Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science

First Advisor

Clayton Lewis

Second Advisor

David Braddock

Third Advisor

Leysia Palen

Fourth Advisor

Tom Yeh

Fifth Advisor

Shea Tanis


The web has become more than a supplementary information resource but a valuable and pervasive tool for nearly all aspects of daily life including social and community participation, health promotion, creative pursuits, education, and employment opportunity. However, the web is not yet easily accessible to all people, particularly those with cognitive disabilities who encounter many challenges with access and use of the web including limited accessibility of online content and difficulty with content comprehension. Furthermore, little is documented about how individuals with cognitive disabilities who currently use the web are overcoming or being inhibited by these challenges. Much of what is documented is anecdotal or generalized as broad technical guidance rather than providing methods to empower individual end users. This research explores which websites people with cognitive disabilities use and do not use and what challenges and successes they encounter with those websites. We developed the SimpleWebAnywhere tool to address the above research needs and serve as a technology probe to determine how content simplification affects web use by people with cognitive disabilities. We explored personalizable content transformation techniques, including advertisement removal, content extraction, and text to speech, to make webpages easier to use and comprehend. We found that many people with cognitive disabilities frequently access the web for long periods of time despite popular opinion to the contrary. Web access is preferred via mobile platforms, such as smartphones and tablet computers. Users had a strong preference for entertainment content largely comprised of images, videos, and games but did not necessarily have difficulty using or understanding long, complex textual content. An intercommunity approach of combining existing open source software to provide personalized content manipulations was found to be an effective method to improve web accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities.