As a communication professional, you need to create compelling content that people want to read. Great content is essential to reach all your target audiences — including those who may have varying cognitive abilities or disorders, such as having a neurodivergent condition. Therefore, you need to create great content with the neurodiversity of readers in mind.
Many people are neurodivergent. Therefore, they could make up a significant percentage of your readers. For instance, you may wish to reach out to all your employees when a significant number of them have widely varying cognitive functions. So it’s essential to create content that is accessible and inclusive to avoid potentially alienating them.
Creating accessible and inclusive content not only expands your reach to neurodivergent readers but can also improve your reputation as a brand or company — which is essentially your job as a PR professional. People today are more mindful and considerate of including and recognizing all people, and so they generally prefer interacting with more inclusive brands.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is not new. Though it might suddenly seem like more people are neurodivergent than ever, and the term is getting used a lot more often today, this is only because people are more understanding and accepting of neurodiversity today.
Around 15-20% of the global population is neurodivergent, according to a 2020 scientific study. This estimate may be higher than in the past, and can be attributed to the fact that there is a lot more understanding now of what it means to be neurodivergent — both among the general population and among medical professionals.
There is no single right way to define neurodiversity, just as there is no one right way for the brain to function. However, a person who is neurodivergent is considered to have cognitive functions that vary more than what is considered average or normal. This means they may learn, perceive, think, process, and interact differently than those who are neurotypical.
Neurodiversity covers a range of neurological differences and diagnoses, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Dyslexia, or Tourettes’ syndrome.
The importance of creating inclusive content
A lot of content created today is not very inclusive and does not consider the needs of all audiences. As a comms professional, you could find this costly for your organization. It’s your job to create compelling content that improves public opinion, so if your content doesn’t cater to a maximum proportion of your key target audiences, it could hurt your image and tarnish your reputation or the reputation of the brand or company you are representing.
Therefore, it is essential to develop PR strategies and comms programs providing accessible material that neurodivergent people can understand easily. Not doing this is a business mistake that could cost your organization.
You should also work closely with the HR function to ensure your communication activities are aligned with HR initiatives. Apart from leading to greater employee quality in the long term, this will enable your comms function to become more closely involved with HR as a strategic ally.
Many people with neurological conditions have impressive skills, including pattern recognition, memory, and mathematics. Yet they often struggle to fit the profiles sought by employers. A growing number of leading US companies have realized this and have reformed their HR processes to access this neurodiverse talent. To date, such programs have generally focused on autistic people. Others on the neurodiverse spectrum include those with dyspraxia (a neurologically based physical disorder), dyslexia, ADHD, social anxiety disorders, and other conditions.
These companies create content for the neurodiversity of their readers
Following the examples of top companies enables you to implement their strategies and implementation methods, which are fairly publicly available now. Among them are SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Microsoft, Willis Towers Watson, Ford, and EY.
Many others, including Caterpillar, Dell Technologies, Deloitte, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, and UBS are progressing with initiatives. They are enjoying productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and increased employee engagement as a result, according to a 2017 Harvard Business Review article.
How to write content with the neurodiversity of readers in mind
Creating content inclusive of neurodiversity means creating what is referred to as accessible content or web accessibility. This means creating content that can be perceived, understood, accessed, and navigated by all people, regardless of their capabilities, including those with physical disabilities and cognitive or mental disorders.
To write content that takes account of the neurodiversity of readers, use the tips below:
1. Use minimalistic imagery, fonts, and color palettes
Lots of flashing images, videos, and moving images or text can be overwhelming, and may even trigger negative responses from people who are neurodivergent. Instead, focus on static images or use videos that give people the option to pause or play, so they aren’t forced to look at it or listen to it if it bothers them.
You should also use colors that are easy on the eyes, which means no bright or clashing colors. Lighter backgrounds with dark, easy-to-read text are best. Fancy fonts as well can be harder for people to look at or make it harder to read the content, so avoid elaborate typefaces. Use simpler fonts instead.
2. Use subtitles, captions, and alternative text
If you do still want or need to have videos and images in your content, make sure you use subtitles, captions, and alt text. If someone can’t or doesn’t want to watch a video or look at an image, they can instead read the descriptive text you provide to still understand what the video or image is showing.
3. Make sure your writing is easy to understand
Readability is important for written content. Someone who is neurodivergent might have a harder time understanding or digesting your content if it’s not written well. This means using shorter sentences, easier-to-understand language, and using hyperlinks appropriately. Many online tools available today can check your written content to test for readability and offer you tips on how to make improvements.
Content doesn’t have to be fancy or overly designed to be compelling. Often, simple is best. Even audiences who aren’t neurodivergent will digest content better when it is easy to look at, simple, and straightforward.
That doesn’t mean it needs to be plain. Minimalistic design can still be very appealing and attractive. The goal should simply be to make sure that it is perceivable, understandable, and accessible to a wider range of readers, including those who are neurodivergent. Above all, remember to create content for the neurodiversity of readers.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.