How Can Inclusive Design Help Overcome Accessibility Challenges?
For Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we asked experts how design can help improve accessibility for digital experiences as well as physical experiences.
Bynd UX - Design Director, Dave Sutton
“Brands face a challenging balancing act in providing an engaging customer experience that works for everyone, when individual needs are incredibly varied. A good customer experience should be usable, efficient, empathetic, personalised and consistent across all touchpoints. Yet, many brands don’t get past the first hurdle, with digital products and websites still lacking features to make images, audio and video content accessible, for example.
The best way to counter these challenges is to make accessibility and inclusive design something that everyone in the organisation has a stake in. Challenge—and empower—design, product, marketing and tech teams to learn about and empathise with experiences outside their own. It’s often useful to remind people that many impairments can be situational; everyone struggles to read text on a smartphone in bright sun, regardless of their vision.
Just as the digital design industry had to advocate and make the business case for UX thinking a decade or more ago, we now have to do the same for accessibility and inclusive design. It opens up digital experiences to wider audiences, avoids reputational risk from excluding people, and fits well with the ethos of diversity, equity and inclusion that our industry needs to embrace.”
Rodd Design - Managing Director, Ben Davies
“As digital services become more commonplace in healthcare, it’s crucial that we use design as a tool to tackle the accessibility challenges faced by patients across the country – the NHS is for everyone, whatever their age, social or cultural needs. Already, digital consultations do promote accessibility through assistive services such as lip reading, subtitles or sign language. However, to make digital services more inclusive, we must take a bigger-picture view to ensure that more of the interconnected web of services that make up UK healthcare are all on the same page. This systemic approach is vital to help ease the friction that less digitally native (i.e. a large chunk of the older UK population) face everyday when trying to navigate something as simple as wanting to see their GP. After all, for a large section of the population, this was once a basic and everyday behaviour. Shifting this online certainly helps ease the GP workload burden, but at present, it isn’t really designed for a wide enough slice of its user base.”
Zone - Chief Design and Product Officer, Esther Duran
“Post-pandemic society has shown us that we’re more than capable of adapting the way we do things, yet we’re still encountering services and products that are far from being accessible. In a world where digitalisation is the “only way forward” we’re leaving behind large parts of the population that can’t use the products we put in front of them.
Digital is a huge enabler, but also an inhibitor that can cause barriers to access if designed inappropriately. For example, if your product or service needs a lot of internet bandwidth to operate then it’s likely not everyone will be able to use it. An Ofcom study shows that 1.5 million homes in the UK still don’t have internet access.
Similarly, one size doesn’t fit all: 16% of the global population experience a significant disability today. We have to design products with the users in mind. Inclusive design includes conducting research to make sure your end users are understood; what they need and how your product or service will make their lives easier. This is a critical phase in the design process. Collaboration is also key – when users are part of your creations and testing cycles they will suggest things you haven’t even considered.”
Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) - Head of Inclusive Design, Robin Spinks
“Dynamic, refreshable, touchscreen-based information is everywhere in society. From schools and colleges to train stations, workplaces and supermarkets, electronic screens and kiosks are the order of the day. Whilst modern, convenient, and flexible, these systems are often unusable by a growing community of disabled people.
But it needn’t be this way. Understanding inclusive design and the spectrum of accessibility and usability should be a top priority for companies. They must ensure that designers of hardware, software and services are aware of the needs of their customers. Moreover, design processes need to take account of the diversity of user needs. Only by understanding the diversity of human function will designers be able to create adaptable and flexible products which can be customised to suit the unique needs of each user.
End users of all products and services also have a part to play in enabling inclusive design. By reviewing and commenting upon the accessibility and usability of products and services, everyone can contribute to a more inclusive society. It’s easy to assume that other people will recognise your challenges but often this is not the case. Feedback in any form is critical component in leveraging inclusive design.”
Household - Design Team Lead, Dan Smith
“It is estimated that 1.8 billion people around the world are living with a disability that ‘limits their daily activities’, so as designers it is our duty to ensure that the environments and experiences we create are inclusive to as many people as possible.
What is lacking is the feeling of autonomy. Today, consumers want to have the freedom to customise and personalise their experiences with brands to suit their needs, mood and desire just like everyone else. Too often, disabled customers are offered a lesser experience than their peers and considered an afterthought when it comes to retail layouts – think of the beautiful, grand-stepped entrances to shops with accessible ramps around the back near the bins.
Becoming allies through design, placing the right voices at the front and bringing them along the design process is the gateway to a more inclusive society. Brands need to be less performative and put real actions behind their words.
The recent edition of Vogue has gotten everyone talking about the importance of visibility for disabled people, but without accessible spaces, there is no visibility. Designers have a responsibility to embrace the social model of disability and create environments that allow all consumers to enjoy the experience in an equal way, regardless of our differences.”