Tips that are quick, easy and cheap. From a neurodiversity expert who has ADHD, autism and prosopagnosia (face blindness).
You can download a bite-size version of these tips as a graphic or poster.
1. Tell people what to expect
If you go to a conference, they always tell you what time it starts, what time it finishes, and, most importantly, when the food is served.
They don’t do that in theatres, do they? So you don’t know if it will finish in time for you to get the last train. Or, as has happened to me many times, if it’s a really bad play, how much longer you’ll have to endure it.
Telling everyone what to expect helps so many people – not just those with say, social anxiety or ADHD, but those who don’t drive, people who have to take medication with food, pregnant people… you get the idea.
2. Remember they don’t have your knowledge
The people you’re talking to might not know your industry’s jargon. They might not be familiar with your culture. And they can’t always visualise the picture that’s inside your head!
Communicating really clearly will save time and prevent confusion.
Here’s an example. When I ask my husband to fetch my black shoes, I know in my head exactly which pair I’m referring to. But when he goes to find them, this is what he sees. I need to give him more information so he comes back with the right ones!
3. Make your information memorable
If you want people to remember what you’re telling them, adding in something unusual or interesting will help them retain the information. It can help with directions too.
Below is a photo I took in a bar in Cambodia. I wanted to go to the toilet, and knowing there were crocodiles in the same direction helped me find it.
By the way, I was expecting a picture or a sculpture of a crocodile, but it was actually a load of live ones. A pit of them, that you had to walk over in order to reach the toilet. So definitely memorable!
4. Use pictures
Pictures can convey information that words can’t. They’re also good for communicating quickly and easily. Using pictures is particularly helpful for dyslexics and people who don’t speak your language, and, like all these tips, can benefit everyone else too.
One of my favourite accessibility tips is to put a picture of the door to your building on your website. It helps everybody who’s coming to visit you arrive on time and in a calmer mood – especially if it’s raining!
5. Use fewer words
The original heading of this point was “Use as few words as possible.” Then I thought I should take my own advice!
The fewer words you use, the easier it is for people to read or listen – and to absorb the information you’re giving them.
Here’s the letter the UK government sent out about the corona virus. I highlighted all the information that was necessary and crossed out everything else. You can see how hard it is to find what you need when there are so many unnecessary words to wade through.
6. Listen (properly)
Take the time to really listen and understand what someone is saying. Autistics, for example, and some people with mental health issues, tend not to speak with don’t speak with enough intention. It means people don’t take what we say seriously, or they talk over us.
I was having a conversation with my husband the other day and mentioned something I’d brought up previously. He said he didn’t think it was important. To which I replied, I only have 2 topics of conversation: things that are important and people I fancied in the 1980s. So if I’m not talking about Michael Hutchence, it means it’s important.
7. Know that people might be hiding it
By “it” I mean their disability or condition or special need.
Lots of us like to fit in – and many people with invisible or hidden disabilities will mask. Some of us do this unconsciously and sometimes we do it on purpose.
I was friends with a lady called Nikki for an entire year before I found out she was deaf (and that was only because someone else told me). I never realised she was lip-reading, because she deliberately hid the fact she couldn’t hear.
By the way, if you think someone has a special need, it’s OK to ask. Which leads me onto my next point…
8. Be aware that people might not know what they need
This is quite a surprising one.
Those of us with special needs don’t always realise we need adaptions. And we don’t always realise what they are. I often don’t know what I’ll need until I get there. So how can you approach this?
You can ask specific questions. For example, “Do you want me to go over that again?” Or you can tell them what the deal is: “I’ll leave the door open and you can leave any time.”
Having open communication and a positive attitude really helps – not just at the time but it helps us recognised our needs in the future as well.
9. Remember that how you create information is not necessarily how it will be received
I’m writing this in a nice quiet office, tea at hand, with the ability to concentrate on every word I type.
But that might not be how you’re reading it. You might be on your phone, distracted by people passing by, or just thinking about your dinner at the same time.
Using some of the tips I mentioned above will help your listener or your reader focus, and to retain the information you’re giving them.
10. Do nothing
Another surprising one!
Sometimes, the most accessible thing you can do is nothing at all. Why? Because people like me – people with hidden disabilities or neurological conditions – have always been approached as a challenge. A problem to be dealt with. And we’ve been left out so many times.
When you treat us like we’re normal, suddenly, we feel wanted. We feel like we’re not problematic. We feel included.
And inclusion is accessibility with bells on.
If you’d like to talk to me about making your workplace accessible to neurodiverse people, read about the talks and workshops I have available, or book a 15-minute call to find out how I can help you.