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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


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

Inclusiveness of design
Inclusiveness of design

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, 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, 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 comparison. 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. 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? 

So, 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. 

To understand this concept more clearly we are going to tell you an example from the real world. Hundreds of years ago there were many various gentleman’s clubs. As a rule, they are very conservative and allowed only specific members of society. Let’s imagine for a moment, that one of such clubs decided to modernize a little bit to be on the same page with new requirements for accessibility. As a result, the club added handrails, hearing aid induction loops, wheelchair ramps, and 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 of such adjustments?

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

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.

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