Learn how to become more inclusive with your messaging
There’s no doubt that diversity is at the forefront of every company’s agenda as we trickle our key learnings from 2020 into 2021. One of the most overlooked aspects of diversity, however, is the concept of neurodiversity, which lacks a consensus even on its definition. For some, neurodiversity refers to a specific set of six cognitive disorders, while others argue to include other conditions. In many articles, neurodiversity is a movement far beyond the limited classification of several disorders. While others insist that taking an inclusive approach will potentially limit the specialized treatments and programs for the cognitively impaired.
One thing we can agree on is that neurodiversity is a trending term at the center of many hot-button debates. And with your company undoubtedly embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion within its culture, now might be the time to ask how to create messaging inclusive of the neurodivergent.
What exactly is neurodiversity?
Building on relevant opinions, I am defining neurodiversity as the variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variations in the human genome. Rather than outliers from “the norm,” neurodiversity implies acceptance of these differences as a part of a greater normal diaspora of thinking.
First used to describe individuals on the autism spectrum, neurodiversity now applies to other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, developmental speech disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, intellectual disability, and Tourette syndrome. Further, as we understand more about the mind, brain, and behavior, neurodiversity can also be applied to mental health conditions such as bipolarity, schizoaffective disorder, antisocial personality disorder, dissociative disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Though encompassing a disparate range of conditions, neurodevelopmental conditions, cognitive impairments, and mental health conditions all affect both intellectual functioning (learning, reasoning, and problem solving) as well as adaptive behavior (conceptual, social, and practical skills).
People within the neurodiverse spectrum process the world differently than those who are considered neurotypical.
Why should we care?
Unlike other disabilities like visual impairment, neurodiversity is difficult to quantify. Many conditions are relatively newly defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Accepted as the authority by clinicians, researchers, drug regulation agencies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, the legal system, and policymakers, it didn’t mention “autism” until its 1980 update – when it finally removed “hysteria” – but continued to classify “homosexuality” as a mental disorder until the 1987 release of the DSR-III-R. The consistent change of an inexact science coupled with societal and cultural stigma discourages education as well as potential diagnoses.
Though it’s nearly impossible to quantify those affected by neurodiverse conditions, we do know that:
- Nearly 17% of children in the US have a developmental disability.
- An estimated 5,437,988 (2.21%) adults in the US have ASD.
- 10.6% of US adults have recognized cognition disabilities (concentrating, remembering, or making decisions).
- Approximately 18% of adults in the US have a mental illness.
- More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.
- 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.
- 1 in 5 children have had a seriously debilitating mental illness either currently or at some point during their life.
- 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
We also know that as people age, the prevalence of these cognitive disabilities increases. Underserviced end-users over the age of 65 are a 7.1 trillion dollar growth market, and interestingly, the next greatest growth market consists of millennials impaired by learning disabilities and related situational impairments.
How to design neurodiverse content
Luckily, switching to a more neurodiverse-friendly design strategy actually makes your content more accessible to all users. Instead of taking on the laborious task of creating marketing content for unique audience segments, consider incorporating the following principles throughout every presentation, social media campaign, and blog post.
Use clear and understandable content
- Develop an organizational structure for multi-page content – the more predictable your structure, the easier it will be to understand.
- Use language that is clear and concise in a simple tense and voice.
- Stick to literal language and get rid of idioms, sarcasm, or implicit expressions.
- Avoid too much content.
- Use consistent visual designs across pages, slides, or interactive animations.
- Leverage design elements the user is likely to recognize and understand.
- Use white/negative spacing to help separate key pieces of information.
- Keep navigation controls consistent – for example, in animated ads consider keeping your CTA button static throughout the animation.
- Chunk longer videos into shorter segments and include descriptions of each segment up front.
- Minimize distractions by disabling “auto-play” to allow the user to control the content.
- Eliminate elements that automatically move, blink, or scroll longer than 5 seconds or ensure that they can be paused, stopped, or hidden by the user.
As a neurodiverse person, I can say that I perceive the world differently than others expect me to, and I spend a lot of time in therapy helping me to maintain congruence with the accepted baseline of thinking and behaving. I expend a lot of energy normalizing myself to the best of my ability.
I propose that there is a new baseline of which we should all be aware. Gone are the days of dismissing women as hysterical outliers and homosexuality as a mental disorder, and so too should be the days of assuming that there is a “normal” way of ingesting or relating to information. We need a new baseline – one inclusive of neurodiversity.
To learn more about creating accessible messaging,visit w3.org.