More than a buzzword: How can we make our businesses more neurodiverse-friendly for our customers? 

Side note: We’re not trained clinicians but we do offer our professional experience, having worked with clients across various industries. Enjoy!

Neurodiversity is more common than we realise…

We’ve heard a lot about neurodiversity in business, but we’ve been slow to create and embrace neurodivergent-friendly workplaces – which have direct flow-on effects for our customers. Around 12% of us are neurodivergent (ND) – that’s more than 3 million Aussies we could be marketing our services to! With a history of NDs being misunderstood and underrepresented – this number could be even higher. ND is often used to describe people with Autism but the term can be used to describe any person with a mental function that varies from the neurotypical population – including those with ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, Dyslexia, sensory processing sensitivities, and more. As a team that’s always looking to improve inclusivity, we decided to look at a few businesses that are doing it well and offer some practical tips along the way. 
 

Bricks and mortar businesses…

 
 
For many neurodivergent (ND) customers, going to busy public areas like the supermarket can be overwhelming and overstimulating. While every ND person is different, Quinine describes these experiences beautifully – for NDs, general conversations can sound like yelling, flashing lights can feel nauseating and fragrances can be so overpowering that you almost taste it. While the latter may sound cool, you can imagine how NDs with sensory processing issues can cause hyperarousal, distress, and meltdowns in these environments. As a solution for customers with sensory sensitivities, Coles Australia introduced ‘Quiet Hour’ with ‘quieter’ conditions, including dimmed lights, no store announcements, and no checkout beepers. And it’s not just Coles – Vodafone Ireland introduced Autism-friendly shopping hours to eliminate long wait times, reduce service noise, and reserve priority seating for customers and their service dogs. By improving their inclusivity, these brands opened up their businesses to a broader audience, which is not only wonderfully kind but it gives them an edge over their competitors and is lucrative for their business. 
 
Tips: 
  • The first step that any business owner can take is to understand what neurodiversity is, and what this may look like in your customer audience. Speaking to customers on the ground can help you decipher their unique needs. 
  • Offer a dedicated ‘quiet’ 1-2 hour block to support NDs within your regular opening hours. For those worried about isolating neurotypical customers, don’t worry! You’ll only widen your customer audience.
  • Training staff to navigate customers experiencing emotional disregulation can help us create a safe and understanding environment for all customers. If training resources are minimal, select one or two trained staff members to help out.
  • Make store navigation easy – using a clear aisle product list like Coles, and clearly defined shopping zones and floor stickers will improve accessibility. 

eCommerce businesses…

 

 
For smaller business owners or those with smaller budgets, there are other cost-effective ways to ensure your business is neurodivergent-friendly. For e-commerce businesses or any business owner with a website, a few small tweaks to your UX design can have a huge impact on your consumers and your business. Avoid using GIFs or animations with flashing images or high contrast colours that can interrupt information processing, impact concentration and cause sensory difficulties for ND consumers. Apart from being a real nuisance to NDs (and neurotypicals), these design choices can deter ND consumers, reduce brand retention and impact your sales if consumers are leaving your webpage without a second thought. Using clear, readable font type, bolding titles, headers or parts of paragraphs, and using closed captions on your video content can also have a big impact on NDs who struggle with information retention. 
 
Tips 
  • It’s not always easy to identify design choices that may deter your ND consumers. We recommend using WEBAIM’s Contrast Checker – you can upload your HTML colour code to retrieve a contrast ratio for your webpage. 
  • Many website builder sites like WIX, offer business owners the option to tick a box in the edit view to view captions. YouTube also offers this feature which is super handy for those using inputting directly from the site. 
  • Use free heat mapping technology such as SmartLook to measure mouse moves and click-through rate. You’ll be able to ascertain which parts of your webpage consumers are focusing on and which ones they aren’t – then use these insights to inform the rest of your website.

Service based businesses…

 
For any service business, whether you’re a brokerage firm, a psychology practice, a beauty business, or something else entirely, there’s a few simple ways you can implement neurodivergent-friendly practices into your routine. Setting plans and sticking to them (e.g., sticking to set meeting times and work lunches) and avoiding cancellations can help boost a sense of safety, predictability, and confidence for NDs who struggle with last-minute schedule changes. Customising a ‘silent appointment’ can help service businesses empower NDs who struggle with social interaction and don’t want to voice their preferences. By designing meditative waiting rooms with low lighting and low-volume, calming music, you can help soothe stress and reduce overstimulation for NDs. And of course, happier consumers mean returning consumers and better business. 
 
Tips
  • Use the right terminology – while everyone has different preferences, using the word neurodiverse or neurodivergent in your marketing and communications is generally a safe bet and will foster inclusivity for NDs.
  • Giving consumers the option of a ‘silent’ or ‘no touch’ appointment is a great way to help NDs submit their preferences without the pressure of voicing them in person.
  • Engage a psychologist or professional educator to train staff about neurodiversity so they know what to look out for and can adapt their communications to support their consumers. You’ll also boost your entire team’s communication and empathy skills.  
 
If you’re feeling as inspired as we are (and in the middle of updating your business processes or systems), get in touch with our team.