Neurodiversity 101

While this article discusses users who are neurodiverse as a single group, it is important to know that no two people who experience cognitive challenges experience them in the same way. Neurodiversity encompasses everyone from a young child with a learning disability, an adult with ADHD, an elderly person beginning to experience age related memory loss, and many others.  Every person who lives with cognitive challenges may experience them to different degrees, and be affected in different ways. 

That said, there are some things that are helpful to everyone, and this article will summarize some of those tips. 

Illustration: Profile shot of user with headphones

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“Every person who lives with cognitive challenges may experience them to different degrees, and be affected in different ways. “

Web accessibility considerations

  • Avoid distractions: Animated graphics, banners that draw the eye, or alerts about information unrelated to the user’s current task, can all be extremely distracting for users. Whether someone experiences memory loss, difficulty with focusing, or comprehension, one of the most important considerations is to avoid potential distractions.They can cause a user to lose focus on their task, or potentially cause someone to forget what they wanted to do entirely. 
  • Complex interfaces: Interfaces should make the path to perform a task clear, and avoid introducing unrelated actions or elements into the task. 
  • Memory requirements: Websites can require users to remember many things – from usernames and passwords, to security questions and authentication codes. This can be a challenge for any user, and even more so for those with cognitive challenges. Making simple password reset flows, providing the option to show password text, and making timeouts generous in length, are all helpful considerations.
  • Complex language: It’s important that the language you use is straightforward, and easy to understand. Communicating in multiple different formats can also make your website vastly more accessible to those with cognitive challenges. Some users may find it easy to understand a video, but difficult to understand long written instructions. Other users may find videos overwhelming, and prefer a simple list of written instructions that they can follow at their own pace. The more ways you can communicate information, the better. 
  • Long and complicated tasks: Overly complicated tasks can cause some users to feel anxious. When possible, it is helpful to break down complex task flows into smaller steps. For example, splitting long profile setups or application forms into multiple pages. Another helpful element is to allow users to save their progress after each page, and come back later, if they need a break. 

Things to keep in mind during meetings

  • Redirect when necessary: During meetings, some users may find themselves forgetting the original task, or may become distracted along the way. When necessary, it is helpful to redirect the users focus back to the task at hand, or verbally remind them of what the goal of your meeting is.
  • Communicate clearly: Some users may have difficulty comprehending or performing vague tasks, or answering questions that are not clearly stated. Always be sure to clearly communicate what you are testing, and any goals you have for the meeting. 
  • Be mindful of time: It may take users with cognitive challenges longer to understand and complete some tasks than the average user. Make sure you have allocated enough time for every task you want to accomplish during a meeting.  

Things to keep in mind when writing user journeys

  • Communicate clearly: It’s important to communicate the purpose of the journey, and to make sure that all instructions are clear and accurate. 
  • Keep it simple: Make sure each step is a single action, rather than combining multiple actions into one. It is better to have multiple shorter steps, than fewer long ones.  This will make it easier for users to give you detailed feedback on each step, and will make it easier for them to understand, remember, and perform each step.