Inclusive Design Advocacy: A Guide to Navigating Tough Conversations with Your Teams

Expert advice on how to collaborate, advocate, and defend inclusive design in cross-disciplinary teams

By Emma Siegel, Inclusive Design and Research

Illustrations by Emma Siegel

Each member of a team has a different level of awareness, knowledge, or understanding of the value of inclusive design. Stakeholders and collaborators might have other factors they prioritize over inclusion. Advocating for inclusion isn’t always easy and can often lead to some challenging conversations.

What happens if UX teams don’t take action or speak up to advocate for inclusion?

  • We may exclude and disable people.
  • We may harm, erase, or dehumanize entire communities.
  • We may perpetuate the idea that inclusion isn’t our responsibility.

How to Frame the Conversation

Members of Workday’s Digital Accessibility and Inclusive Design teams advocate for inclusion every day. Here’s how we recommend you best frame these conversations.

Be Prepared

Being proactive when it comes to inclusion and accessibility is always important. Sam Smith, an Accessibility Specialist at Workday, recommends having a concise pitch prepared: “One thing I always tell people is to have their elevator speech ready on why accessibility is important. To focus on why it’s the right thing to do, how it makes our product better, and who it impacts. Then, end with the business need and potential legal risk.”

Consider Both Positive and Negative Impact

Erica Ellis, an Inclusive Researcher and Designer at Workday advises considering the holistic impact of a product or experience to grasp the weight of inclusive design: “It’s imperative to not only focus on the positive impact of inclusion, but to have a full understanding of the potential negative impacts of exclusion. Once you begin thinking about all the ways in which the experiences you design could disable, exclude, isolate, oppress, harm, and even dehumanize people and entire populations, that’s when you understand the stakes of not prioritizing this work.”

Educate and Collaborate on Actionable Takeaways

Working in the inclusive design space, I try to provide meaningful and actionable feedback rather than saying “no” during design critiques and reviews. It’s important to educate teammates on why something doesn’t work and keep the momentum going by suggesting an alternative solution. If a collaborator proposes an inaccessible or exclusionary solution, I’ll explain the problems and then brainstorm with them to come up with a new solution.

Advocacy Scenarios and Talking Points

At Workday’s Accessibility Research and Training Lab (ART Lab), we run workshops to scale awareness and education for accessibility and inclusion. Our Designing for Accessibility workshop includes a section on how to advocate for inclusive design on cross-functional teams.

Our ART Lab team compiled the following set of five scenarios you might run into when collaborating with design and product teams. With each scenario, we’ve provided responses we recommend, and a call to action for next steps.

Scenario 1

A PRODUCT MANAGER SAYS:

“If we’re going to do usability testing, it needs to get done ASAP to deliver the feature to customers by the deadline. A diverse and inclusive participant sample sounds nice, but we don’t have time for that.”

TALKING POINTS:

  • Investing in inclusive design now will help uncover more use cases and problems. If we solve those before a product ships, they will be much less expensive in development and implementation costs.
  • Inclusion is not a “nice to have” — it’s a core part of how we build products. We need to practice our company values not only in the way we operate our business, but also in the way we build our products.

CALL TO ACTION:

  • Revisit the project timeline together to figure out how to make time for inclusive research and still deliver to customers in a timely manner.
  • Have a conversation about working towards company values. Those values should be seen in how you build your products and experiences. Think about how you can tie those values into the case for inclusive research.

Scenario 2

A DESIGNER SAYS:

“Making things accessible for all users does not necessarily improve the experience for all users. I want to avoid choosing a solution that works well for all users but is sub-optimal for most users.”

TALKING POINTS:

  • Contrary to that opinion, designs created to benefit people with disabilities often benefit a much larger user group. Text messaging, audio books, curb cuts, closed captions, and voice assistants are a few examples of Accessible Technology that have drastically improved everyone’s experience.
  • If your organization has contracts with educational institutions, governments, or other publicly funded organizations, you may have contractual or legal obligations to provide an accessible experience.

CALL TO ACTION:

  • Brainstorm together how to adjust the experience so it works well for everyone, including people with disabilities.

Scenario 3

A UX MANAGER SAYS:

“That’s just an edge case, we have to design for the majority.”

TALKING POINTS:

  • Regardless of numbers, an exclusionary experience could, depending on severity, be a complete blocker for an entire user group. We can’t leave them out of the experience.
  • If we do look at numbers, 1% of users might be hundreds or thousands of people who are impacted.
  • A customer isn’t buying a product for the majority of their workers, they’re buying a product for ALL their workers.

CALL TO ACTION:

  • Review the use cases and user personas to make them more inclusive to design with all users in mind.

Scenario 4

A PRODUCT MANAGER SAYS:

“We’ll focus on inclusion and accessibility later in the development cycle, after we’ve designed the basic functionality.”

TALKING POINTS:

  • Being inclusive later in development costs up to 100x more over the lifecycle of a project.
  • Sometimes it isn’t possible to retrofit functionality for accessibility without redesigning/redeveloping core functionality, which could compromise the entire project.

CALL TO ACTION:

  • Revaluate the project roadmap to ensure inclusion and accessibility are considered at every stage, starting at the beginning.

Scenario 5

A DESIGNER SAYS:

“That high-contrast accessible design doesn’t look as good. Grey on grey is way more aesthetically-pleasing and on-brand.”

TALKING POINTS:

  • If your organization has contracts with educational institutions, governments, or other publicly-funded organizations, you may have legal or contractual obligations to provide accessible experiences through compliance with WCAG. Workday’s Canvas Design System can help you in ensuring your user interface has accessible color contrast ratios.
  • Insufficient color contrast excludes a wide spectrum of users. Some examples are people experiencing situational vision impairments (like bright sunlight or high contrast screen sharing on video calls), permanent vision impairments (like cataracts) and temporary vision impairments (like getting your eyes dilated at the doctor).
  • Aesthetics is only part of good design; usability is more important. If people cannot access or use an experience, it doesn’t matter how it looks.

CALL TO ACTION:

  • Explore other color combinations and find one that is both aesthetically-pleasing and has sufficient contrast for accessibility.

These conversations often aren’t easy. Sometimes, your talking points will be met with another round of push backs and you might feel stuck. Remember that you’re not in this alone! Find other inclusion advocates in your organization and leverage them for support.

Being an advocate isn’t just disagreements and being right — it’s an opportunity for growth and education. At Workday, we’re working together through the tough conversations so we can build inclusive experiences for all.

What challenging scenarios have you encountered when advocating for inclusive design? How did you respond? Let us know in the comments!

Experiences and insights from Workday Design

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