Accessible communication for neurodiverse people

1 in 5 people are neurodiverse. Neuro what? Neurodiversity is a collective term for people with different types of brains. And with that comes another communication need. By taking this need into account, you not only improve accessibility for this group, but for everyone. In this article I give you 9 tips on how to handle this.

Neurodivers is a collective name for people who are equipped with different brains. As a result, they think and act differently. Neurodiversity includes AD(H)D, autism, high sensitivity, dyslexia and more. In this blog I call the rest of the population neurotypical for the sake of convenience. In other words: with an average brain. Neurodiverse brains are no less capable, but they do have different needs, especially when it comes to communication. By taking these needs into account, you not only improve communication for the neurodiverse part of the population, but for everyone.

Short reminder: what is accessibility again?

In 2019, the European Parliament a law (European Accessibility Act) approved to make products and services more accessible to the elderly and people with disabilities (the information itself is not very accessible due to the language used, but that aside). Accessibility means that you design a product or service in such a way that it can be used by everyone, including people with a disability. For example, making a website readable for a screen reader used by blind or visually impaired people. Or that you always add subtitles to your videos for people with hearing problems. Or that your e-commerce website can be used intuitively, so that (older) people need little technical knowledge to buy a product.

If you do it right, not only people with disabilities benefit from better accessibility, but everyone. For example, I regularly watch videos on my phone, but I rarely wear headphones. For that reason, I also benefit greatly from subtitles, even though I am not hard of hearing.

Accessibility is a broad term that is quite familiar to many corporate communications and marketing departments. But I don’t think accessibility for neurodiverse people is on the agenda yet. It is high time for that to change. But how do you improve accessibility for neurodiverse people?

Neurodiversity in your accessibility policy: how do you approach it?

About 20% of the population is neurodiverse. That’s quite a decent percentage of your target audience. Serving one fifth of your target group better ensures that you can achieve your objectives better and faster. Therefore, look at your communication with different eyes, namely through that of a neurodiverse person.

A characteristic that neurodiverse people share is a different stimulus processing than neurotypical people. Stimuli all come in equally ‘hard’ and it is more difficult to filter what is really important. In a world with an overabundance of stimuli, it is therefore even more necessary to indicate even better what is important.

1. Apply focus

For many neurodiverse people, focusing is difficult. For example, if I visit a website for a specific purpose and I first get a popup with a cookie notification, then a newsletter popup, a notifications popup, asking if I want to share my location and finally a chatbot in the bottom right corner that asks if I need help, then I wonder what I was writing again? So, try to focus your communication: what is really important at this moment? What do you want someone to do with it right now? Too many images or too much information on 1 page causes neurodiverse people to malfunction in their brains. Let alone moving images and sound that plays spontaneously.

2. Expectation management

A delicious bullshit bingo term: expectation management. By this I mean that it is important to clearly indicate on a page, or in an e-mail or letter what you can expect from the content. Why should you read this information? How does a purchasing process work? Which step comes next and how many steps do you have to go through? When do you have to be where and what time? Do you have to be there a little earlier because of registration? And so on.

3. Get straight to the point

Wooliness does not benefit your communication with a neurodiverse person. The faster someone can absorb the core message, the better. You can do this by taking this into account in the order of your communication. Put the most important at the top, then the second most important, etc.

4. Offer overview

Apply as much (visual) structure as possible to your communication. Use bullet points, make the most important words bold and/or put them in the headings, so that they can be scanned quickly and easily. Neurodiverse people are often more visual than neurotypical people and therefore benefit from icons and other functional images.

5. Give clear instructions

If you want or expect someone to do something, be clear about it. Provide clear instructions.

6. Don’t make assumptions

Don’t make assumptions about what someone already knows. Because as we know: assumptions are the mother of all f*ck-ups. This does not mean that you have to chew everything in one place, but indicate, for example, where you can find more information. This also helps people who are doing something for the first time. An example from my own life: the kitchen farmer. This kitchen farmer installs kitchens every day. It is therefore natural for him not to connect a Quooker or the hob. But as new kitchen buyers, we did not know that a kitchen farmer does not do such a thing. This gave us a less good feeling about the kitchen farmer. While he could have offered us extra service, for example by recommending a number of installers.

7. Be as literal as possible

Many neurodiverse people take communication very literally. Therefore, try according to B1 language use, avoid imagery. If you use examples, also describe situations that could actually occur. To give a personal example here again; one of my annoyances when shopping online for a winter coat is that it is not often stated whether it is a winter coat. You will be presented with all kinds of categories: parkas, coats, coats to name a few. But it never says whether a jacket will keep me warm between 0 and 10 degrees. And yes, I know that a winter coat can also be a coat or can belong to another category, but not whether a coat is a winter coat 😊.

8. Subtitle all your videos

I already mentioned it as an example, but more than half of the videos I come across online are not subtitled.

Subtitles have several advantages:

  1. It is accessible to people who are hard of hearing or deaf.
  2. Subtitles emphasize your message. If you are hearing, you read and listen at the same time.
  3. Not everyone has headphones on or is able to listen at all times. Think, for example, of situations in which you are sitting in a waiting room or traveling by train. I read that up to 85% of social media users have their sound turned off. They completely miss your message. A waste of the media budget. With subtitles you make it possible to watch a video at more times.
  4. Many neurodiverse people have an auditory processing disorder. This means that they may be hearing, but the brain is not always able to process the language and therefore the information very well. Subtitles make it visually clear what is being said.

9. Be consistent

A neurodiverse person processes information in a different way than a neurotypical person. That is why the processing time of inconsistencies is longer in a neurodiverse person and there are more times to drop out. With websites you expect certain buttons in certain places. For example, you know that you go to the homepage when you click on the logo. Try to stick to such guidelines anyway so that it costs neurodiverse people less energy to navigate your website. But also be consistent throughout your website. If you search for a business page via the search bar, do not show the results for individuals first.

In summary: actually all my tips fall under the heading: clarity. Be as clear as possible in your communication; short and sweet, explained as simply as possible. Focus on the message. An additional advantage is that you also reach neurotypical people better. I wonder if neurodiversity is already on the agenda at your organization. Let me know through the comments!

Source: Frankwatching by

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