But that’s just the physical end of the spectrum. When it comes to digital, the business world is even further behind - many espouse ‘inclusive design’ while just hanging on to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines by the skin of their teeth. Compliance isn’t good enough, and to understand why, you need to take a look backwards.
You can’t make good jazz if you haven’t heard Miles Davis
And you can’t truly understand inclusive design if you don’t know where it’s come from. Many early typewriters were developed to assist people with visual impairments - the QWERTY set-up that results from this has now become commonplace.
Inclusive design has a rich history, and the design problems it seeks to fix often offers more to wider audiences than initially anticipated.
If you have colour vision deficiency, that is a permanent impairment; if you’re squinting due to staring at a screen all day, then that’s temporary; and if you have your screen brightness low so you don’t wake your better half at 2am, that’s situational.
In each of these cases, the problem is different but the symptom (and solution) remains the same. Something as simple as adjusting the level of colour contrast or sentence length, for example, makes that website easier to read, thus more accessible, in all three instances.
Removing the stigma that associates accessibility with niche audiences is long overdue, and based on something that’s more or less unfounded: the spending power of households with a disability, known as the Purple Pound, is worth £249bn to a recovering economy. 22% of the UK population have a disability, with that number reaching 45% for those of pension age.
This is not and never has been a minor issue- online environments that can be accessed and used by as many people as possible, no matter their age, gender or ability, should form the bedrock of inclusive design in 2021 and beyond.
Make sure it works for everyone, from blue-chip clients to call-centre employees
True inclusive design holds up internally and externally. If you have an intuitive interface that makes life easier for customers with autism, but is a nightmare for your autistic employees to navigate the backend, then it’s not inclusive.
There’s also a greater risk, beyond dragging your reputation through the mud and giving your employees a hard time. Non-inclusive design excludes business-critical, diverse perspectives from influencing and improving what you do.
You just can’t get that insight if you exclude members of your team whose lived experience is different to your own; as data handlers, business leaders and human beings, we have a responsibility to listen to everyone with humility and grace, ask questions and actively co-create with our teams based on the answers.
Getting real people on board, from the very beginning, is the key to designing with empathy. If they’re not included in the ideation and testing process, their influence is limited to tweaking something you’ve already committed to without their look-in. As a result, whatever you’ve come up with risks becoming alienating.
Beyond the moral implications, businesses must take disability more seriously
Neglecting the issue seriously affects the bottomline. The click-away pound (people abandoning a purchase due to a negative digital experience) is estimated to lose businesses £17.1bn a year - this shows the tangible, negative impact of ignoring the Purple Pound.
Inclusive design isn’t just a CSR consideration in the digital age - it’s essential. Businesses can help create an online future that benefits everyone, by acknowledging a design’s shortcomings and striving to rectify these by consulting the people you’re actually looking to target.
And if the ease of the final product isn’t reflected in the development and behind-the-scenes stuff, then you’ve just gone for a quick win. It’s tantamount to greenwashing - all talk and no real action.