Digital Accessibility and ADHD | TTC Global

Digital Accessibility and ADHD

How organizations can improve online experiences for users with ADHD

Samantha Nuttall
  • Samantha Nuttall
  • 22 September 2022

When you think about digital accessibility, you may not consider users with ADHD to be amongst those who experience barriers in the digital world. However, there are many ways in which accessibility for users living with ADHD can be improved which not only help those users specifically, but often improve the experience of all users.

Let us consider some specific facts about ADHD and highlight some of the most common ways in which these may affect an individual’s digital experience. Before we do so, it is important to note that every person living with ADHD will experience the world differently although there will be some commonalities that can be predicted in online design.

Firstly, there are over 800,000 individuals in Australia who live with ADHD. At least 50% of these will also live with comorbid conditions such as Learning disabilities (Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and/or Dyscalculia) or with another neurodevelopmental difference such as Autism. As such, this is a significant user group that may experience barriers in accessing an organisation’s content if they are not considered as part of the design process.

Secondly, ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disability that affects an individual’s ability to regulate their attention and emotions such as frustration. It is not an intellectual disability or mental illness, but instead incorporates differences in both brain structures and available levels of neurotransmitters (the brain chemicals needed to regulate, for instance, attention). Core symptoms of ADHD that might affect an individual’s digital experience include:

  • Easily distracted from a task
  • Challenges with short term memory
  • Impulsivity
  • May not pay attention to details
  • Difficulty following multiple or complex steps or instructions

With these points in mind, let us consider five ways that organisations can increase accessibility for individuals living with ADHD and improve the online experiences of this user group:

1. Keep it clean and simple

To minimise distraction and better enable users with ADHD to functionally access your content or make purchases, design simple and clear content. Users with ADHD are likely to prefer images over text so clear bold icons are important. Colours and colour contrast is important in your design. Plenty of white space is beneficial as is the use of static content, or at the least the choice to pause moving images. Fonts should also be considered in your design also. Research shows that 12- or 14-point San Serif typeface, no italics, and a maximum of 70 characters per line are optimal for those with ADHD (and dyslexia!).

2. Ensure Wayfinding is easy

Digital Wayfinding and ‘Findability’ is extremely important to an ADHD brain – if content on your site is difficult to navigate, a user with ADHD is likely to move elsewhere to complete a transaction. Examples of design elements to consider here include Menus being in the same place on each page; minimal ‘clickthrough’s’ to complete a transaction and ensuring effective ‘search’ functionality.

3. Support problem solving

To support users with ADHD who may struggle with attention to detail, following instructions or impulsivity, ensure that you incorporate elements designed to minimize common errors and support users to find answers to known issues. A great example of this can be seen in Banking websites where a pop up appears reminding users of the importance of checking the details of a transaction before completion, thus reducing the likelihood of transaction errors. Additionally, the use of autofill data in forms, ‘tooltip’ buttons to access instructions or explanations, clear ‘in situ’ error messages, easy to find and navigate FAQ pages, and the option to contact a real support person directly will significantly improve the experience of many users with ADHD who may not persist through a frustrating or confusing transaction.

4. Make the placement of Submit or Cancel buttons consistent

As attention to detail during a transaction can be challenging for a user with ADHD, consider the placement of buttons such as the Submit button, and ensure any destructive elements such as ‘Delete’ or ‘Cancel’ are clearly differentiated and obvious. An ADHD user has an increased likelihood of making a mistake and leaving the transaction out of frustration if these elements are not intuitive or extremely clearly highlighted.

5. Limit the use of Timeouts and provide options to return to a transaction

Whilst incorporating timeouts may be necessary in some circumstances, it can significantly reduce the customer experience for those with ADHD and reduce the likelihood that a transaction will be completed. Consider removing ‘timeouts’ unless they are truly necessary. If this is not possible, provide warnings to the user rather than using an automatic ‘timeout’, give the user options to ‘save’ data or future purchases and ensure the user can return to the transaction as easily as possible at another time.

Ultimately, the ability to independently access the information on a website is a right, not an option.

For people with ADHD, barriers to online accessibility can be broken down into three essentials

  1. Easy to use and understand content
  2. The ability to access that content and complete transactions without getting distracted
  3. Support to avoid, recognise, and correct errors

By anticipating and designing content that meets the needs of people with ADHD, not only will you be improving the experiences of this user group, but the experience of many other users.