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Developing Applications for those with Cognitive Challenges

taught by: Michelle Ranae Wild
co-presented by: Kristi Pero

Session Summary

The twists and turns of developing for individuals with cognitive challenges.


Memory, attention, and executive functioning impairments are common problems in people living with cognitive conditions. Deficits in executive functioning cause notable difficulties with planning, problem solving, self-regulation, fatigue, and goal-directed behavior, making it difficult to complete daily life tasks. Smart devices can function as cognitive prosthetics for people with conditions like traumatic brain injuries, aneurysms, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, neurofibromatosis, ASD/ID, and chemobrain if best practices for app design and app training are followed.

Individuals with cognitive challenges have diverse needs, yet by virtue of their disability (cognitive deficits), they require solutions that are practical, easy to use, applicable to many aspects of their lives, accessible, convenient, not visually overwhelming, and they need a consistent user interface to eliminate confusion. At present, there are some individual apps and systems that meet a specific need, but there are limited-to-no apps that meet all these criteria and that work on a variety of cognitive issues without becoming confusing and overwhelming.

Furthermore, specific training on the app for users with brain injury and other conditions, clinicians, and caregivers is seldom provided. Feedback from actual users with cognitive challenges is rarely collected in order to influence the features included in the app. This presentation explores some of the twists and turns that can occur when developing for this population and the iterative process that includes three essential components: (1) developing an app, (2) training users and also their clinicians and/or caregivers to use that app, and (3) evaluating the usability and efficacy of the app as a compensatory tool.

We’ll explore the development of the BEST Suite designed to provide practical solutions for common daily issues experienced by individuals living with brain injury. Important design considerations include screen complexity, automated reminders, user customization, color, settings, reports, training, integration with other apps (e.g., calendar) and developers with sensitivity to user needs and accessibility.

Practical Skills

  • List at least 4 cognitive skills that should be considered when developing apps for those with cognitive challenges
  • Describe the iterative design process involved when developing apps for those with cognitive challenges
  • Describe the importance of including systematic training to supplement the learning needs of those with cognitive challenges