Author: AD Gladu
– Key Contributors: AD Gladu, Amanda Yates, April Neal, Diane Porthouse Lochner, Emily Howard, Melissa Rivera Torres, Josh Rodriguez, Steffaney Martin, Tiffany Rawson
What are Learning Disorders?
A learning disorder is an information-processing obstacle that prevents a person from learning a skill and using it effectively.¹ It should not be confused with learning issues that are the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; intellectual disability; or emotional disturbance.²
The commonly known learning disorders in reading and math are respectively called dyslexia and dyscalculia. They affect a person’s ability to recognize and decode numbers, letters, and words. A disorder less known by the general population is Oral/Written Language Disorder, in which individuals struggle with understanding and/or expressing language in both oral and written forms. Other individuals have impairments with nonverbal skills including physical coordination, organizational memory, and social abilities.
Learning disabilities are woven into the fabric of our society. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, one in five children in the U.S. have learning and attention issues.³ As destination planners and operators, we have the responsibility—and pleasure—of providing inclusive experiences for these guests.
For someone with a learning disability, their first barrier to a wonderful destination may be the website. Cluttered, too-clever pages with overblown designs are overwhelming. Navigating between multiple pages to create a plan for the day is frustrating, focus-consuming, and may lead to unwanted surprises (“I didn’t know there was an upcharge for that exhibit!”). A potential guest may find themselves thinking it would be easier to go to a familiar place rather than try something new.
Navigation at the destination may present another barrier. Is parking clearly identified with more than just white words on a green sign? Is wayfinding to the most popular attractions obvious? Are paths marked in ways that allow everyone to enjoy the exploration? Can food options and prices be communicated more quickly to someone in line?
Destinations with learning-specific goals may need a wider array of tools when sharing their vision. We know now that traditional flat panels with lots of words do not reach many guests—and they are especially frustrating for guests with learning disabilities. Imagine paying to go somewhere that makes you feel like you are at school and the teacher is disappointed in you!
Opportunities for Improvement
Many of the barriers for people with learning disabilities that are currently in place at destinations can be easily removed through Empathetic Design—or putting ourselves in others’ shoes.
We can ensure that our outward communication—websites, banner ads, flyers, advertisements at bus stops—is friendly to all. We can make navigating our spaces safe and fun, turning them into places where kids can feel independent and parents can relax. We can offer multiple styles of experiences, layering in physical, tactile, pictorial and audio storytelling elements that everyone will enjoy.
We can embrace new technologies, such as site-specific apps with GPS, and screen readers that transform signs into audio-based content. And we can always remember that patience and the willingness to listen are the magic that make an experience memorable.
Want to learn more about designing for other cognitive disorders? Check out the links below for more information.
- Mayo Clinic – https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/learning-disorders/art-20046105#:~:text=A%20learning%20disorder%20is%20an,average%20or%20above%20average%20intelligence
- Learning Disabilities Association of America – https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/
- National Center for Learning Disabilities – https://ncld.org/news/newsroom/the-state-of-ld-understanding-the-1-in-5
Johns Hopkins Medicine – https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/learning-disorders