Remove Ambiguity

As a user who has difficulty with context, I need clear connections, so that I can establish meaning.

Ambiguity and Autism

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can have difficulty interpreting sentences where words are given an uncommon interpretation.

For example, consider the following statements regarding a robbery:

Statement 1
A man pointed a gun at the cashier.
The bank was the scene of the robbery.

Statement 2
Clare was robbed as she walked along by some water.
The bank was the scene of the robbery.

Where was the robbery in each case?

  1. in the village bank
  2. on a river bank
  3. in a bank

The above statements were examined in a study by psychologists Therese Jolliffe and Simon Baron-Cohen. They found that individuals with ASD find it much more difficult to interpret Statement 2 because robberies are normally associated with financial establishments, rather than rivers. 1

River bank
A robbery on a river bank is much less common than a robbery in a bank. Image by Christian Kortum

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders are good at recognising words but can have difficulty drawing inferences between separate pieces of information.

For example, consider the following statements:
George left his bath water running.
George cleared up the mess in the bathroom.

An individual with ASD may have more difficulty identifying that the mess in the bathroom was created by the bath overflowing.

Tip: When designing for autism we need to remove ambiguity.

Ambiguity and Branding

The objective of branding is to break through clutter and confusion. The problem with branding web applications is that it creates unnecessary ambiguity.

Most websites offer information and services, not brands. The individual components of a web site aren't competing against Red Bull and Pepsi in a supermarket fridge.

Brand jargon is often used to make things sound a lot more self important than what they actually are. It also makes them more ambiguous.

Example: A student is having difficulty registering for their classes. They go to a university website and are presented with a 'Class Registration Enquiry Management (CREM) system'.

Does the student care what system is being used to handle their enquiry? Why not just say 'class registration problem' or 'make an enquiry' instead?

Only web developers care about their names of the applications they build.

Tip: Use one brand per web site, i.e. the name of your organisation or service. Use plain English for everything else.


  1. Teaching Children with Autism to Read for Meaning: Challenges and Possibilities

Contact Us

For accessibility problems please contact:

Andrew Normand
Web Accessibility Lead
Phone: +61 3 9035 4867

For all other enquiries contact: