Making Websites Accessible For Neurodiverse Users
...and not only them will profit from it
I already talked a little about Neurodiversity in Programming in one of my previous articles and got a definition of the term over there. Neurodiversity is a collecting term for the diversity in brain function-variety that exists inside humans. ADD, ADHD, Autism, and Dyslexia are some of the more commonly known members of the neurodivergent group.
Many websites these days are not accessible when you are on the spectrum or fall into one of the other categories and I want to give you tips about style, design, and concept choices to offer a more pleasant user experience for these groups but ultimately for everyone, because accessible websites that have compatibility with Neurodiversity in the back of their head, will be better websites overall, even for neurotypical users.
Have an easy-to-understand structure on your website. Not only the User-Interface and the design should follow a logical concept, but also provide a structure in texts. Avoid long block-texts and break up big chunks of text with dominant Sub-Headings. Don't be afraid to use bullet points and lists if it helps to get your point through.
- They are easier to scan
- They make your text look interesting
- They wrap up thoughts like modules and connect information
The structure is important because a neurodiverse brain can overload with too much sensory input. I personally have a hard time reading books these days. After the first ten lines, all of the other lines mush together into a white noise of letters and it is hard for me to stay on the right line when reading. Books are usually not accessible unless they find ways to break up the text.
Writing clear, good, and precise is something not only Neurodiverse people profit from, but everyone. Clear language is the best way to get your message to the user. Nothing is worse than reading a text and not really understanding what the person wanted to say or even what the person wanted to sell. Neurodiverse people can be quite literal and you should be aware of that. That doesn't mean you can not have a very artsy style that uses a lot of visual pictures as comparisons - just be aware that it might not be understood by everyone and sometimes accessibility has priority over personal style.
Allow For Changing The Text Size And Font-Style
If your website is text-heavy it would be nice to allow users to change the text sizes on the website directly. There are ways to make the browser do that but those ways can often break website designs. Test your website with different text sizes and see how the user experience changes and if you are still able to deliver your message. If you want to earn an extra star on top, allow the user to switch between serif and sans-serif fonts. Serif-fonts tend to visually bleed into each other when being visually overstimulated.
Allow Dark-Mode And Low Contrast Mode
Something I am very passionate about because I am photosensitive. Please allow us to use Dark-Mode (Opera offers a way to force dark mode on websites that don't come with one) and also please let us chose a Low Contrast Mode. White on black is not good. It's straining on the eyes and can trigger Migraine Seizures for me. HashNode does 50% of the job here to offer a Dark Mode but I, unfortunately, can't lower the brightness of the text, therefore I need breaks between writing text passages to not trigger a potential migraine seizure. I know there is a way to get custom-CSS but it's a Beta Feature I do not have access to and therefore it's not really a solution at this moment.
I did ask people at HashNode on Twitter about this thing, and unfortunately, my tweet did not get any answer.
But I hope at some point the custom-CSS or a low contrast mode will be implemented for every user, so it's more accessible for everyone.
Do Not Have Flashy Gifs Without An Opt-In Or Warning
That's another big thing. Flashy things do not belong on websites without an opt-in "Yes, I am aware it's flashy, let me see that." or a warning that material is used that can trigger seizures in photosensitive people. This is a point that most people already do right and are aware of. But sometimes it still slips through and in that case, it would be nice if people are more aware of these things.
Do NOT Autoplay Videos, Audio On A Website Unexpectedly
This is a big one and will be for sure hurting your monetarization when you do. Do not autoplay anything. Do not include ads that autoplay anything. For the longest time, I did not use an ad-blocker for websites because I know many of them are relying on advertisements and the money coming from them. But then this trend of playing advertisement videos in the background that you cannot mute or stop came up. I tried to give certain sites the benefit of the doubt but ultimately that is how you drive away your users. Neurodiverse people can't filter audio-visual triggers as much as neurotypical can. Some can't filter them at all. An ad blasting on page load may be an annoyance to some, but for those with those sensory issues, it's like someone suddenly yells right into their ear. And without the option to mute it or turn it off, it is a horrible experience that from now on is connected to your website and your brand. If we go to YouTube we know what to expect, but if we want to read an article, there is no need to blast an ad for 2 minutes that we can't turn off.
Being Inclusive Means Respecting Each Other
I know for many Inclusivity is a business decision in the end, because it means more work for only a group of people. But knowing about how you lock out people with design choices should be something every front-end developer and designer needs to know about. Inclusivity is still not talked about a lot and if then only in context to certain disabilities. But Inclusivity is more than just offering one single feature. It's about the mindset of not leaving people behind.
I know it's still a long way and even tho I do profit from having inclusive access to websites, I sometimes struggle to remind myself about all of those things, but it's a learning process. It is better if every website would get more accessible in little steps as if only 10% would do and the rest would not.
The Demand Will Only Rise
The demand for accessible media will not go away, it will only rise because the more electronic devices we have, the more access people (who would usually be locked out of discussions) have. People start to have voices online when they were silenced before. And it's a beautiful thing. Welcome this new group of users, customers, community and show them you want to understand and support them.