Knowing what to expect (maybe my favorite accessibility principle)

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There are some useful principles to keep in mind when considering accessibility and inclusive design, but this one is probably my personal favorite. It helps a lot of people (including me, which makes it super important πŸ‘€) and can apply to so many situations. Always make sure people know what to expect.

Example #1 - The stop-and-go haircut

Let's start with a video clip I just came across on Reddit.

This is seven-year-old Ellison. He has down syndrome and struggles with sensory overload. His parents used to dread haircuts until they met Vernon Jackson, a local barber.

It's a feel-good video of a kid with down syndrome that apparently has issues with the sensory overload of getting their hair cut. In the clip you see them at a barber. The kid constantly says "stop" and "go" and the barber follows the instructions, untill the haircut is done. Both do so laughing. The kid is in control and knows exactly what to expect. This enables the haircut.

Example #2 - Presentation-progress

Have you ever been in a presentation that felt endless, and you had no idea how much more you had to endure? The uncertainty can be terrible. At least to me it can be. What helps is a Table of contents. Tell people at the beginning what you're going to tell. It helps them to know what to expect (and it helps you because clear chapters make it easier to create a presentation).

Another way to show progress is a Progressbar. I've started adding this PowerPoint-macro to my presentations. There are probably 1000 more ways to do this, this is just the way I happen to come across. The idea is that you show where you are in the presentation on every individual slide. It's a great bit of UX that is easy to add! Coincidentally, this UX can now also be found in a hobby of mine. Lego instruction booklets also feature a progress bar these days. If you're reading this and work at Lego: please share the tought process behind including this! Was it tested with audiences?

The Table of contents and Progressbar also do wonders for reading by the way. Got a big blog post or article? Add them in!

Example #3 - Signing up

Another practical example from the real life of Erik. We (my wife and I) had an option to sign our kid up for a workshop. Sign-ups opened at a certain time, and we signed up as quickly as possible. If my kid was included (there were limited spots), we would hear back.

We didn't hear back. Next workshop, we signed up even faster. We were probably not fast enough right? Wrong. Apparently somebody looked at all the sign-ups and selected who could join. Speed was not a factor.

If they had communicated this, we wouldn't have felt rushed to sign up. If they just communicate to everybody whether they were selected or not, we would not have been left in uncertainty.

We had a talk with the people organizing. They'll provide feedback to everybody next time. We now know how selection works (it's not the speed). Now we won't feel rushed. We now know what to expect. Major UX improvements for us (and other parents)!

Example #4 - Forms

Having a disability often means dealing with quite a few large organizations in your life. Whether it's for recieving benefits, being part of research or whatever reason, you're probably going to deal with a lot of forms.

(The fact that you're in your right to receive something doesn't mean you'll easily receive it. Another frustration/pet peeve of mine. I strongly dislike all the extra effort that comes to living with a disability, even though I'm thankful for all the support available.)

There forms have always been challenging. You start cheerfully because usually a form means you'll be supported in some way or another. Step X tells you you need a copy of proof Y. Then another step requires you to fill in a secondary form. Then you need to write a few paragraphs. In another step you'll need to dig out a document from your registration. And with every step you wonder how much more it will take. Maybe you emptied your evening to try and tackle the form, only to discover you won't be able to finish. And maybe you'll have another shot the next evening. And another. And another. And every failure makes it cost more energy. The form becomes insurmountable.

Recognizable? This goes for so many multi-step forms, both online and offline. Taxes are a great example. The process of applying for a job can also overlap with the issues listed. (Don't get me started on the terrible experience of trying to find a job.)

What helps? At the start of the form show how many steps there are, and what is required to fill in the entire form. Copies of documents, attachments, references, whatever is needed, please communicate it up front! It cuts up the un clear and (possibly) big task of filling in the form into smaller and more managable pieces. Instead of starting with something unmanagable and hoping you can finish, you can say "let's focus on steps 1 to N tonight". You know what to expect!

And there are plenty more

I probably run into an example of this daily. If you think about whatever you're working on, you can probably come up with some examples as well. Be upfront about what's coming, give control and communicate the status. Let people feel in control.

Who does it help?

I'd guess everybody appreciates this in some way or another, as is the case with many accessibility principles. It certainly applies to autistic people, people with brain injuries, people with AD(H)D, and probably all kinds of neurodiversity. I associate it with the executive functions of the brain.

Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember, and juggle multiple tasks.


Communicate what you're expecting from somebody, put them in control and give feedback on how that's going. Whether it's a web service, a sales process, a presentation, a job application, a meeting or anything else. This is how you empower people.

And as a side note. This blog post is an effort to post more often and more easily. This may result in less images and more typo's, but also more content in general. Thanks for taking your time to read this!

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