An example of Ikea’s furniture instructions ‘aimed at everyone‘, in an Ikea representative’s words.

I’m talking about instructions for STUFF. Stuff like furniture, appliances, or even the small stuff like putting batteries in one of those automated bathroom sprays that puffs a smell out if we walk into the room.

Instructions are hard. And part of this is that they’re inconsistent. Certain Swedish flatpack furniture suppliers like their diagrams, let’s call them Ikea. This, I imagine, is to prevent having to put instructions in different languages.  But they can be utterly baffling to us if we don’t have the piece of paper the same way up as the thing that’s in front of us, or we can’t see the tiniest differences in screws that make all the difference if we get them wrong. These instructions are hard for me, but they are at least easier than written instructions – visual clues are everything.

There are instructions that tell us the tricky parts but overlook the simplest things, like turning it on and opening the battery compartment. There are the ones that are the size of an encyclopaedia, which make them immediately impossible to face, despite the fact that if you do face them, you’ll find that 97 of 100 pages will be in other languages. What a waste of paper!

Written instructions make my soul (if I had one) wither and give up. Generally, I store them all in a drawer and never open them. When the car goes wrong, my husband and I will say (jokingly) what a shame that we don’t have a manual that will help us. Neither of us read manuals. We just figure it out.

For me, I’ve found that watching a related YouTube video, where they show you visually what to do, and you can pause it after each stage, is so so much more valuable. I highly recommend that approach if written or Ikea-diagram instructions blow your mind.

An ideal set of instructions would surely be available in:

  • simple step-by-step written instructions, with no assumptions being made.
  • Picture/diagrammatic format, again, with no assumptions.
  • A YouTube video with each stage clearly shown in close up and from distant perspectives and with the option to slow down the audio instructions for those who are visually impaired or have processing delays.

That would be an inclusive set of instructions.

Remember, instructions are written by neurotypicals, for neurotypicals. If they don’t work for you, that’s completely normal.

Talking to Ikea on how to improve their instructions so that they are inclusive:

I’ve just called Ikea and asked to be put through to the department who deals with furniture instructions. This is how it went:

Me: Hello, I’d like to talk to someone about improving your instructions so that they are more inclusive. I’m phoning as an autistic person and I know that you claim to be autism-friendly.

Them: Er. Do you want a specific piece of furniture designed?

Me: No. Do you even know what autism is?

Them: I’ve heard of it.

Me: Great. So can you please put me through to someone where I can give feedback on your very limited instructions?

[Ten minutes on hold later]

Them: Hello. I really don’t understand where to direct you. I don’t even know what it is you want.

Me: I want to give helpful information to the people who design your furniture instructions, so that they can be more usable by autistic people.

Them: I’ll give you an email address for feedback.

Me: No. I’ve done that. I want to talk to the person that makes a big fuss about your ‘Autism Plus’ scheme. Implying that you’re all trained to understand autism and that your company is autism-friendly.

[Ten minutes on hold}

Them: I can only give you a feedback form. Our instructions are designed to suit everyone, not just autistic people.

Me: Well, that’s my entire point. One set of instructions doesn’t suit every person. Some need audio, some need video, some need written, some need diagrams. You cannot call yourself an autism-friendly organisation unless you are prepared to understand and respond to this.

Them: I’ll just put you through to someone.

[Ten minutes later]

A different them: What exactly is it that you want?

Me: I want to improve the instructions for your furniture construction that will be more inclusive. I want to talk to the person who deals with that, specifically with regard to the needs of autistic people. Are you autism-aware?

Them: Hmm, I’ve heard of it. I can send you a feedback form.

Me: No. I want to speak to the person who decides how best your instructions can be designed, to be inclusive.

Them: I can only offer you a feedback form.

Me: But you brag about being autism-friendly. You’re part of something called autism-plus.

Them: Please give me that website address. And please hold.

After 35 minutes they cut me off and that was the end of that. Fantastic. We have some way to go before those organisations who claim to be autism-friendly actually have a clue what autism even is and what our needs are. There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the entire organisation who is responsible for instructions – no wonder they’re so bad – they’re probably designed by a robot.