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Accessible Design and Inclusive Design

Key differences between Accessible Design and Inclusive Design

If we trace back the history of the world wide web we are going to notice that Accessible and Inclusive Designs have been ever-present since the beginning of the Internet. However, for certain reasons these types of designs have become burning questions for the last one or two decades. In union with Ethical and Responsible Designs, they create unique practices in the design field. As a result, we can see a huge step forward from developing designs for companies to developing designs for real people who use designed things, instead. 

However, the popularity of these notions erased the difference in their meanings. As a result, many of us may confuse them. There are situations when many clients and new designers may ask the question of whether Accessible Design and Inclusive Design are the same things. Thus, we have prepared an article where we will fully explain all ins and outs of these two crucial concepts. Let us start with the Accessible Design. 

A World of accessibility

accessible design
Accessibility

It is a fact that guidelines for web accessibility have been with people since the launch of the Internet. It is worth mentioning such a crucial figure as Tim Berners-Lee. Many experts believe that it was he who created the modern Internet. Moreover, he took part in the Seconds International Conference on the World-Wide Web in 1994 in Chicago and gave a presentation about the importance of disability access. 

After that event, more and more global and local organizations and companies rewriting their guidelines according to the new version. As a result, professionals created Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG 1.0). In May 1995 it was published by World-Wide Web Consortium. Many know it as the global authority that initiates and sets web standards and best practices all over the world. Their main goal is to manage the Internet to its full potential.

WCAG 1.0 had 14 major guidelines that have specific ranks and mentioned all the major and basic topics to make websites and the content. These guidelines could be applied to all social groups and could be read at any time on the Internet. Among the topics were understandable structures in navigation, not relying upon audio, video, color, and developing certain structures or content that could impair or change their appearance. After some years WCAG 2.0 came instead and nowadays we use as main version WCAG 2.1. All full versions can be found and easily accessed on the Internet. 

Usage of accessibility

So, if we look up the meaning of the adjective ‘accessible’, we are going to find the following meaning: easy to reach, speak with, approach, enter, use, etc. As you can see the meaning offers us quite a clear view of what this word has to mean in the usage of the web and digital design especially. Accessibility should mean that any person is able to make use of the digital design.  Thus, if you are a designer your main task is to create well-planned and developed designs that can be accessed and used by anyone. 

Any accessibility is formed on certain sizable facts, objective and is connected with logistical and technical truths. Thus, you as a designer can start with defining, measuring, and testing font sizes, contrast ratios, different text, browser variants, touch targets, etc. The main point of Accessible Design is to work out how feasible things can work for users. It does not mean that everyone has to use it, it just means that if a person with special needs will come upon it he or she can easily use it. Moreover, remember that Accessible Design is not about personal motives or some sordid motives. Even more, such design is not related to liking or disliking the product or services it is related to, moreover, it does not need the same popularity the product has. It just a design that is understandable for anyone.

Designers usually use two main rules for designing and developing their product that can be used by everyone:

  • Clearly see your audience, their limitations, disabilities, and other constraints.
  • Always add people with disabilities to your target audience. 

Inclusiveness of design

inclusive design
Inclusiveness of design

The meaning of inclusive design

While the accessible design has guidelines to include people who have special needs, the inclusive design looks for the diversity of experience that may exclude someone from using your platform at the highest quality possible. 

As a fact, each decision you make as a web designer has the possibility of including or excluding a user. 

Understanding user diversity makes a great contribution to making an informed decision and including as many people as possible. This means covering a variation in capabilities, needs, and aspirations. 

Accessibility is a core objective but inclusion means way more. Inclusive design aims to design an environment that is easily accessible and used by as many users as possible, including people of different ages, genders, and disabilities. 

An inclusive design will also be usable in open spaces, such as Hospitals, parks, train stations, or wherever else they might be. 

To achieve such design, potential users should be kept in mind in every stage of development and design process; from the design brief and detailed design through to construction and completion. 

It is important to include as many people as possible, as it is a win-win situation to be inclusive. It expands your reach and makes your company look responsible and trustworthy.

Inclusiveness of design and its importance

In general, Inclusive Design is also related to the same idea. This idea sounds that things that we create should be used by everyone. 

However, the major difference from Accessible Design is not about issues how everyone can use it, but whether these people truly need it and whether they feel secure while using it.

Moreover, in comparison with the first type, Inclusive Design is not about objectiveness or logic but subjectiveness and emotional aspects of usage. 

Thus, any designer while developing inclusiveness should utilize empathy, an understanding of human nature, and a general thought of how other humans would feel using it. 

In other words, when Accessible Designs asks users whether they hear/see its message, Inclusive designs ask users to take into consideration that exact message.

To prove our point, we are going to give you some more comparisons. 

Accessibility revolves around containers and structures that have your information, the specific channels that send that information, and the way that you are going to see that information. Inclusivity has two options. 

It is going to be carried or be lost somewhere based on the way the user is going to understand it. Thus, it is very important to think about what truly you are trying to tell your audience.

Questions you can ask yourself to see if your design is truly accessible:

  • Do you have some privilege?
  • What idea are you trying to implement in the design?
  • Does this idea have your unconscious thoughts?
  • Do you know what people feel after reading a specific message?
  • Is there any possibility that this message can be perceived in a wrong or even offensive way?
  • Does this idea include the experiences of other people?
  • Is the message targeted at a specific location and excludes other areas and people?

inclusivity is a specific policy or strategy of including groups of people who may be excluded for some reason. These groups of people can be people with mental or physical disabilities, minority groups, etc.

The difference between inclusive and accessible design

Accessibility is one of the main results of an inclusive design. On its own, it will not include a large part of the population, like the sections that do not have a defined need, or disabilities but problems interacting with the interfaces based on the situation or environment they are living in.

To better explain the difference between accessibility and inclusivity

To understand this concept more clearly, we are going to tell you an example from the real world.

Hundreds of years ago there were various gentleman’s clubs. As a rule, they were very conservative and allowed only specific members of society. 

Let’s for a moment imagine, that one of such clubs decided to modernize a little bit to be on the same page with the new requirements for accessibility. As a result, the club added handrails, hearing aid induction loops, wheelchair ramps, and an elevator. 

The office of the club became more up-to-date and accessible. 

However, while the club decided to invite one group of people, it completely ignored other members like women who had to pay a huge fee for joining the club. So, do you think the club can be considered inclusive with such adjustments?

Of course, this example from the physical world cannot be fully translated into a digital one, however, it still can describe the main differences between accessibility and inclusivity.

HOW TO CREATE INCLUSIVE DESIGN

The principles

These principles were achieved by a combination of research, interviewing designers, and a look throughout the web. It should be noted, that the principals will evolve and grow as times change, as the internet is a dynamic ecosystem.

  • Actively searching for points of exclusion: using points of exclusion to grasp a better understanding of how and why people may be excluded may help in taking effective steps towards being more inclusive. This will also help you generate new ideas and find opportunities to create new solutions.
  • Recognize situational challenges: exclusion may be situational. A person sitting in a loud café, a person with an ear infection, and one who is deaf, will have the same experience. Therefore, considering people with special needs will help include situational exclusions as well. Keep in mind the daily moments of exclusion, such as having lost your hands-free in the airport to reduce the bounce-off rate of your web page.
  • Keep in mind personal biases: by involving people of different ethnicities and lifestyles in your design process, you start to understand beyond what you would by yourself. We are blinded by our abilities and biases, and communication with different communities shows us their needs way better than we can imagine.
  • Various ways to engage: through offering different methods and ways people can participate in an experience, users get to choose what serves them best, considering their uniqueness.
  • Providing equivalent alternative experiences: when you are designing different ways to participate, you must make sure that each alternative is as efficient as the other. Meeting the accessibility standards does not necessarily make the usability a comparable experience.
  • One solution simplifies more than one group’s experience: by finding and applying the solution to one group’s needs, you can benefit a much broader audience. For example, an accessible graphic design will benefit people will older browsers as well.

A good way of understanding the principles of inclusive design is following successful inclusive design examples, such as Microsoft. As stated on their website, they introduce the Microsoft inclusive design principles to be:

Observing exclusion:

  • The Microsoft team believes that aiming for inclusivity while designing, not only opens the door to a wider market but also matches the nature of humanity. We are ever-evolving and flexible, and a good design reflects that. The foundation for any exclusion becomes a company’s biases when they try to solve issues. Instead, if you see exclusion in your design, try to turn it into fresh ideas for inclusive designs.
  • Finding answers to a bigger question, by solving a smaller one: by keeping in mind the disabilities people might have, we end up with a design that is simpler to use for everyone. Such design will be more efficient and more beneficial universally. Every human being has their abilities and specific limits. Thus, at first, develop a design for people with disabilities and then, who knows, maybe your solution can help everyone.
  • Learning from diversity: as stated above, by reflecting human nature, Microsoft learns from the flexibility humans have in adapting to diversity. They believe that a design that focuses on humans from the beginning to the end, finds extremely valuable insight into the diverse perspectives. Nowadays people have become more adaptable to diversity. Thus, any inclusive design should put people at the center of its attention and then goes everything else.

CABE’s principles of inclusive design

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) published and promoted the principles of inclusive design to be:

  • Inclusive: this assures that everyone gets safe, easy access that comes with dignity
  • Responsive: This means listening to people and keeping in mind what they want and ask for.
  • Informative: This is achieved by enabling your users to interact and reach their goals on your site the way they want to, by giving them the autonomy of site navigation.
  • Flexible: this assures that a wide range of users can use it in different ways matching their different needs.
  • Welcoming: meaning all people will feel wanted regardless of their differences, making sure there are no disabling barriers.
  • Accommodating: for everyone, with whatever age, gender, ethnicity, mobility, and any circumstances. This means clever use of spaces on your webpage in a way that will make people want to interact with your website. Packing your website with content and features will make it unappealing and hard to use.
  • Realistic: taking into notice, that one solution may not solve everyone’s problem, and working to offer as many as possible.
  • Effortless: unnecessary additions, demands, and restrictions will make your site harder to use. This will put a strain on your users and make them go to other places to get what they need.
  • Preventative: to be preventative, you will have to design to minimize errors. This will end in gaining user’s invaluable trust. With all the websites needing some form of interaction, designers have to provide simple and clear information that can prevent such errors.
  • Tolerant: an inclusive web design will keep in mind that people make mistakes, and some may even make more. Being preventative will gain you the trust of your users, and being tolerant will make them confident. The combination of the two will make them choose your website over the others.

The importance of inclusive web design

Not only inclusive web design is important for social justice, but it also makes perfect business sense to cater to a wider matching audience, as well as grasping respect and trust.

With the increase of the population’s age, most people experience multiple minor impairments. The number of +65-year-olds will more than double between the 2000s and 2030s. 

These people’s hearing, eyesight, mobility, memory, etc., might be affected. An inclusive approach to web design creates perfect opportunities for business growth. Here are some statistics to help better understand the importance of being inclusive:

  • More than 19 percent of the U.S population has a disability when it comes to the web.
  • 8% of people over the age of 15 have some degree of sight or hearing impairment
  • 21% of people over the age of 65 have some degree of sight or hearing impairments
  • 54% of people over the age of 65 use the internet

By not considering such a massive population, you will be creating a not ideal user experience for a lot of people.

Benefits of inclusive design

The losses of not being inclusive are too big, that the need for it is obvious. But there are also benefits to considering how accessible you are:

  • The solution to one problem may solve many more: You have certainly seen the ramps and curb cuts created to assist people with disabilities. Although they are built for specifically disabled people, they benefit everyone. This also goes for web design and development. Users with a slow connection, old browsers, and missing plug-ins will benefit from accessible and inclusive web design.
  • A well-coded website: inclusive design architecture will result in your website being well coded overall. Having an accessible site usually results in better overall usability and a reduction in maintenance costs.
  • Better SEO: a better-structured website is easier to crawl. This results in better organic search results.
  • Not breaking the law: there are many laws and restrictions regarding accessibility. Some companies have been taken to court because of this. Tension is building up around the subject of accessibility, so it is best to be proactive and work towards inclusion on your own time.

How to create Inclusive Design

As a base, we used three main rules that Microsoft’s team uses every day. Among them: 

  • Find exclusion

The foundation for any exclusion becomes a company’s or someone else biases when they try to solve issues. Instead, if you see exclusion in your design, try to turn it into fresh ideas for inclusive designs. 

  • Study human diversity

Nowadays people have become more adaptable to diversity. Thus, any inclusive design should put people at the center of its attention and then goes everything else. 

  • Seek solutions for one person, share it for others

Every human being has abilities and specific limits to them. Thus, at first, develop a design for people with disabilities and then, who knows, maybe your solution can help everyone.

Tips for designers

Tips for designers
Tips for designers

To go further with the tips, there are some quite simple and working solutions for designers if they seek accessibility and inclusiveness.  First things first, you need to read the latest version of WCAG. These guidelines are your foundation when you need to understand the main rules of developing an accessible design. 

Of course, there are many tools, websites, and even plugins that are created to implement accessibility to any kind of design. Among them:

  • WebAIM Contrast Checker helps you find needed contrast ratio correspondence;
  • We Are Color Blind is one of the similar websites that provide an example of the best solutions for colorblind people;
  • Other tools or plugins like Adobe XD, Figma, Stark, Sketch, and others help designers find accessibility solutions on an everyday basis. 

If we talk about Inclusive Design the best solution here is remembering one simple phrase: Uncomfortable is your new comfortable. What we mean is that forget about the existence of your comfort zone. Leave it for good. Try to real, listen to, or follow professional designers, authors, and creatives that work and think in a completely different way than you. Among the best examples are Jennifer Hom, illustrators and Experience Design Manager at Airbnb, Tatiana Mac, speaker, writer, and fighter for inclusive rights. Of course, the list of professionals in this field goes on. You have to face change. Try to befriend diversity. To do so, try to form a team that has people of various ages, sexualities, genders, who have different cultures, backgrounds and come from all kinds of countries. Work in unity with other designers and creatives who have different levels of skills, experience, and abilities, with different, opinions, views, and values.  In the long run, the more diverse your people are, the better and more inclusive your future developed designs are going to be.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between universal design and inclusive design?

Well, they both aim to be more accessible inclusive, meaning a wider diversity of people can access your website. But Universal design focuses more on a single solution that can be used by as many people as possible, while inclusive design focuses on designing for a specific individual or need. The inclusive design then extends the solution to embrace even a bigger user base.
This is how the center of Universal Design at North Carolina defined universal design in 1977: “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” This definition emphasizes the final goal of a design instead of the process of getting there. Universal design leads to a single solution that intends to help as many users as possible, meaning some will be left out.
Inclusive design is often defined as Holmes states it: “a methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.”
This shows that inclusive design is more focused on the process, and involving different perspectives in the process of creation itself. Moreover, in contrast to universal design, inclusive design may make different design solutions available for different groups of people to avoid marginalizing anyone.

What is accessible design?

Accessible design is a design process that especially considers the needs of people with disabilities. To say it in another way, it is the concept of if a product, service, or environment can be easily used by everyone, in any situation. Accessibility is also often used to refer to the characteristic, that facilities, products, websites, and services can be used independently by disabled people.
In 1998 an amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed. With the passage of legislation, public awareness about accessibility was increased. The amendment mandated that the Access Board develop accessibility standards for software, hardware, websites, videos, and other information technology and many states adopted these laws to meet their ADA obligations. Accessibility guidelines have also been established by the Web Accessibility Initiative for designing accessible web pages.

What is inclusive design?

Inclusive design helps create and design products, web pages, services, and facilities that can be used by as many people as possible. Holmes describes the inclusive design as: “a methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.” Every decision we make in the design process can exclude or include many people. Inclusive design concentrate on the importance and information that understanding user diversity makes in making better decisions and including more people.

What is universal design?

A definition popularly referred to is one given by the center of Universal Design at North Carolina in 1977: “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” It means, the design and architecture of a product that can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability. This is not a special requirement, but simply how a good design must be. By making sure an environment, product or service is usable and accessible, everyone benefits.

What are the differences between accessibility and usability?

Usability measures how easy to use a system is, while accessibility means how inclusive it is, regardless of technological and physical circumstances. A usable design aims to create a product that is easy and efficient to use. The International Organization for Standardization defines usability as the “effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which a specified set of users can achieve a specified set of tasks in a particular environment.” Usability engineers test how easily people can learn to work with a product and remember how to use it the next time. Unfortunately, usually during these tests, people with disabilities are not present. Therefore it is not tested if these products are efficient to use by all or just able people in ideal situations. Fortunately, accessible and universal design considerations are being addressed more and more by usability professionals every day.

What are the tools of inclusive design?

Well, it depends on your approach. Here is our pick:
A good inclusive design, emphasizes inclusivity from the earliest stages of development. Through your research phase, you could use two fundamental sources of information. Desk-based research and user studies.
Many types of desk-based research are usually used during the analysis stages of development:
Capability data: this helps decide the size of a feature or the force needed to interact with it. Sources of this type of data include BSI ergonomic data, DTI strength guidelines3 for aging populations, etc.
Use case risk assessments: this tool can be used to recognize and explore areas of potential user mistakes and errors. A perception, cognition, and action risk assessment approach is especially handy as it helps truly focus on what capability demands are put on the user for a given task.
Knowledge databases: these help us better understand the difficulties and challenges users might face, through subjective experiences from real users, or based on the reported errors that occur with like devices.
During the testing period of your development, you could use tools such as:
Physical simulation tools: Cambridge offers simulation gloves that demonstrate how limitations in hand movement may affect the product use, including limitations that might be created by conditions such as MS, or arthritis. There are also simulation glasses that help gain insight on the effects of different types of vision loss or impairment on product use, including conditions such as color blindness, vision loss, etc. through these devices designers can experience first-hand, what it is like to use their service or product as a person with a disability.
Online simulation tools: there are many great vision and hearing impairment simulators out there that enable experiencing the vision and hearing impairment version images of your designs and audios.

What are some great online inclusive web design tools?

We are colorblind: this website helps you see your interface through the eyes of a colorblind person. Created by Tom Van Beveren, who himself is colorblind, is a one-stop-shop for color-accessible design needs. They offer, design resources, news stories, and even consultancy services and product checks to optimize your platform’s color accessibility. Their website is very informative and dedicates a page to examples of what works and what does not.
Mismatch.design: according to Kat Holmes, the founder of Mismatch.design, is a “community and a digital magazine dedicated to advancing inclusive design.” Their website is a community of inclusive design practitioners, providing reliable resources, shared resources, and a great space to improve the craft. Mis.match design will make an inclusive design feel worthwhile and give you a head start on where to start with it.
The a11ly project: an open-source community-driven space that aims to make web accessibility easier for everyone. Including myths, quick tests, tips, how-tos, etc, the project is a guide to accessibility itself.
Stark: Stark motivates you to save money and time by designing with accessibility in mind from the earliest stages. Stark was founded by Cat Noone, Michael Fouquet, Benedikt Lehnert, and Agis Tsaraboulidis, and is now used by some of the big game brands.
Contrast: It sits on your mac’s menu bar, with the task to quickly test your interface contrast. having such easily accessible software makes it hard to make excuses about not being inclusive. This app in your menu gives you a full analysis of your interface accessibility, through one simple click.

In conclusion:

The best solution here is remembering one simple phrase: Uncomfortable is the new comfortable. What we mean is that forget your comfort zone. Leave it for good. Try to real, listen to, or follow professional designers, authors, and creatives that work and think in a completely different way than you. Among the best examples are Jennifer Hom, illustrators and Experience Design Manager at Airbnb, Tatiana Mac, speaker, writer, and fighter for inclusive rights. Of course, the list of professionals in this field goes on. You have to face change. Try to befriend diversity. To do so, try to form a team that has people of various ages, sexualities, genders, who have different cultures, backgrounds and come from all kinds of countries. Work in unity with other designers and creatives who have different levels of skills, experience, and abilities, with different, opinions, views, and values. In the long run, the more diverse your people are, the better and more inclusive your future developed designs are going to be.

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