Designing For All: Navigating The Worlds Of Inclusive And Accessible Design

Today, there is a growing need for designs, spaces, physical and digital products and services that are inclusive and accessible. However, have you ever taken a moment to consider the distinction between these two terms?

Although they go hand in hand and often overlap, they both carry distinct meanings. And they both significantly influence how we create and maintain designs – both physical and digital.

Accessibility aims to ensure that products and spaces are user-friendly, especially for individuals with disabilities. Meanwhile, inclusive design involves considering the diverse needs of people more generally.

Improving accessibility or inclusivity can be as straightforward as adding braille to signs or enlarging text on a website. But the crucial question is whether these actions represent accessible or inclusive design.

In this article, we dive into the similarities and key differences between inclusivity and accessibility, emphasising their importance in fostering designs that embrace a full range of human diversity and ensure equal access for everyone.

Whether you’re a web designer looking to better understand universal design, a UX designer looking to create more inclusive digital content or simply want to appeal to a wider demographic – we’ve got it covered.

 

Breaking Barriers: Understanding Accessible And Inclusive Design

Have you ever stepped into a building, picked up a product or visited a website and immediately felt out of place? Perhaps the layout wasn’t user-friendly, the font was too small, or there weren’t any options to cater to your needs. It can be alienating and frustrating when designs fail to cater to the needs of everyone.

Unfortunately, accessible and inclusive designs aren’t universally adopted. In truth, it’s not uncommon for businesses across all sectors to assume that their users are non-disabled.

When we use accessible and inclusive design, it greatly improves the lives of all users. Inclusive design aims to provide a good user experience to all users, no matter who they are or what they can do. Accessibility focuses on results – whether the content is useful to people with disabilities.

Here’s exactly what they mean:

Inclusive design

Inclusive design embraces diversity. It caters to all backgrounds, abilities and identities and aims to make sure that everyone feels included and can fully take part, no matter who they are.

Location, situational disabilities, perspectives, and any other factors that may impact the ability of people are all taken into consideration. The ultimate goal is to create a flexible environment that can adapt to everyone’s needs without the need to find workarounds.

Accessible design

This practice removes barriers, providing equal access for people with disabilities.

Essentially, accessibility is a part of inclusive design. It helps individuals with various physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments to navigate and interact with their surroundings independently.

 

Accessible Vs. Inclusive Design: The Key Differences

Accessible and inclusive design both aim to promote equal opportunities. However, they approach this goal differently. Here’s a list of the key differences:

Scope

  • Accessible design ensures individuals with disabilities can access, use and benefit from products, services and environments.
  • Inclusive design is for everyone. It focuses on creating products, services, or environments that can be used by as many people as possible. It considers those with unrecognised disabilities and interface interaction issues, including permanent, situational and temporary disabilities.

Outcome

  • Accessible design is aimed at helping a particular group of people with disabilities. A focus is placed on delivering clear results as well as end products that enhance the lives of those with disabilities.
  • Inclusive design is a more comprehensive approach. It challenges designers to make products easier for everyone to use. Essentially, it’s a methodology for creating designs that are usable by a broad range of users.

Legality

  • Accessible design has standards by law. In the UK, the Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate against various groups, including disabled people. It also mentions that organisations need to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that their services, including both physical and digital aspects like websites, apps, and PDF documents, are accessible to everyone.Various government and industry groups have published standards and guidelines which offer advice on designing and creating products for people with different needs.
  • Inclusive design is not necessitated by law in the same way. Largely, it relies on product testing and creativity to help make designs user-friendly for all.

Approach

  • Inclusive design aims to integrate diversity and inclusivity into the design process itself. It involves considering a wide range of user needs, preferences, and abilities from the initial stages of design.
  • Accessible design involves adjusting existing designs to accommodate disabled people. It focuses on ensuring compliance with standards and implementing specific features or technologies (e.g., ramps, braille signage, screen readers) to enable access for disabled people.

 

Inclusive Vs. Accessible Design: The Key Similarities

  • Diversity matte­rs. Both inclusive and accessible de­signs cater to a range of user type­s, no matter their skills or abilities.
  • User first. Both focus on the­ user’s journey, aiming to craft products and spaces fit for e­veryone’s nee­ds.
  • Barrier free. The­y’re both keen on knocking down any obstacle­s, physical, mental, or emotional, to ensure­ equal use for all.
  • Continuous improvement. Both advocate for ongoing improvement and refinement based on feedback and evolving user needs.
  • Intersectionality. Both consider the intersectionality of identities and needs, recognising that individuals may have multiple aspects influencing their interaction with a product or environment.

 

Access For All: Essential Accessibility Principles

Developed for web accessibility, the POUR principles can be applied to almost any accessibility issue. These are the four guiding principles of the WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines). Let’s take a closer look in detail.

Perceivable

In all design, it’s essential that all users can easily understand the content. Regardless of whether they have limited vision, hearing, or tactile sensitivity.

As a designer, you need to make sure everyone can understand and access the content you create. This means removing obstacles and providing options to prevent discrimination. In both physical and web design, this includes:

  • Offer alternatives. For different sensory needs, make sure information is available in a variety of formats (alt text, audio, video). The use of captions, large print, braille, sign language and symbols will be necessary to accomplish this.
  • Pay attention to contrast and readability. Help visually impaired people with good colour contrast and readable font sizes.
  • Offer multimedia alternatives. Ensure accessibility of multimedia content for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Provide captions, transcripts and audio descriptions.
  • Use clear and consistent design. Maintain a consistent design language throughout your product. Consistency helps users understand and predict the interface elements.
  • Be consistent with information placement. Keep important information consistently located to help users build mental models of the environment.

Operable

Everyone should be able to use your design or website. In physical design, consider the following:

  • Accessible facilities. Provide accessible bathrooms, ramps, lifts and parking spaces to accommodate people with disabilities.
  • Lighting and contrast. Ensure adequate lighting in all areas to help those with visual impairments. Use high-contrast colours for signage and important information.
  • Tactile elements. Incorporate tactile elements, like braille signs and textured surfaces, to assist those with visual or cognitive impairments.
  • Clear navigation. Ensure that physical spaces have clear signage and pathways to guide people efficiently. Consider the needs of those using mobility aids, such as wheelchairs or walkers.

In web design, consider these factors:

  • Keyboard accessibility. All functionalities should be accessible via a keyboard for users without a mouse.
  • A clear navigation system. For intuitive interaction, create easy-to-navigate interfaces with consistent menus and controls.
  • There is sufficient time. Make sure users have plenty of time to read and engage with content. Avoid setting time limits that could leave some users out.

Understandable

Your designs should be easy to understand, navigate, and access. In both physical and web design, you must:

  • Keep your language simple and clear. To make content understandable to a wider audience, use plain language and avoid jargon. Use appropriate language and aim for an accessible reading level.
  • Be consistent and predictable. Aim for consistency in design, layout, and functionality to avoid confusion.
  • Be as detailed as possible. Whenever possible, define unusual words, phrases, idioms, and abbreviations.
  • Provide user-friendly controls. Design controls, buttons and interfaces with intuitive and universally understood symbols. Use consistent colours to represent similar functions.
  • Provide consistent information architecture. Maintain a consistent layout and organisation of spaces to help users understand the environment. Clearly define zones and functions within a physical space.

Robust

The content and products you create should be compatible with a wide range of user agents, including screen readers and assistive technologies. In both physical and web design, you should consider:

  • Compatibility. Ensure usability and compatibility with different assistive technologies. These include screen readers, hearing aids, wheelchairs, magnifiers, and voice recognition software.
  • Standards compliance. Adhere to web accessibility standards like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for cross-platform compatibility.

 

Guiding You Through Design Choices

1. Understand user limitations

In order to design for a diverse range of people inclusively, you first need to understand who they are. Their limitations, desires, different abilities and pain points.

Ultimately, if you don’t understand what your users need, how can you make products and spaces that satisfy them?

Inclusive designs take into account a diverse range of physical and cognitive capabilities, identities and environments affecting user experiences. In order for your designs to be inclusive, you must consider those with various disabilities, including visual, hearing, motor and cognitive impairments. Think about what limitations they might encounter and how you can help them overcome them.

Learning how people adapt to technological barriers in different contexts can improve inclusion and accessibility. Listen to user feedback and be ready to adapt your designs regularly.

2. Put people at the heart of your design process

Creating inclusive designs requires putting people at the centre of the process. Considering the human experience when designing a product ensures that it is not only practical, but deeply connected to its intended users.

Ultimately, taking into account your user’s needs, actions and feelings results in a more comprehensive, flexible and useful design.

Inclusivity and accessibility aren’t box-ticking exercises. They drive positive change and truly matter. So whatever you do, don’t lose sight of the real-world impact your design efforts have on people’s lives.

Avoid shortcuts. Invest the time to ensure your design decisions truly enhance human experiences. Test, refine and test again, involving real people early and often. Actively seek out and include users in every stage of the design process to eliminate barriers and address instances where individuals may feel excluded.

3. Acknowledge diversity and difference

Diversity and difference form the bedrock of inclusive design. To truly grasp user needs, it’s crucial to acknowledge the varying backgrounds, cultures, and abilities that people bring.

Embracing this diversity paves the way for designs that are inherently more considerate and accommodating.

Be mindful of your own biases and take active steps to eliminate them. Foster diversity within your workplace, incorporate inclusive imagery in your designs that reflects a spectrum of ethnicities, genders, ages, and abilities. Embrace training and learning opportunities, and consistently factor in the cultural context of your users, considering aspects like language, symbols, and customs.

4. Provide choice

Ensure your designs are adaptable, emphasising the importance of your design team prioritising choice, acknowledging that users have diverse preferences and requirements.

Steer clear of a one-size-fits-all approach. Ultimately, users should have the flexibility to complete tasks in various ways.

Incorporating flexible solutions that can be adapted to meet different users’ needs is a key component of accommodating diverse requirements. Offering a range of options and customisable features enables individuals to tailor their experience to meet their specific needs.

 

Parting Thoughts

Ultimately, inclusive and accessible design involves dismantling barriers that are all too often upheld.

At Studio Noel, we believe that good design is equitable design, and are committed to dismantling any discriminatory design work. If you’re seeking to make your business more accessible or your content more universal, feel free to drop us a line. We would love to help.

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