April 3, 2024

Accessible vs. Inclusive Design: Building usable, equal experiences for all

Accessibility removes barriers for all users, while inclusivity focuses on representing diverse identities in design. Read more...

Accessible vs. Inclusive Design: Building usable, equal experiences for all

Accessibility and inclusivity are two closely related concepts in design, entwined in their objectives but each containing a unique focus. With our world becoming more conscious and considerate of varying needs and a spectrum of people, it’s crucial that all design professionals keep both accessibility and inclusivity in mind throughout their working life.

In this blog post, we look at the definitions and differences between accessible design and inclusive design, as well as the benefits to having both in your work.

What is accessible design?

Accessibility, in the context of design, primarily concerns itself with the removal of barriers to make sure digital content and products are usable by all individuals — particularly for people with diverse abilities and disabilities, from colour-blindness to learning disabilities.

What are the benefits of accessible design?

1.  Welcoming more users: Accessible design with better usability simply attracts and welcomes more users, increasing engagement and potential revenue. For example, by providing closed captions in videos, this benefits users with hearing impairments and broadens audience reach. Similarly, text-to-speech functionality assists users with dyslexia and benefits users who are multitasking or only have a limited amount of reading time.

2.  Legal compliance: Meeting accessibility standards ensures compliance with regulations and fosters inclusivity. For example, by including alternative text for images, you’ll better comply with web accessibility standards, benefiting users with visual impairments and colour vision deficiencies.

3.  Improved SEO: Accessible websites tend to experience better search engine rankings. By including well-structured headings, for example, this will aid both screen readers and generally support navigation for all users — something that Google (and other search engines) loves to see!

4.  Positive brand image: Demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity can enhance your brand’s reputation. Some websites, for example, offer customisable font sizes and colour schemes (still within a brand’s guidelines) to showcase their dedication to user comfort and inclusivity.

What is inclusive design?

In contrast, inclusivity extends beyond accessibility by emphasising representation and visibility across dimensions of identity — for example: disability, race, gender, and many other identifying factors related to people. While accessibility targets usability, inclusivity aims to create environments where all individuals feel welcome and represented.

What are the benefits of inclusive design?

Visible representation and welcoming environments

Inclusive design ensures that products, services, and environments represent and make visible the diverse identities and experiences of individuals. This matters because it promotes a sense of recognition and belonging for people from various backgrounds and identities. Inclusivity in design fosters environments where all individuals feel welcomed, respected, and valued. By considering representation across dimensions of identity such as disability, race, gender, and others, design can create spaces and experiences that are inclusive and affirming for everyone.

Promoting equity and justice

Inclusive design challenges systems of exclusion and marginalisation by prioritising representation and visibility for historically underrepresented groups. This promotes social equity and justice by giving voice and agency to those who have been marginalised or overlooked in design processes.

Enhancing user experience

Designing inclusively leads to better user experiences by considering the diverse needs and preferences of different user groups — this touches on some of the points made above. By prioritising representation and visibility, inclusive design creates products and services that are more accessible, usable, and meaningful for a wider range of people.

Designers can play a pivotal role in building a more inclusive digital world. In essence, accessibility is a foundational aspect of inclusivity, with both working together to foster user-friendly and equitable design experiences. While often used interchangeably, they serve distinct but complementary purposes in design.

We’re here to help

If you’d like to work with a team who know how to thread accessibility and inclusivity throughout all their design work, we’d love to hear from you. Check out our work and get in touch today.


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