Digital Accessibility: Neurodiversity

Published July 5, 2022

Neurodiversity is one of the more complicated types of disability, and few people understand what it means. For advice on making websites and apps accessible, refer to this introductory guide.

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity, or being neurodivergent, affects around 15% of the population. It’s a relatively recent term, coined in 1998, and it refers to people who have differences in learning, mood, attention, social skills, literacy, and numeracy. A few examples of neurodivergent conditions may include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Dyspraxia
  • Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Being neurodiverse can affect how websites look and how one interacts with the user interface. Some things people with neurodivergent conditions find challenging include difficulty concentrating or staying focused, information or sensory overload, which can cause problems with ‘visual noise,’ and difficulty understanding color schemes or patterns.

Visual Noise

Visually noisy websites incorporate too many things in one place, contain too much information in one block, or are too bright. Some users will have difficulty navigating a site if it is crammed with videos, images, and pretty headings. It is possible to include these visual elements in a simplified format that is easy to follow without omitting a web designer's artistic flair.

Another reason people might consider your site ‘visually noisy’ is if it’s cluttered, confusing, and hard to navigate. You might be trying to convey too much at once; maybe two sections of the site clash or compete for the viewer’s attention. It is far better to try and offer one point clearly, than two or three that could become overwhelming. 

Consider what you want your site to say, and build your website around that. It will make for a better site for users overall and will be more accessible for your neurodivergent users to access.

Pause, Stop, Hide

Many websites include rotating photos or content slides in what designers call a carousel. One way to include neurodiverse populations in this interface design is to disable auto-rotate or add a pause button. This also assists individuals who take their time reading content. Being able to pause the slide or photo before it automatically rotates gives the users the power to view content at their own pace.

Finally, allow readers to remove or hide topics and content they are not looking for at the time of their visit. We see this on many news sites that offer a selection of articles that might be interesting. An article or story can often be hidden or removed for an individual browser session. 

Giving this control to the person on the other side of the screen is a conscientious way of showing respect for their situation regardless of their abilities.

Accessibility for Neurodivergence 

Building a clean, navigable website with a clear purpose is the first step toward making your website or app accessible to viewers with neurodivergent conditions. However, web developers can do plenty of other things to enhance accessibility. These additional steps include integration with screen readers, options for text to be read aloud, integrating a dictionary and thesaurus, and offering text and spacing customization options. 

One tool designed specifically for those with neurodivergent conditions is called a screen mask. A screen mask is a reading tool that follows your mouse or touch to help eliminate page distractions. This allows readers to focus on one block or passage at a time. Google Chrome has a screen mask add-on that individuals can add to their browser. This add-on will allow users to choose the transparency levels and sizes of the mask applied to the website as they scroll along.

A key way to offer an accessible website to people with neurodivergent conditions is the ability to navigate and change a website to suit their needs. Providing information using alternative methods, such as video and audio, is helpful. Still, sometimes just the ability to change contrast or font size can be all it takes for a more comfortable digital experience.

Not all techniques mentioned will be possible for every website or application. However, considering how various individuals and communities interact with a website before it launches will help prevent hiccups and result in a more inclusive platform.


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