Inclusive design refers to design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference. Inclusive design seeks to make the best possible product for the largest number of people. We are passionate about this topic for a number of reasons, and were thrilled to be able to present a session on it last week at Boulder Startup Week.
While considerations for those with some form of disability is only one facet of inclusive design, we chose to focus our session on it for the sake of time. We shared a bit of history, talked about motivation, and showed several real world examples that demonstrated how designing for accessibility improved the UX/UI for all.
We can’t cover all the details in this post, but we’ll share some big picture concepts and include some recommended readings on this topic. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to see some of the demos we shared or talk more specifically.
A Short History on Accessibility
Accessibility means different things to different people. In the physical world, you may think of wheelchair ramps, oversized bathroom stalls, or braille on signs. We’ve focused our attention on digital accessibility, in particular mobile accessibility. In all cases, accessibility is about granting access to everyone. It does not mean that everyone can do the same things, but it does mean they can derive similar benefits. (It may take longer to wheel up a ramp, but it means that a person in a chair can get to the same restaurant as the stairs takers.)
Since the 70s (in the US), we’ve taken continuous, but small, steps to accommodate people with disabilities. In the 70s, there was more of a focus on mental disabilities and access to free education. In the late 80s, we saw the federal government start to pay attention to assistive technologies. 1990 brought us the Americans with Disabilities Act—the most comprehensive civil rights protection for people with disabilities. In 2008, ADA expanded the definition of who is considered disabled. In 2010, online videos were required to have closed captioning. Then, in January of this year, new regulations took effect for web accessibility. Even with all of these positive changes, there is still much work to be done.
Motivation for Inclusive Design
Why should you care about accessibility and inclusive design? There are a number of reasons why people put forth the time and effort required to design with accessibility in mind. Here are a few of the most common:
Legal: Perhaps the most basic motivator, some design for accessibility solely to comply with the law. While we can still delight in the end result, such solutions are often the least creative since companies are doing just what it takes to meet the bare minimum of the law.
Financial: With one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experiencing some form of disability, a product’s potential user base is significantly increased if it is designed for those with disabilities.
Altruistic: Some design for accessibility because they feel it is just the right thing to do. It’s a matter of social justice and caring for people who might not be able to stand up for themselves. Many times, having even one personal connection to someone with a disability helps cast a vision for why accessible design matters at large.
Design Innovation: As noted in a blog by UX Matters, design is always driven by constraints. Balancing different constraints, including those presented by disability, often forces designers to think outside the box, thus inspiring innovative design solutions.
Some of these reasons are more pragmatic than others, but in the end, they all can help create better products for more people.
Getting Started with Accessible Design
Designing for accessibility cannot be an afterthought. It’s critical that you are consciously designing for relevant types of disabilities – even user profiles ought to take such needs into account. There are a wide range of potential impairments to consider (e.g. visual, hearing, cognitive or movement limitations), and each will differently affect the way users interact with an app. If you’re interested in hearing more about what we shared on this subject, a post we wrote earlier this fall, App Accessibility: Valuable for All Apps, would be a great place to start.
Resources for Accessibility & Inclusive Design
We’re excited to say that there are many great minds thinking about how to make better products for more people. Here are a few readings we recommend to you:
We are also always delighted to talk about this topic, so contact us at any time.