Who is Accessible and Inclusive Design For?

There is a common misconception that permanent disability affects only a small, insignificant percentage of the global population and that this is the only group for which accessible and inclusive design is beneficial. In reality, global figures around permanent disability fluctuate between 10 to 15%, which represents 650 million to 1 billion people worldwide.

In reality, most of us experience and benefit from disability design in our lives. Beyond permanent disability, we have temporary and situational disabilities to consider. Temporary disability includes, for example, pregnancy, where women may be less able to physically participate in ways that they would usually be able to. This could include car parking and requiring more space to enter and exit vehicles, and ease of access to spaces. It could include the recovery periods of surgeries, such as broken legs, hip replacements, or even eye surgeries. All of these examples necessitate changes to ways of living either physically, or through further considerations in the case of loss of sight, for example. There are also situational disabilities which are even more common than temporary disabilities.

These are contexts in which a person may have less ability than usual for a particular period of time. This might include, for example, access to spaces pushing a baby stroller or pram. This situation is comparable to the access requirements dictated by wheelchair use – wider door spaces, or lower entrance door lips. While the access and inclusion requirements are the same, we typically consider one to be a disability, and one not to be. You might also find yourself situationally disabled by carrying too many grocery bags out of the shopping centre, and not being able to cope with mechanical doorways. You may not have a permanent disability, but at that moment, your need for an automated door system is the same. There are hundreds of examples that we often overlook, or fail to even consider when we think about and design for disability, and subsequently for accessibility and inclusion.

 

How To Get It Right?

Though these examples are mostly physical, the same frustrations exist in the digital realm. And as much as technology advancements are continuous, in many ways this widens the gap as more and more people are left behind by new technologies that fail to accommodate their needs. How can we assume to provide a consistent customer experience unless we design for and include all potential users?

The first major step in designing for access and inclusion is to acknowledge initial biases and knowledge gaps. How we frame and design for disability is often wrong from the outset. We need to stop thinking of accessible and inclusive design as ‘disabled only’, or that this group is anything less than a significant minority. Furthermore, businesses tend to consider permanent disability as the only group that benefits from improved design. As already discussed, almost everyone at some point in their lives experiences disability, in some form or another. So the second crucial understanding is that accessible and inclusive design is of benefit to everyone – every user, every customer, every journey.

Finally, when designing around specific needs in order to improve access and inclusivity, it is vital to involve relevant representatives of that group to advise on the process from the outset. There is no point in designing a building, or digital assets, for specific users without consulting with those end users.

 

What Are the Costs to Business?

In this way, costs to businesses are essentially minimal, or non-existent. Costs arise when due process is not adhered to, and retrofitting is required. Rebuilding an entire shopping centre to accommodate improved access, or redesigning digital assets to be more inclusive, will have costs attached. So best practice dictates the involvement of access and inclusion design from the outset of any new asset development to avoid this situation altogether.

Following the correct process also helps to prevent any unwanted or unintended consequences of biased design. But regardless of potential associated costs arising from retrofitting situations, it is important to consider the costs of businesses in not providing these improved services and the gains attributed to making such improvements. What are the losses resulting from the exclusion of significant groups?

What are the potential monetary values associated with opening businesses up to such groups? What will the impact of positive customer experience be in referring more business as a result of communicating successes in accessibility and inclusivity efforts?

 

Useful Resources

It can be difficult to know where to start, but thankfully, there are starting points for making these improvements to your business. Firstly, education. It is important to educate within and beyond your business about what accessibility and inclusive design actually mean, and who it benefits. This is ongoing work from the inductions of new staff to the upskilling of current teams. Secondly, consultation. It is vital to include diverse representation from the outset of any new project. Challenge your ways of thinking, and consider your own limitations in how you frame access and inclusion of groups. Always consult with any relevant groups from stage one of any project. Thirdly, leverage best practice guidelines.

Global resources include the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the web accessibility initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These are invaluable guardrails in beginning or improving upon your access and inclusion frameworks. Finally, consider and account for your local context, legal responsibilities and cultures. These can differ greatly depending on location or geography, so solutions that work well in some contexts may not be practical in others. So contextual considerations for solutions must be tested in local settings, before assuming that one solution can be universally applied across all others.

We’ve also previously written a little about digital accessibility in a previous article that is worth taking a look at. It has some examples of what AA Accessible looks like and offers further support for why taking this seriously is so important.

 

Conclusion

Accessible and inclusive design is not something that is limited to, or of benefit only to the permanently disabled. It is a best practice design process that ensures that all people, everywhere, at every moment in their lives, are supported in a way that ensures equity – be it physically or digitally. Businesses and individuals need to consider and challenge their own assumptions around disability, the prevalence of disability, the significance of accessible and inclusive design and the benefits that this design framework delivers to all of society.

Adopting this mentality and approach in business does not necessitate huge budgets or additional spending. It involves conscious design planning and consultation from the outset of any project, or potentially, the retrofitting of existing work. But the benefits have been demonstrated to far outweigh the costs, and every consumer deserves an equally enjoyable experience in their interactions with businesses. Finally, the process need not be guesswork. There are standardised frameworks, best practice guidelines and resources to adopt in order to get started on this journey and to ensure that your business is heading in the right direction. Then, it’s just a matter of getting started.