Getting started with inclusive design and accessibility
There are 1 billion disabled people in the world. 14.6 million of those people live in the UK. This means at least 1 in 5 of your users are disabled.
If you want to practise human-centred design, you need to include disabled people.
Why practising inclusive design makes business sense
Inclusive design makes sense to create a better society. It helps remove barriers for disabled people. But it also makes sense for your business. Here are a few of my favourite reasons why.
1. Inclusive design is better design.
Inclusive design makes your product easier to use for everyone. A product that is more accessible for disabled people could also help someone who:
- is holding a baby
- has misplaced their glasses
- is in a loud environment
Having an accessible website also improves your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
2. You will have a competitive advantage.
An accessible website will attract loyal customers. Currently, 98% of major websites are failing to meet the minimum accessibility standards. So, there is a huge gap to fill in the market.
There are some basic accessibility rules you can use to get you started.
But to practice human-centred design, you need to involve people. And if you want truly inclusive design, you will involve people with different:
- conditions or impairments
Having a variety of people involved will teach you about different user experiences.
3. Accessibility will cost you more if you delay it.
If you plan for accessibility from the beginning, you can avoid expensive mistakes. This will cost you a lot less over time.
“One (gov) team reported a case where it took 2 to 3 sprints to deal with accessibility issues defined in an audit, at a cost of £50,000.”
What’s the difference between ‘inclusive design’ and ‘accessibility’?
I have used several terms. It may be useful to explain them here.
Human-centred design is a model that considers human perspectives in the design process.
Inclusive design is a way to include the full range of human diversity in that process.
Accessibility is about what makes an experience accessible to everyone. This originally focussed on disabled people’s needs.
When I started working on accessibility, one thing felt clear to me. Accessibility is a result of inclusive design (if it is done well).
Heydon Pickering explains it this way:
“Accessibility can never be perfect, but by thinking inclusively from planning, through prototyping to production, you can cast a much wider net. That means more and happier users at very little if any more effort.
If you like, inclusive design is the means and accessibility is the end — it’s just that you get a lot more than just accessibility along the way.”
Heydon Pickering, “What the heck is inclusive design”
How do I start thinking about accessibility?
For human-centred design, I recommend the Service Manual (GOV.UK). It is a fantastic user-friendly tool. You can also use it to think about inclusive design by using it with a more diverse group of people.
The standard for web accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Tutorials and tools are available.
WCAG can be intimidating. That’s why Scope’s business team has created plain English articles on the best practices. You can search for content you are interested in, or look for articles relevant to your work.
There are also articles from disabled people who use technology every day. This is a powerful way to see how it helps them, and how it can be frustrating when accessibility lets them down.
Creating an inclusive working environment: the basics
There are different ways you might involve people in your work, for example:
- phone interviews
- focus groups
- product testing
You should always check if people have any access needs. This helps make people feel valued. It will also make them feel more comfortable before you get to work.
When you are working in-person with disabled people, here are some useful tips:
- Make sure the venue is accessible and has accessible toilets. Many venues think they are accessible, but they have one step. This is already too many steps.
- Plan for snacks and refreshments. Ask people in advance if they have food requirements or allergies.
- Never touch people’s mobility aids without explicit permission. This could be wheelchairs, canes, or assistance dogs for example.
If you are facilitating a session, in-person or remotely:
- Ask people to raise a hand before they talk. This is especially important if someone is lip-reading. It is also useful to make sure everyone has a chance to contribute.
- Plan regular breaks. I try to have a 15-minute break every hour. Sometimes people will be happy to chat informally during this time. You might learn a lot from these informal moments.
If you are planning to consult or co-create with disabled people, you can hire companies to help you. Most will also help facilitate sessions if needed. Scope is one of these organisations. The Shaw Trust is another example.
Scope’s disability research panel
Scope has been working with disabled people for many years. This is how we have built a network of research panel members. These people have lived experience of disability. There are disabled people and parents of disabled children. They can share opinions about how products, services and policies impact their lives.
If you would like to get customer insight, we can support you with organising:
- focus groups
- one-to-one interviews
- product testing
This can be in-person or remotely. We can also provide facilitators to support you and your team.
Scope manages consent and rewards for each research participant. We can also help with safeguarding and accessibility issues.