use dependent picklists so users don’t have to remember the various conditions that control dependencies between choices. Create Salesforce apps for different business processes or business groups so users see the objects and tabs most relevant to their business processes. Salesforce tools like Lightning Flow, Einstein Next Best Action and Path offer additional support to users by guiding them along pre-defined business paths.

Provide specific help when things go wrong.

Writing clear error messages can help guide users back on the right path, regardless of their cognitive differences. Make your error message as specific as possible. For example, instead of “phone number is not formatted correctly,” try “phone number must be at least 10 digits long and must include the area code.” For validation rules that reference multiple fields, be as precise as possible about naming the specific fields that need to be corrected, so your user isn’t lost trying to figure out which fields might be contradicting each other.

Thoughtful Design Helps Users Think

Because people’s thought processes are as varied as imagination itself, the best way to test for cognitive differences is to test on a diverse set of users. As with other aspects of designing for accessibility, thoughtful choices that consider cognitive differences will result in a better experience for all of your users.

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Written by Victoria Tang, Business Solutions Consultant at Traction on Demand.

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