Inclusive web design — why our websites should be more accessible
The web should be a place for everyone. But is your website accessible by as many people as possible? Our goals as website owners and creators is to make an experience that is as inclusive and accessible as possible.
What is disability?
The World Health Organisation defines disability as context dependent.
Disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.
World Health Organisation
Previously the World Health Organisation defined disability as a personal attribute referring to their health experience. More recently the definition has changed to better reflect the interaction between people and systems.
What is inclusive web design and accessibility?
It’s important to understand the difference between inclusive design and accessibility. It’s easy to confuse them or assume they’re the same thing. Microsofts inclusive toolkit manual has an excellent definition of both.
Inclusive design is:
A design methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.
Microsoft Inclusive Toolkit Manual
1. The qualities that make an experience open to all. 2. A professional discipline aimed at achieving №1. An important distinction is that accessibility is an attribute, while inclusive design is a method.
Microsoft Inclusive Toolkit Manual
It’s likely that if you practice inclusive design there will be a positive effect on accessibility. That being said, inclusive design alone will not meet all accessibility standards. A combination of both is the only way to create an inclusive and accessible experience for people using your website.
Recognising exclusion in design
Everyone is unique. There is no norm. Designs are often formed from the bias of the designers own experiences. By using their own experiences as a starting point they have immediately designed for people of a specific gender, age, language, physical ability and technical capability.
Assuming that the majority of users are able to see, hear, speak and touch could potentially limit the access of your website to more people than you think.
By designing this way we could be excluding a large number of people.
How many people are affected?
Short answer: practically everyone.
The knock-on effect of designing with inclusiveness and accessibility is nearly everyone benefits. We often mistakenly assume the number of people who would benefit from improved inclusiveness and accessibility is small — those with permanent disabilities such as loss of limbs or visually impaired.
Microsoft state that exclusion can take place for many reasons. They categorise these exclusions into three groups: permanent, temporary and situational.
- Permanent, is those who have a disability such as loss of limb, sight, hearing or speech.
- Temporary, is when a person has short-term injury or context affects the way they interact for a short time. This includes wearing a cast or trying to browse in bright light where reflections can impact readability.
- Situational, is when people move through different environments. For example in a large crowd people can’t hear well, in a car you’re visually impaired or if you’re a new parent many tasks need to be completed one-handed.
I suspect that nearly everyone has fallen under at least one of these groups. I know I do on a regular basis.
Solve for one, solve for many
The beauty of building inclusive websites is the benefits are much wider spread than you might first think. By focusing on a solution for one particular person you will be offering the benefits for a much broader group of people.
By designing a solution for someone with a permanent disability, someone with a temporary and situational limitation may also benefit. For example, creating an interface that can be operated with one hand will also help those with arm injuries or new parents holding a baby. According to the United States Census Bureau, in the US, 26,000 people a year suffering from loss of upper extremities. This doesn’t sound like many people but when you think the benefits extend to those with temporary and situational impairments the number is significantly higher. In fact Microsoft estimate that nearly 21 million people in the US would benefit.
Increasing the contrast will help those with sight loss but also help those who are browsing under bright light. Providing captions will improve the experience for those with hearing loss but also for people who are unable to play audio in their current location.
Inclusive design helps people across a spectrum with different related abilities. This is called the persona spectrum.
The persona spectrum helps us understand the related mismatches across the spectrum of permanent, temporary and situational scenarios. It helps show how solutions scale to a much larger audience.
Working together for a more inclusive web
Building a more inclusive web requires a team effort. Website designers, developers and owners need to work together to achieve this. It should be seen as an opportunity to embrace the core principles of the web and offer an improved experience for as many people as possible.
Just like we wouldn’t exclude people who use a certain browser or device, we shouldn’t exclude those in permanent, temporary or situational scenarios from accessing our websites.
Making websites more inclusive and more accessible has a huge benefit for a much broader audience than we may first assume.