Lately, I have been focusing on my awareness and appreciation of inclusive design in the digital space.

A few years ago I attended a talk by accessibility expert Robin Christopherson (@usa2day) who drew my attention to both ethical and commercial considerations of accessibility.

Of particular note, was the introduction of the term “Tabs” which is how many disabled folks refer to everyone else. TAB standing for “Temporarily Able Bodied”. Typically, we think of “being disabled” as someone with a significant disability such as blindness, deafness or the inability to walk. The truth is, however, disability covers a much broader spectrum of limitations. This includes less obvious disabilities such as partial-sightedness, colour blindness (which affects 1 in 10 men) or arthritis. Not to mention completely invisible disabilities that are an effect of mental health or mental impairment. Some of these issues will almost certainly affect all of us at some point in our lives. Hence the term “temporarily” and within such, the lesson to not view accessibility as a “doesn’t affect me” topic.

What is Inclusive Design?

An approach gaining in popularity is “inclusive design”, a very positive take on the subject. Inclusive design shifts the thinking away from being a design burden to cater for those with exceptional requirements (as is often the viewpoint when considering accessibility) towards an opportunity to increase the total reach and benefit for everyone.

Every design decision has the potential to include or exclude customers. Inclusive design emphasizes the contribution that understanding user diversity makes to inform these decisions, and thus to include as many people as possible. User diversity covers variation in capabilities, needs and aspirations.
Cambridge University Inclusive Design Toolkit

Examples of inclusive design

Choosing a colour palette that will be visible by default to the largest possible audience without requiring a “colourblind mode”.

If approached from day 1 with this mindset, there is no additional burden on either the design or implementation teams and all users will get the same experience. If colourblindness is reviewed at the end of the project then there will be additional overhead and users who require this feature will be singled out which negatively calls out their disability.

Creating a mobile app/website input mechanic that can be utilised with one hand.

By catering to this requirement, your product is made accessible to those who have lost or were born without the ability to use both hands. Additionally, your product is now immediately accessible to a vast array of additional contexts. Parents carrying a child, commuters holding handrails, someone who is carrying something. Your potential engagement has increased vastly.

Bigger fonts

Even simply increasing the default size of text and buttons in your UI can have a huge impact. Particularly when considering the many different situations and contexts screens are viewed today from desktops/laptops to living room TVs to phones and wearables.

Inclusiveness and diversity

A key aspect of inclusive design, as pointed out in the toolkit definition above, is “understanding user diversity”. This builds on what I consider the most important skill in design work, empathy. Understanding how someone other than yourself might use something is absolutely key to creating a great experience for the widest possible audience.

Further reading:

Post instigated from this great example that floated by on Twitter: