Inclusive design means building products and services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many users as possible without the need for special adaptations. One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Persons with disabilities, on average as a group, are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities. But inclusive design isn’t only about including persons with disabilities but also people without disabilities that are just using a small phone, have a slow internet connection or just can’t find their glasses.
Let’s take, for example, web accessibility. It means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web and also contribute to the Web.
Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual. Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, for example: people using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc., older people with changing abilities due to ageing, people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses or people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio.
Reginé Gilbert, user experience designer and educator, notes on her last book Inclusive Design for a Digital World, “As designers, part of our role is to balance user goals, the experience, and understanding the needs of the business as well.” You need to detect who is being left out of an experience or why a certain UX can be frustrating. Gilbert points that “If it’s annoying it’s probably not accessible.” And it’s true.
The first step is to actually think about it. You need to think there are users that may have a disability and you need to make sure that your team realizes that’s something that can and probably will happen. Your apps will be used by people who are probably not represented by the User Personas you build.
You need to ask yourself who, what, when, where, how, and why are people interacting with your product? Are you solving a problem? Are you making things easier? Designing with empathy isn’t just the right thing to do but the future of design.
The 7 Principles of Universal Design were developed in 1997 by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, led by the late Ronald Mace in the North Carolina State University. The purpose of the Principles is to guide the design of environments, products and communications. According to the Center for Universal Design in NCSU, the Principles "may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments."
- Principle 1: Equitable Use
- Principle 2: Flexibility in Use
- Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use
- Principle 4: Perceptible Information
- Principle 5: Tolerance for Error
- Principle 6: Low Physical Effort
- Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and User
This principles aren’t thought specifically for digital products, of course, but we can take them and apply them to digital products. You can learn more information about each principle here. There are small changes you can do that will definitely mean a lot.
- Use the color contrast checker while designing. It will help people with low vision or users that are staring at their phones outside in the sun.
- Resize text. Let users make it larger or smaller according to their needs.
- Keep it simple. Don’t let users get lost.
- Make forms that don’t require more information that’s needed.
- Think of users who may be using alternatives to keyboards.
Users must be able to perceive the information being presented, users must be able to operate the interface, users must be able to understand the information and we must provide robust content that users can access as technologies advance. The work of designing with accessibility at the forefront is a cross-functional team effort. It’s not easy when you are used to other processed but once you see it it can’t be unseen. Once you know people with low vision are looking at your product, you are responsible for giving them a great experience too. We all need inclusive design.