Digital Lead , London, UK
Neurodiversity is being talked about now more than ever. As awareness grows, it’s becoming increasingly clear to businesses that neurodivergent people are an integral part of their teams and of their customer bases.
‘Neurodiversity’ is commonly used as an umbrella term to describe alternative thinking styles, such as Dyslexia, DCD (Dyspraxia), Dyscalculia, Autism and ADHD. It is not a deficit or a disorder. However, society’s lack of understanding can make life more difficult for neurodivergent people.
Approximately 15-20% of the population has a neurological difference. Through better education and advocating for people’s needs, we’re now learning to better understand these differences and embrace neurodiversity.
It was a shock the first time someone explained to me that the product I was working on had failed their child; we’d been so careful to design a good user experience; we’d paid close attention to Nielsen Norman’s 10 usability heuristics and met WCAG AA contrast ratios across the user interface (UI).
The boy’s mother explained to me that her child had ADHD. He was reading a webpage when suddenly he began to cry. He thought he was being criticised and he couldn’t understand what he’d done wrong. The UI was showing an instructional note, accompanied by what we designers had thought was an innocent exclamation mark. But, it didn’t matter that the text carried a user friendly, informative message – he’d only noticed the exclamation mark – and saw nothing else after that.
She recommended we consider choosing our icons more carefully, noting that people on the autism spectrum often interpret metaphors quite literally, and that people with ADHD can easily lose their focus.
I then realised we needed to expand our definition of accessibility. We needed to learn about the various experiences of our neurodiverse audience and consider a broader range of needs in our designs.
Cognitive accessibility is an emerging field for a lot of designers. Through learning and empathy, companies can be more inclusive and address their users’ needs. We’ve identified three simple and effective ways for you to integrate neurodivergent perspectives into your design process:
Neurodiversity goes beyond labels. It’s about recognising those who think differently and appreciating that all individuals have unique strengths and challenges and that there is no one right way to think.
Looking at the figures for unemployment of neurodivergent people, we still have a long way to go. We all have a duty to break down the barriers that exclude neurodivergent people. As designers, we’ve promoted the importance of physical accessibility for a long time. Now it’s time to extend our knowledge and practice to include cognitive accessibility and welcome all those who think differently.