With 14 million disabled people living in the UK, and 1 billion worldwide, one in five of your users will be disabled. If you pride yourself on practising human-centred design, you cannot exclude disabled people from the process.

Why practising inclusive design makes business sense

There are many reasons why this is a wise business decision, but (besides the social case) here are a few of my favourites:

1. Inclusive design is better design.

The practice of inclusive design make your product more usable to everyone, and accessibility improves SEO. Many of your users will be experiencing temporary disability at some point and inclusive design will mean they can still fulfil their task online (e.g when holding a baby, misplaced glasses, in a loud environment, drunk).

2. Accessibility will cost you more and more if you delay it.

“One (gov) team reported a case where it took 2 to 3 sprints to deal with accessibility issues defined in an audit, at a cost of £50,000.”

GOV.UK blog ‘How to make accessibility easier for service teams’.

Bake it in from the beginning and it will cost a lot less and pay for itself over time.

3. You’ll have a competitive edge.

With 98% of the internet failing to meet the minimum standards of accessibility, a compliant website will win you many loyal customers, and once customer loyalty is won it takes a lot to lure people away.

You can read about the disabilities that are most affected by bad design online in this article in our Big Hack Resource Hub designing for disability: quick do’s and don’ts. Following the rules mentioned in the article is a good start for accessibility. But, practising true human-centred design, you will involve people too. And in order to practise inclusive design (the crème de la crème), you will involve people with different disabilities, backgrounds, and ages so that you don’t accidentally ‘design them out’ of your product.

I know, I know. Things are getting confusing. So ‘human-centred design’ is ‘inclusive design’ because the likelihood is that one in five of my users is disabled….got that, but what’s that got to do with accessibility?

Isn’t ‘inclusive design’ just ‘accessibility’?

Some quick definitions may be useful here:

Human-centred design is a model that considers human perspectives throughout the design process.

Inclusive design is a methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity.

Accessibility refers to qualities that make an experience open to all.

On joining the accessibility scene, it seemed quite clear to me that accessibility (when done correctly) is a product of inclusive design. Heydon Pickering puts it really well in his article, what the heck is inclusive design:

“Accessibility can never be perfect, but by thinking inclusively from planning, through prototyping to production, you can cast a much wider net. That means more and happier users at very little if any more effort.

If you like, inclusive design is the means and accessibility is the end — it’s just that you get a lot more than just accessibility along the way.”

How do I start thinking about accessibility?

For the ins and outs of web accessibility, there are many resources out there which can help. The global minimum standard, WCAG 2.1 is readily available, with tutorials and tools that can help.

The Big Hack Team at Scope have taken the WCAG guidelines and made them more bite-size in our Resource Hub. Here, you can search for content you’re interested in, or browse for articles which are relevant to your work. What makes this resource hub really powerful is the edition of interviews and blogs from disabled people who use technology every day, but also are frustrated when it lets them down.

For fantastic guidance on human-centred design, I find the GOV.UK Service Manual to be the most usable and concise tool out there (other recommendations welcome). For inclusive design, you can still use tools such as the Service Manual but use them with a more diverse group of people.

There is one golden rule for designing with disabled people. Whether you are doing a phone interview, focus group, workshop, product testing you should always ask people before the session if they have specific requirements, access or other. Of course, I would argue this applies to anyone you are co-creating with, as everyone is unique and it’s important to make people feel comfortable and valued before you get to work.

Creating an inclusive working environment: the basics

Here are some other tips for co-creation with disabled people (if you have any others, please add them in the comments section):

  • Don’t touch people’s wheelchairs, canes, guide dogs or any other assistive tech they may be using without explicit permission.
  • Ask everyone to raise a hand before they talk (particularly important if someone is lip-reading but also useful to make sure everyone has a chance to contribute).
  • Make sure the venue is accessible with accessible toilets. No stairs! Not even one. It’s surprising how many venues think they are accessible and then have one stair which is a no-no for wheelchair users.
  • Breaks. I try to have a 15-minute break every hour, in this time it’s good to chat to people on a more informal level — you often glean a lot from these less formal moments.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of snacks and refreshments, and that you ask people if they have dietary requirements in advance.
  • There are many companies you can work with to hire disabled people to consult and co-create within the design process, and most will help facilitate any sessions if required. Scope is one of them, as well as The Shaw Trust.

The Scope Research Panel

Attendees raising their hand to a Big Hack workshop with Krissie Barrick standing in front of a presentation screen

Over the many years Scope has been working with disabled people, the charity has built up a diverse network of research panel members. These are individuals with a direct lived experience of being disabled or as parents of disabled children. They are the best placed to articulate their experiences and provide opinions on how products, services and policies impact their lives.

You can work with Scope’s research panel to gain customer insight in a number of ways, including focus groups, workshops, one-to-one interviews, surveys, product testing. This can be in-person or remote and Scope can provide facilitators to support you and your team.

Scope manages consent and rewards for research participants — we can make considerations around safeguarding and accessibility issues too. Email BigHack@scope.org.uk for inquiries about engaging with the panel.

Start your inclusive design journey today. Design for diversity and for a better future.