When it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent, HR professionals are continually looking for ways to ensure their organisation stands out from the crowd.

In a world where remote and hybrid working have become the norm, many businesses are now reliant on digital technology to recruit, onboard, train and generally communicate with employees. This has undoubtedly had a positive impact, with businesses able to recruit from a range of backgrounds and geographies, expanding the pool of potential talent available to them.

However, what if I said that, despite this, many businesses are effectively locking out a large proportion of the workforce, and therefore potential talent, by failing to get to grips with digital accessibility?

When it comes to attracting talent, the fact is that those with access needs make up a significant proportion of the talent pool. But, while the use of technology in the workplace is now expected, many people are still being effectively excluded from digital tools and communications that don’t adequately cater to their requirements.

This could be due to a range of conditions, including sight and hearing impairments, reading or cognitive difficulties, fine motor difficulties – which make it harder to control a mouse – or more general impairments associated with ageing.

Often this ‘exclusion’ starts with the recruitment process, which means that employers are effectively falling at the first hurdle. Beyond, that, there are at least 10 points in the employee journey where digital accessibility needs could come into play.

This is particularly true when catering for a neurodivergent workforce. It is estimated that around one in seven people – more than 15% of people in the UK – are neurodivergent, which means that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Neurodivergent experiences can range from autism to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), to dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Neurodivergent people are increasingly recognised by organisations as bringing unique perspectives, ideas and talents to the workplace – in fact, ‘Dyslexic Thinking’ is now a recognised LinkedIn skill.

However, when looking at the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) – which are the technical standards for delivering accessibility in websites and apps – the needs of neurodiverse people are not well represented. Multiple sets of guidelines have been created to bridge this gap, but they are contradictory and inconsistent.

So, how do you make sure your organisation is able to recruit neurodiverse people and enable them to thrive in your working culture?

Prioritising digital accessibility

The challenge is that everybody with a neurodiverse condition is unique, which means their accessibility requirements are unique as well. HR teams, designers and content authors want guidelines to say yes or no, black or white. But that doesn’t really work in this context, when there are many different preferences.

We have worked with the National Autistic Society to research and develop a set of recommended guidelines to help companies understand how to design for these important audiences.

Based on user research with people with autism and dyslexia, these guidelines capture and help companies understand people’s user needs.

For example, people with autism can be task-focussed, so if they can’t quickly find the information they’re looking for early on a page, they will leave. Similarly, too much information can be overwhelming, as they can find it hard to filter out what is important and what isn’t.

With that in mind, there are a few key points that HR teams should consider if they want to unlock the talent within a neurodiverse workforce:

  1. Attract new recruits with inclusive design: Many people get overwhelmed by too much detail, so keep your website simple. Don’t have pages that require lots of scrolling and only include information your potential recruits will need. It is also preferable to support personalisation when it comes to websites. Allowing the user to change the text and background colours on your website would help potential neurodivergent talent to engage with your company. Similarly, ensuring your website’s colours respond to dark mode shows you’ve considered different people’s preferences.
  1. Adapt the recruitment process: Simple adjustments to how you recruit potential employees can transform a neurodivergent candidate’s experience. On application forms, ensure that people have time to apply for the job and there are no timeouts. Ask people if they need any adjustments to your interviews or competency tests to suit their needs, for example, additional time to complete tests, and interview rooms or video calls without bright colours (especially red) which can cause distraction and anxiety.
  1. Training and employee engagement: Many neurodivergent employees don’t necessarily like face-to-face communication. As such, requiring them to make eye contact in interviews may stop them from giving their best answers. Similarly, e-learning, or at least remote learning, could be a preferable way of conducting training or communicating company news than face-to-face – just ask if they have a preference.

Embedding digital accessibility to attract future neurodiverse talent

Without doubt, when it comes to attracting the best talent, great minds don’t always think alike. A neurodiverse workforce can bring new and valuable perspectives to your organisation as employees are often creative thinkers and strategic problem solvers. As a result, many companies, particularly those in the creative and technology industries, are recognising the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce, which also include increased productivity and employee loyalty, and improved reputation.

This is why it is so important to ensure your digital communications are accessible to all – it could open the door to a pool of untapped talent.

That said, great accessibility is only possible if senior leadership is on board, and the whole organisation is aware of it and actively ensures it is part of the design and creation of any digital communications, and procurement of digital tools.

The good news is that digital accessibility is becoming a bigger focus, with many businesses across multiple sectors taking positive steps to improve their performance. A proactive approach to digital accessibility benefits everyone, and getting it right unlocks a whole world of potential talent and advocates that may have previously been overlooked.

However, there is still work to be done. For many organisations, this will require a shift in how products are designed, developed, tested and fixed, how suppliers and partners are contracted, and how all teams approach digital accessibility training.

But, the opportunity is there. The benefits of getting digital accessibility right can be huge, not only in terms of attracting and retaining talent, but also in terms of improved reputation and increased revenue.

So, when it comes to digital accessibility, can your organisation afford to get left behind?

Founder and CEO at Hassell Inclusion | + posts

Jonathan is CEO at Hassell Inclusion and has over 20 years' experience in identifying new directions and challenges in digital accessibility and finding efficient process and technology solutions. He is the lead author of the International Accessibility Standard ISO 30071-1. He leads Hassell Inclusion's team of accessibility experts providing strategic accessibility transformation services to organisations worldwide.