Why a lack of neurodiversity is hurting brands

Marketing that engages neurodiverse people is rare yet by being inclusive, brands could win as many as one in 10 buyers. Here, we look at how marketers can embrace this segment

Brands are likely to be missing out on reaching as much as 12 per cent of Australians when they fail to create marketing accessible to neurodiverse people. 

According to Neurodiversity Media CEO, Rachel Worsley, people with dyslexia, autism, ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, dyscalculia (difficulty applying maths principles) and dysgraphia (difficulty turning language sounds to text) make up one in eight Australians. Neurodiversity is a free, evidence-based learning portal which equips people to fulfil their neurodivergent potential in the workplace.

Numbers around the neurodiverse population are hard to define exactly because many neurodiverse people have more than one condition. However, Neurodiversity Hub estimates the world’s neurodiverse population as at least 10 per cent of all people. 2019 research by Deloitte Australia found ADHD alone affected 3 per cent of adults aged 15 years and older.

“It’s a no-brainer that businesses should be marketing to us,” says Worsley, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism as an adult and graduated with first-class honours in law. “Day to day, it would be great to see more visual representation of people who are neurodiverse. The number of people who’ve said to me they feel alone is tragic - because there’s so many of us.

“When it comes to marketing brands, and when it comes to improving the bottom line, you want to get your message across in an inclusive way. If you’re not thinking about those things, you are missing out on people engaging with your brand. Good marketing is about engaging with people the way they want you to.” 

One of the ways accessibility in marketing can be achieved is through captioning, Worsley says. Captions are good for people who are less comfortable with video, lights and moving images.

“I don’t like watching videos, I prefer reading to watching,” she explains. “I also struggle to process auditory material. So just the fact that brands are not really thinking about those basic things means I don’t engage with that content and I’m not interested in buying from them.” 

Yet on the other hand, people who are dyslexic have a problem with captions. As a result, Worsely advocates marketing that covers text, audio and video by working from an inclusive strategy from the start. 

“People say that’s hard to do, but I say what’s the flip-side: Losing the market you’re ignoring if you don’t?” she asks.  

Rachel WorsleyCredit: Neurodiversity Media
Rachel Worsley


Tools in this space are rapidly evolving to help marketers more quickly create more accessible experiences, such as more accessible fonts, caption creation and options for users themselves to customise a site. Worsley also estimates putting out socially inclusive video or images onto social media with captions would take only an extra half-hour to an hour.

Stereotyping people with neurodiverse conditions is another concern for Worsley. She points out marketers who include neurodiverse people in their marketing typically show a person living with an obvious challenge, then show a support service coming in to help them. Such a narrow stereotype is not fully inclusive and can at times be infantilising and alienating, Worsley says.

However, she agrees this “missing middle” segment is harder to represent because it can seem invisible. 

“What you often get in a movie or in marketing is those [people] who have additional challenges ….  you see that extreme side, feel sorry for them - it’s like inspiration porn. But you don’t see people like me who have a job or go to university; we may struggle in other ways but on the surface, we seem to be doing fine,” she continues.

“You don’t see that person [represented] or we don’t talk about it. But we do have buying power, we have professional jobs. The fact we don’t get to see ourselves is very discouraging.” 

Achieving inclusivity

Web-based accessibility software firm, Recite Me, has been using personal stories of neurodiverse people applying for jobs, navigating a website and doing the everyday things all people do. Worsley believes this empowers neurodiverse people. Recite Me also offers an assistive toolbar visitors to a site can use to customise it to be more accessible for them. 

Another firm helping marketers more quickly create widely accessible content is video production platform, Clipchamp. Features such as automatic captioning using speech-to-text technology, text-to-speech voice-overs, as well as colour and contrast features, can be used to tailor content to dyslexic audiences. 

As well as representing a range of neurodiverse people rather than only those with more extreme challenges, Worsley recommends showing neurodiverse people telling their own stories, not a neurotypical narrator telling it for them. She cites a video by IBM promoting IBM as an inclusive employer, which used a neurotypical narrator and drew enough negative feedback to sway IBM to re-edit the video to include narration by the subjects. The decision was met with critical acclaim. 

As well as personal and empowering stories of neurodiverse people, Worsley advises using neurodiverse ambassadors in campaigns. 

For brands willing to explore the many ways their campaigns and communications can be made more accessible, the rewards are high. Not only does word-of-mouth spread extra fast among the community, but supporters and often the wider population will support more empathetic and accessible brands too. 

“When you produce quality marketing for neurodiverse people, I see that news spread like wildfire through social media,” Worsley says. “This audience will do the marketing for you – because so few marketers do make the effort to be more accessible. 

“And there’s a multiplier because it’s not only communicating with the neurodiverse community but their families and their supporters, too.” 

While Neurodiversity Media's audience is up to 60 per cent neurodivergent people, the balance comprises family members, employers and HR professionals. Depending on membership, there’s access to resources including a communication checklist, guides and blogs which could inform marketers or anyone wanting to learn more about the neurodiverse community.  

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here. 

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