What is Inclusive Design?

Digital designers and developers often hear about the importance of accessibility; however, we also need to put an emphasis on inclusion. Inclusive design takes into consideration a larger population that will be able to use and access your website.

So what is Inclusive Design? Microsoft says it best:

Inclusive Design is a methodology, born out of digital environments, that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.

Or in short — it’s design for humans… ALL humans.

Where do we start with inclusive design?  Many of us designer have adapted, or at least have begun to adapt, to the accessibility standards that are set by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.  We know that text size, contrast and keyboard accessibility matters to those who may have an impairment.  However, there may be times even some of us who have hearing loss or have a visual impairment may benefit from adaptive design.

Recognize Exclusion

Humans are incredibly adaptable as a species, and it’s important to make sure our designs also have the ability to adapt to any user that experiences our software or website.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do your designs rely on heavy audio or visual elements?
  2. How would a deaf or even a blind person use your site?
  3. How would a person who didn’t have the use of their hands be able to use your mobile app?

Think about situational exclusions:

  • How many times have we been in an area where we could benefit from captions or a transcript of a video?
  • Have we traveled to a part of the country and are on 3g wireless connections?
  • How would your design be received by even these users?

Drop Your Personal Bias

The more we remember that we are not our audience, the better.  This is where user testing becomes absolutely critical.

We recently developed an app for a healthcare organization and realized that part of the form asked for a home address. What we didn’t realize was that some of the end users would be homeless or in transitional housing. Fortunately, we uncovered that in user testing. We also learned that some end users were hesitant to even give us this information due to their current situations. We even ran across issues with the touch screen being an issue with people with long fingernails.

These would never have been considered by our team had we not gone to the community and tested our designs with actual users.

Provide Control

Allow users to be able to interact with your site how they want to use the internet.  Do not disable the ability to zoom, change the contrast, or even the text size. If your design calls for infinite scrolling, consider adding in a “learn more” option for those use the keyboard to navigate because they will never be able to fully use your site.

Did you know some users find parallax design to be nauseating?  Give them the ability to stop the scroll.

Give Options

Allowing your users to be able to complete the same task, in different ways, can make the experience better.  Consider how to swipe, delete, click and edit on a mobile device. This sort of design element allows a user to use the site or software as they are comfortable.

Another idea? Give accessible alternatives. Why hide data tables for infographics just for screen readers?  These would be useful to other users as well.

We don’t want to alienate users or make them feel uncomfortable just because we want certain features in our designs. Designs become seamless when we allow our users to interact with the web as they want. Let us take what we have learned from accessible design and expand it to include more than just that small group of users.