Accessible Vs Inclusive Design – Understanding The Difference



Accessibility aims to make products convenient to all. On the other hand, inclusive design involves taking into account user diversity.

Ever had your hands full with groceries, and you realize you’re now unable to open a door with a round doorknob? You’ve encountered what’s known as an accessibility issue.

The problem:

When companies make their websites or products, they’re under the assumption that every customer is able-bodied. They forget about the visually impaired or someone who’s just walking in the sun, unable to see the text on their phone screen.

Something as simple as changing the doorknob into a lever, and increasing the text contrast on your website will solve both these problems. However, another fundamental design question is- are these examples of accessible design or inclusive design?

By the end of this article, you’ll be able to answer that question. You’ll also learn why you should keep them in mind while designing any of your future products.

What is Inclusive and Accessible Design?

First off, let us clarify that Accessible and Inclusive designs exist everywhere. Not just in architectural planning and products of all sorts, but also in technology, websites, product platforms, and applications.

They’re ideals and practices which when put into use, make the lives of a lot of people easier. Read on to find out what exactly they mean:

Accessible Design

Accessible design refers to catering to the needs of disabled people so that using a product is just as efficient for them, as it is for the rest of the population. 

Web Accessibility Initiative was launched in 1997 to help make the internet more accessible for disabled people. They suggest that simple UI changes are often enough to increase accessibility.

Moreover, things as elementary as providing audio descriptions for your videos so that the visually impaired know what’s going on, or just using color to indicate a problem can help you take a step towards a truly accessible design. 

Other examples are grouping controls and labels so that people with motor disabilities can reach them a little easier. Or just making your website easier to navigate with a keyboard. In any case, it is highly recommended to conduct accessibility audits to find issues easily and fix them.

A webAIM analysis found that out of the top 1,000,000 homepages they tested, 85% had low color contrast on text. Naturally, for visually impaired people, it’s one of the most common problems they encounter. Ironically, it’s also one of the easiest problems to fix.

Example of bad accessible design:

Apple, the world’s biggest company has chosen to adopt a low text contrast on its website. By just looking at the navigation bar, do you think a visually impaired person can tell what page they’re on? They’d even struggle to read the words “search support”. Check out their website, even you will feel the same. 

Good accessible design with high text contrast makes the navigation bar clearly visible with the text spaced out, and easily readable.

Inclusive Design

While accessible design focuses on personalizing products for specific people with disabilities, Inclusive design is a larger spectrum, which focuses on building for everyone. It takes into account the location, situational handicaps, perspectives of people, and anything else that may impair ability.

Inclusive Design hopes to create a flexible environment that can adapt to fit the needs of everyone, without them having to find a workaround.

Moreover, achieving it is as simple as lowering a bookshelf, so everyone can reach it and you won’t have to call your taller co-worker to hand you something.

On websites and apps, inclusivity could mean closed captioning all your videos, having colorblind-friendly toggles, or controlling the time-outs (we’ve all had to log in again after getting timed out on that banking website).

Inclusive websites use voice commands, screen reader adjustment, and smart navigation to help make life easier for everyone; including people with disabilities.

How Are Inclusive And Accessible Design Different?

Simply put, they’re closely linked but still differ in their approaches. At a glance, the differences between inclusive and accessible design are as follows:

1. Inclusive design is for everyone

Accessible Design takes into account the specific needs of people who are permanently disabled while inclusivity takes into account the following types of disability:

  • Permanent disability: Motor limitation disabilities like ALS
  • Temporary disability: Muscle injury or a broken bone on their hand
  • Situational disability: Someone with their hands full, or even if they currently have dirty hands.

While aiming for inclusive design, the needs of all sorts of temporarily handicapped people are kept in mind as well, which results in a more universal design.

2. Accessible Design focuses on the end product, Inclusive design is a methodology

The main focus of Accessible design is to ensure ease of use for a person with a disability. It doesn’t take into account how they’ll change their future designs, or even how it might affect anyone who’s not disabled.

Inclusive Design is a methodology that challenges designers to think about how to make a product easier to use for everyone. It takes into account situational handicaps which might make it harder for people to use technology and isn’t driven by an immediate end product.

3. Accessible Design has standards by law, Inclusive design does not

In parts of the world like the United States, the “Americans with Disabilities Act” requires designs to follow the standards set by the Access Board for accessibility.

As we mentioned before, the Web Accessibility Initiative, launched by W3C and backed by the White House also has multiple guidelines in play to make the internet more accessible.

Accessible Design has a list of standards and guidelines to follow while trying to cater a product for people with disabilities. Whereas Inclusive design looks towards testing and creativity to help make the designs more user-friendly for everyone. 

How Accessible and Inclusive Design Work Together

They’re different on paper, but they go hand-in-hand with a lot of their key aspects. Let’s get into a bit more detail about how the two can work together:

1. Accessible Design is a part of Inclusive design

Accessible design is a key part of inclusive design as a whole. Think about it, making your website keyboard accessible will help both, the visually impaired and someone who recently broke their mouse.

Or even alt-texting your images. It helps both, the visually impaired and people who don’t have the best connectivity available. Moreover, accessible design can be achieved as an outcome of Inclusive design.

2. They both have the same end goal

Inclusive and Accessible design both have the same end goal which is to make the product more useful.

Both ideologies look to help people with disabilities, whether their disabilities are situational or permanent. Additionally, both the methodologies learn from the way people navigate through certain problems they face; so, both essentially improve each other.

What’s next?

It is a good business to consider accessibility and inclusivity during the design stage. After all, by increasing usability, you increase your customer base.

A report from the American Institute of research claims the disposable income of disabled people in the US alone is up to $490 billion. Suddenly, spending a couple of bucks to make your product inclusive seems worth it, doesn’t it?

The next step of the UI UX revolution demands all the products and services to be accessible by all and inclusive of all use cases.  After all, 3.2% of the world’s population suffers from visual impairment, 6% from hearing loss. No matter what it is you’re making, inclusive design is a must. In fact, working on accessibility and inclusive design often translates to having impeccable UI and UX design. 

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