A Digital Experience Agency

Designing Digital Experiences for Neurodiversity

Web accessibility is a must in today’s digital experiences. It’s an inclusive practice that ensures everyone, including “people with disabilities, can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with websites as well as contribute to the web,”  states the World Wide Web Consortium (2023). However, in the drive to provide equal access and opportunity to all online users we must consider the 10% to 20% of users who are neurodiverse, or simply put people who process information differently. Thus, understanding neurodiversity, the importance of designing for neurodiversity, and tips on how to design for neurodiversity are to key to ensuring we create a more inclusive and accessible web for everyone.

Understanding Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of neurocognitive differences, including autism, dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia, and more. These differences can affect how individuals process information, perceive the world around them, and interact with digital interfaces. While some may view these differences as disabilities, the neurodiversity movement advocates for recognizing them as common natural variations of the human brain. In fact, neurodiversity is much more common than many people realize. According to various studies, neurodiverse conditions collectively can be found in a significant portion of the population including some very recognizable names of people who’ve made significant contributions to society.

This includes people like Elon Musk who has asperge’s, a form of autism, Virgin Group’s entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad who both have dyslexia and ADHD, and Daniel Radcliff who has dyspraxia; to name a few famous people and a few types of neurocognitive differences that can lead to exclusion online. These individuals, among others, demonstrate that neurodiversity is not a barrier to success but rather a unique aspect of human variation that can contribute to creativity, innovation, and resilience and thus it is critical to ensure digital experiences are accessible and inclusive.

The Importance of Designing for Neurodiversity

Designing for neurodiversity goes beyond traditional accessibility practices. It involves creating digital experiences that accommodate various cognitive styles, preferences, and abilities. Here’s why it matters:

  1. Inclusivity: By considering neurodiversity in web design, we ensure individuals with different cognitive abilities can access and engage with online content. This promotes a more inclusive and equitable internet for all users.
  2. Enhanced User Experience: Designing with neurodiversity in mind can lead to better user experiences for everyone. Clearer navigation, simplified layouts, and customizable features benefit everyone, not just neurodiverse individuals, or users with temporary or situational impairments.
  3. Expanded Audience Reach: Ignoring neurodiversity in web design means potentially excluding a significant portion of the population from accessing your website or application. By catering to diverse cognitive needs, you broaden your audience reach and create opportunities for greater engagement.
  4. Fostering Innovation: Embracing neurodiversity encourages innovative thinking and problem-solving. Many individuals with neurodivergent traits possess unique perspectives and talents that can significantly contribute to society.

Tips on How to Design for Neurodiversity

  1. Clear and Consistent Layouts: Maintain simplicity and consistency in your website or application design to reduce cognitive load and improve usability.
  2. Flexible Navigation Options: Provide multiple navigation pathways and customizable settings to accommodate different cognitive styles and preferences.
  3. Visual and Textual Clarity: Use clear typography, ample white space, and high contrast colors to enhance readability and comprehension for all users.
  4. Interactive Elements: Make interactive elements intuitive and predictable, with clear feedback and error messages to support users’ understanding and engagement.
  5. Accessibility Features: Implement accessibility features such as keyboard navigation, alternative text for images, and video captions to ensure compliance with accessibility standards and support neurodiverse users.
  6. Best Practices: Lean into listening and taking the advice of expert UX/UI strategists, designers, and developers. They have deep experience and knowledge on how to create accessible digital experiences that follow best practices and help companies achieve standards like WCAG 2.1, WCAG 2.2 and WCAG 3. Often, companies who ignore this advice can find themselves in situations of having to fix poor decisions or worse, in legal trouble because of specific laws.

 Overall, designing for neurodiversity is not just about compliance; it’s about creating a more inclusive and accessible web for everyone. By understanding neurodiversity, why it’s important and embracing the principles of neurodiversity in web design, we can build digital experiences that empower and enrich the lives of all users, regardless of their cognitive differences. If done correctly, it can  improve overall user experiences, user satisfaction, enhance your brand, drive innovation and market reach plus set your company apart as the standard to meet in the marketplace. To ensure your next web initiative takes neurodiversity into account; start with experts in the field that can help you define the requirements you’d like to achieve and how those requirements will be met, at the beginning of your project to ensure they are included in your content strategy, information architecture, user journey, visual design, front-end code and even your CMS.