Accessibility or Inclusivity?

How I came to better understand it as a design student

Much like humans evolve, the language that we use and the words that we say also evolve with us.

Accessible and Inclusive design is one of those words. Not only has the meaning behind them evolve over time but lately I have noticed them being used interchangeably in school. Accessible and Inclusive design are thrown out there a lot in the design world, and if you are attending a design school then you must know what I am talking about. A quick search on the web and you are simply overwhelmed by the plethora of definitions, points of view, and perspectives that seem to always be changing just a little every time you press the refresh button so slowly but surely the lines between accessible design and Inclusive design began to blur.

I hope that through this post, I can unblur that line for you.

What has helped me a lot understand and differentiate both concepts comes from the words of Derek Featherstone, CXO of specialist accessibility agency Level Access,

“Accessibility is an outcome. Inclusive Design is a Process”.

The subset diagram of Inclusive Design and Accessibility.

Let’s start off with Accessibility, Accessibility is an outcome or an end result of a design project, By this, we mean everything that can be measured. How well and equally can people with different disabilities understand, navigate, and interact with the website or tools. What are the qualities that make that experience open to all? They follow accessibility guidelines published by various governmental and industry groups and focus on the outcome.

We can reach accessible design outcomes through any means, however, the outcome doesn’t require you to talk, engage or test your product and solution with people with disabilities, you could simply stumble upon that solution by pure luck or trial and error. But when you start involving people with disabilities in the design process that is when you bring inclusive design to life.

To practice Inclusive design we must work with people with disabilities, talk with them, understand their problems, what works best for them, build Empathy, and include them in all aspects of the design process. Empathy isn’t built from speculation alone, it is built from deeply understanding another person’s needs and wants.

When we include people with disabilities (many different disabilities) in the design process we are designing with them, not for them.

The idea isn’t to just include them in one aspect of the design process but includes them through the entire design process, continue learning, and continuously build better inclusive products. Inclusive design is a method or process that helps you achieve the outcome or end result of accessible design.(Quoting Derek Featherstone 😉)

You might already know that designing for disability is important but if you are still unsure or need a nudge here is why.

“We all have disabilities eventually unless we die first”

-Gregg Vanderheiden

Disability can be divided into Permanent, Temporary, and Situational

As Gregg said, we all experience disabilities at some point in our lives, it is not something that just affects people with specific health problems or the aging group but it is all context dependent and anyone can be temporarily impaired at any moment in their lives. Disability is more than just a health problem it is a mismatch between our needs and the design features of a product, built environment, system, or service.

What does this mean? we just need to be better designers that use both accessible and inclusive design to design a world where there are no mismatches and everyone can experience things in the same delight. Let's work together on designing that world.

Recommended Readings

I book I really enjoyed and gobbled up in one day is Mismatch by Kat Holmes. I highly recommend it for a deeper dive on Inclusive design and there is also a teaser article The №1 thing you’re getting wrong about inclusive design if you want to read a little more before making a commitment.

I hope you enjoyed the reading and perhaps got something out of it. Keep designing, keep learning.

Reminders to be good.