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Neurodiversity and Digital Accessibility

Last week we hosted the third of our Digital Accessibility events, this time with Dafydd Henke-Reed, Senior Accessibility Consultant with AbilityNet. Dafydd has been diagnosed with Autism and Dyslexia and spoke about his personal experiences of Neurodiversity.

Dafydd speaking at the event.

Dafydd was engaging and open about his experiences growing up, going to University and the technology he uses day to day. From the very start he highlighted that Autism is a spectrum and that we were hearing what Neurodiversity means to him.

From Cognitive Brick Walls to being horrified when friendly lecturers asked him to move forward from the back row of a lecture theatre, we heard about the barriers and obstacles he had faced.

What stood out for me…

“Dyslexia could be solved with tools; Autism was about learning how to thrive in a seemingly hostile culture.”

Dafydd had refused support related to Autism at University. Tactics such as large yellow “appropriate allowance when marking” stickers felt like a brand. This is pertinent; many students may not disclose their “disabilities” due to previous experience or because they find allowances intrusive or counterproductive. In fact, with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder may not consider it a disability in the first case, it’s just the way they are. If we are to be truly inclusive, then we need to design our learning experience to remove barriers and everyone benefits.

“Come over for group study and we’ll get beers and pizza in? Hell no!”

Dafydd spoke about how he found groups and teamwork challenging. He’ll use digital tools like Slack or instant messaging to communicate rather than walking to a colleague’s desk. He also praised electronic tickets (“I won’t lose them”)

He showed us the Speech to Text (STT) and Text to Speech (TTS) systems he uses every day along with the spelling correction functionality.

Do’s and don’ts

The excellent UK Gov “Do’s and Don’ts” guides were given a name check again, this time for Dyslexia and Autism. If you haven’t seen them, check out these lovely visual guide posters. I think they should be printed out in every office!

Designing for users on the autistic spectrum. Do use simple colours; write in plain language; use simple sentences and bullets; make buttons descriptive; build simple and consistent layouts. Don't use bright contrasting colours; use figures of speech and idioms; create a wall of text; make buttons vague and unpredictable; build complex and cluttered layouts. Designing for users with dyslexia. Do use images and diagrams to support text; align text to the left and keep in a consistent layout; consider producing materials in other formats (for example audio or video); keep content short, clear and simple; let users change the contrast between background and text. Don't use large blocks of heavy text; underline words, use italics or write in capitals; force users to remember things from previous pages - give reminders and prompts; reply on accurate spelling - use autocorrect or provide suggestions; put too much information in one place.

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