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Accessibility vs Inclusivity in Experience Design

Accessibility and Inclusivity are sometimes used interchangeably in UX Design. However they have some key differences that are crucial to understand for UX designers who are building products and apps that are more human centered. 

Accessible design is the older of the two terms and is an important human centered concept in UX design. There has been an increase in the popularity of terms like Accessibility, Inclusivity, Ethical Design and Responsible design. Designers are realizing the importance of designing products and services for people and not companies. This marks a shift from business focused design for gains and profitability to user focused design. However the popularity of these terms has also resulted in a blurring of the lines and boundaries between the two. 

To understand the main differences between accessibility and inclusivity, let us go deeper and understand how these terms originated. We can then understand the key differences between the two and reduce some of the confusion around them.

In very simple terms accessibility is about creating products that can be used by everyone. Inclusivity is more of a mindset, and is concerned with creating products that everyone wants to use. It is more of a methodology that relies on understanding as many diverse perspectives as possible. These terms both come under the umbrella of human centered design.

Since accessibility is the older of the two terms, let us first understand what we mean by ‘accessible design’.

What is accessible design?

When the use of the internet became popular, a set of website accessibility guidelines were created. The first web accessibility guideline was published by Gregg Vanderheiden and released in January 1995 in Chicago. Over the next few years, many other companies added on to these guidelines, and updated them. This together became the Unified Web Site Accessibility Guidelines, which became the foundation for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published on the 5th of May 1995. This was published by the World Wide Web Consortium. The World Wide Web Consortium is an international authority that is responsible for setting global web standards and best practices. 

The first version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines consisted of 14 guidelines. These are ranked in order of priority and cover the basics of how content and websites that were starting to appear, could be used by as many people as possible. 

A few examples of these guidelines are clear navigation structures, not relying only on colour, video and audio. 

These guidelines have since then been updated, most recently in 2018.

As per the dictionary definition, to be accessible means to be easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with or use. 

This gives us a good understanding of what it means to be accessible in the context of user design in the digital space. It means that anyone regardless of their abilities and disabilities should be able to use the things designed by UX designers. Whatever app or service is being designed, it should be planned in a way that everyone is able to use it, despite any personal limitations.

Accessibility is concerned with tangibles. Accessible design is based on objective, measurable facts – such as contrast ratios, font sizes etc. It is not concerned if people dislike the product or if it is popular. This is a key difference between Accessibility and Inclusive Design. 

Inclusive design is a much more emotional concept and is more concerned about whether people like the product. It also cares about the fact the people should feel safe using the design. 

Let us delve a little deeper into what Inclusive design is and understand how it is different from Accessibility.

Inclusive design is a mindset in human centred design that involves understanding user diversity. In this methodology, UX designers learn from and include as many different people as possible. These people come with different perspectives that will make the final design much better.

Microsoft defines Inclusive design as “a design methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity.”

The principles of Inclusive design are;

Principle of inclusive design
  • Inclusive design recognises that there is exclusion

When we solve problems with our limited human experiences and our biases, we tend to exclude people who haven’t had those same experiences. But UX designers can seek out these exclusions as opportunities to solve problems differently and create inclusive designs.

  • Learn from diversity and different perspectives

Inclusive design involves as many different people as possible and puts them at the center of the design process. These fresh, diverse perspectives are key to inclusive design.

  • Solve for one, extend to many

This principle means that even though inclusive design solves for a few people with limitations, it can result in design that is better for many people to use. By designing around a few constraints, UX designers can actually create designs that are better for everyone to use

Designing for Accessibility and Inclusivity

Accecibility and inclusivity

These are a few basic principles of design, that can be used by everyone;

  • Understand the various disabilities, their constraints and limitations.
  • Include as many users as possible during user research – this will help you understand their constraints.
  • Ensure that your content follows a logical sequence that makes sense to everyone. 
  • Ensure that every section has a unique heading.
  • Test the order in which users read out elements, and that they make sense.
  • Ensure that there is sufficient contrast between colors.

Conclusion

These are just a few principles of Accessibility and Inclusive Design. These principles can help us achieve products that are usable by everyone. 

To achieve truly inclusive design, include as many people as possible in all stages of the design process. From the conception stage to user research, prototyping and the product and service building.

Sonakshi Kochhar