Neurodiversity in Content
Have you ever considered neurodiversity in content and how to design and format content to provide optimum accessibility? This year at ConFab, Senior Content Designer at 10up, Amy Grace Wells, gave a presentation on the topic. The talk was centered on neurodivergence and what that means for accessibility. Keep reading to learn more about her speech and the importance of neurodiversity in content.
How Do You Design for Cognitive Accessibility
First, let’s define neurodiversity. This term refers to natural differences in brain function and behavioral traits that deviate from what is assumed normal or neurotypical. With 30-40 percent of the population being neurodiverse, it’s important to ensure that your content, design, and overall website are accessible. Creating an inclusive design requires that you think about the variation in cognition. With neurodivergent people often thinking and learning differently, it’s essential to remove barriers and streamline information processing as efficiently as possible.
The Neurodivergent Spectrum
Before we go into how to improve neurodiversity in content and some of Amy’s practices, let’s break down the neurodivergent spectrum. The primary disorders are below:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common disorders, especially in children. Individuals with ADHD often have trouble regulating attention and controlling impulsive behavior.
- Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad range of conditions related to challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. In addition, individuals on the spectrum often exhibit processing disorders.
- Dyspraxia is also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and is defined by motor control issues, such as balance. This disorder does not impact intelligence but should still be considered when taking neurodiversity in content into consideration.
- Dyslexia is a learning disorder that makes it difficult for individuals to read and process language.
These neurodivergent disorders are not edge cases and should be considered when planning a content strategy or designing a website that aims to be neurodiverse.
How to Improve Neurodiversity in Content
While every person is different, there are many common traits. Check out the strategies that Amy discussed outlined below to learn how to improve neurodiversity in content. It’s important to note that whether or not you implement a few or all of these strategies, don’t forget that the problem is not the person, and there are ways to expand your reach and make a wider audience feel included, accepted, and marketed to.
Lower Cognitive Load
Often people who are neurodivergent have limited working memory. It’s therefore essential to lower the cognitive load and amount of material that requires memory. Some ways that Amy mentioned to achieve this includes writing at a lower grade level, streamlining processes, cutting unnecessary information out, and using more imagery that breaks down more complex topics.
Another key point that Amy made was that streamlining processes is essential. For example, 2-factor authentication can be challenging for individuals on the neurodivergent spectrum. If a neurodivergent person wants to sign up for your company’s newsletter, eliminating two-factor authentication has proven successful. Rather than having them enter their information on your site, and then go to their email to confirm a subscription is complex for many users and creates an unnecessary barrier. For this reason, sing-factor authentication is advisable in this situation. However, from a cybersecurity perspective, multifactor authentication can be helpful for safeguarding sensitive data so be sure to take this into consideration when setting up authentications.
Additionally, especially for those with dyslexia, it’s vital to include adjacent spellings so they can still find the content they need even if they mix up a few letters.
When a blog post or content page has the amount of time it will take to read it to completion, you are making your content more accessible. The reasoning behind this is that people with ADHD suffer from “time blindness,” meaning that they aren’t aware of the time passing and therefore struggle to use their time effectively. So, by adding how long it will take to read a post, you are preparing them for the task at hand and making it more accessible.
Focus Attention and Remove Distractions
If there is anything in your content or web design that takes neurodivergent users out of the flow, you will see negative impacts. An easy way to avoid this is to eliminate any unnecessary bold text in your content in addition to unnecessary underlining or italics. Altering unnecessary words throughout your text that aren’t entirely necessary makes it harder to read. Often, neurodivergent people will look at the content piece, jump ahead to those words, and lose their focus.
Aid in Task Completion
If there is one thing you take away from this information, analysis paralysis needs to be avoided. To avoid this, be sure to put the following into practice:
- Provide context for big ideas
- Clear CTAs
- Explains what happens after a completed action
Be transparent with task completion steps so neurodivergent readers don’t get anxious or overwhelmed with what to do next but can rest assured you are explaining to them exactly what needs to be done next.
In addition to the strategies that Amy presented to the audience and actionable steps to put into practice, she also made it a point to bring humanity into the conversation. Regulation can be challenging for neurodivergent people; so she stressed that companies should not forget to consider their emotions. Take the above steps into consideration to ensure that your content pieces don’t overwhelm their cognitive load and have them think your website and content are unapproachable.
Online Optimism and Neurodiversity in Content
As Amy’s talk emphasized, neurodiversity in content is crucial. Lowering the complexity and streamlining processes won’t only make your content more accessible to people who identify as neurodivergent but also make it easier for neurotypical people, so it’s a win-win. Additionally, by ensuring the neurodivergent audience is represented and tailored, you can also increase your brand loyalty.