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Business Case Literature Review

This is the first release of a three-part business case for inclusive design suitable for any size organisation.

The case below gives a compelling argument for prioritising inclusive design and accessibility throughout any business’ customer offer.

Soon to come: We’ve crunched the numbers to find out what income businesses are missing out on by not developing an inclusive customer offer. We are also gathering success stories from businesses who are doing inclusion really well.

This will be released in November.

For more information on how to apply the business case for your organisation and to find out more, contact the Big Hack team.

Setting the scene

Inclusive design should be a key priority for businesses of all sizes. In a society where our differences are increasingly recognised and celebrated, not to mention a society that is getting older, it’s vital from both an economic and ethical perspective that markets respond to the changing design priorities that come with this.

In this summary of the conclusions from a detailed literature review, we lay out the basic ideas behind inclusive design, make the case for its adoption by business, and explain how to take the first steps towards achieving it.

The Design Council describes inclusive design as a “general approach to designing in which designers ensure that their products and services address the needs of the widest possible audience, irrespective of age or ability”.

The design theorists P. John Clarkson and Roger Coleman add that the development of inclusive design is closely related to the development of the “social model” of disability. According to this model, people with impairments are not disabled by their condition, but by the barriers that society puts in their way, whether physical, cultural, or economic.

This shift in emphasis has put the onus on designers to include disabled people in their thinking from the earliest possible point of the design process. It has also led to a greater sense of identification with disabled users, and a breakdown in boundaries between disabled and non-disabled users.

Designers increasingly recognise that their customers occupy a spectrum of abilities and aptitudes across various areas, rather than existing in two separate camps.

So, why does inclusive design matter?

The answer is both economic and ethical.

Firstly, in an increasingly ageing population, not to mention one with an increasingly large disabled workforce, users with a range of impairments will constitute an ever greater proportion market for various products: businesses ignore this at their peril.

Secondly, companies have a duty to respond to a changing world. They must prevent their customers from facing indirect discrimination through markets that isolate and exclude them.

Inclusive design: the bottom line

The economic case for inclusive design is overwhelming.

Scope helped to establish this fact through its work with the Extra Costs Commission, an independent inquiry which reported in 2015 that “disabled people have the potential to be a hugely powerful consumer force.”

The Commission’s interim technical report found that businesses which fail to meet the needs of disabled consumers could be turning away a share of £420 million in business each week.

Many of the sources consulted for this review similarly detail the opportunity costs to businesses of ignoring their disabled customers. This is particularly true in digital and online spaces, where disabled consumers hold real sway over the fortunes of certain products and services.

Rick Williams and Steve Brownlow’s Click-Away Pound Report 2016 details “the online shopping experience of disabled customers, and the costs to business of ignoring them”. Based on a user survey, the authors determine the percentage of users with access needs who take their business elsewhere rather than persisting with inaccessible websites.

They conclude that 71% of disabled customers will click away from a website they find difficult to use.

These click-away customers have an estimated spending power of £11.75 billion in the UK alone. What is more, 82% of customers with access needs would spend more if websites were more accessible.

Taking a broader focus, Anna Mieczakowski’s (et al.) article on “Inclusive Design and the Bottom Line” finds a “strong financial case for inclusive design, demonstrated by the commercial success of mainstream products such as the OXO Good Grips line of kitchen and garden tools, the BT Big Button and Freestyle phones, and the Ford Focus.”

Based on a detailed literature review, the article finds that “the effort and cost investments involved in [inclusive design] application will be largely compensated for in the longer term”.

What is more, “cost-cutting on inclusivity … can result in higher costs later on as products are deemed unusable, leading, in turn, to product returns and costly helpdesk calls…retro-fitting a product to be inclusive (i.e. redesigning it) also incurs extra costs.”

For those who want to work out what a lack of inclusivity might mean for their own business, the University of Cambridge’s Inclusive Design Toolkit includes an “exclusion calculator”. This estimates the number of people that will be barred from using a particular product based on the demands it places on users.

The challenges of population change

As the UK population continues to age, in line with that of Western Europe as a whole, and as the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people narrows – meaning disabled people have more disposable income – inclusive design will become a matter of economic necessity for more businesses.

A number of research publications include robust findings on the theme of population ageing, and related increases in the prevalence of disability.

Jagger’s (et al.) “Comparison of Health Expectancies over Two Decades in England” (2015) relays the findings of a survey on changes in life-expectancy and associated health outcomes between 1991 and 2011, using data from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study.

In common with many studies, it finds that substantial gains in life expectancy over this period do not correlate with equivalent increases in disability-free years.

In other words, in England – and across the UK as a whole – disabled people, particularly those with mild to moderate disability, comprise a larger proportion of the population than ever before.

More recent sources, such as the ONS’s 2018 ‘Living Longer survey’, confirm this disparity between gains in life expectancy and gains in disability-free life expectancy.

This is especially significant because this ageing trend is set to continue for decades to come. The House of Commons Library’s Population Ageing Statistics, produced in 2012, included figures on the estimated growth of the elderly population.

AgeUK 2019 projection-based data sets indicated that “growth in [the 65+] age group is projected to continue for the foreseeable future, with the 65+ population expected to reach 16.9 million by 2035 [compared to 10.3 million in 2010])”. Since that point there has been a small slowdown in life expectancy increases, but this is unlikely to be significant in the long term.

The ONS also predicted that “in 50 years’ time, there are likely to be an additional 8.6 million people aged 65 years and over – a population roughly the size of London.” Living Longer : how our population is changing and why it matters

At the same time, employment levels amongst disabled people are increasing, and look set to continue rising. The most recent government figures, published in May 2019, show an increase of 180,000 in the number of disabled people in employment over the previous year. ‘People with Disabilities in Employment’ research briefing

With disabled people constituting 18% of the working-age population, this gradual bridging of the disability employment gap means that a large number of disabled people are likely to gain access to greater levels of disposable income in the near future.

User capabilities: a spectrum

One of the facts to emerge from the new inclusive design culture is that users are not simply ‘disabled’ or ‘non-disabled’. Each of us occupies a point on a spectrum from capability to non-capability across a range of different areas. Not only is it impossible to judge us simply as disabled or non-disabled, then, it’s also impossible to define our level of capability based on a single measurement.

The University of Cambridge’s Inclusive Design Toolkit (print version) contains a useful summary of seven areas in which our physical and cognitive capabilities can be assessed by designers. These are sorted into three categories:

  • sensory, including vision and hearing
  • cognitive, including thinking and communication
  • motor, including locomotion, reach, and stretch and dexterity

Almost all designed products require a range of capabilities to be put to use by the consumer, and will require different levels of skills in the different areas.

By understanding the variety and complexity of the demands that their products place on users, designers will create better and more saleable products.

This kind of nuanced thinking will become more and more important as users come to occupy a wider range of positions across the areas listed above.

Doing the right thing

Inclusive design is not just to do with market trends, however. An ageing population, and a population in which economic and cultural barriers between disabled and non-disabled people are being broken down, represents a social and moral challenge as well as an economic opportunity.

The absence of inclusive design places unacceptable burdens on disabled people, including those whose impairments have developed later in life. Businesses have a duty to acknowledge and respond to this, particularly since the Equality Act 2010, which includes a duty on service providers and businesses to offer an equal service to disabled people.

This includes websites.

A number of sources outline the unacceptable state of inclusive design practices across many markets in the UK and worldwide.

In February 2019, the web accessibility charity WebAIM evaluated the home pages of the million most visited websites using WAVE stand-alone API, a tool for evaluating web interface accessibility.

They found that 97.8% of home pages had accessibility failures as defined under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG). This is especially troubling as other research shows that disabled people find online and digital technology so vital for their sense of independence.

In a survey conducted for Scope’s Independent, Confident, Connected 2018 report, 78% of disabled respondents said that access to digital technology was helpful or very helpful.

Other publications take a wider geographical focus. The European Disability Forum (EDF) has for several years campaigned for disabled people to enjoy the rights offered in theory by EU directives on the free movement of people, goods, and services.[i]

In its 2011 Freedom Guide, the EDF highlighted a wide range of gaps in provision, in areas such as technology, transport, and the built environment. The report concluded that “discrimination [against] persons with disabilities is … omnipresent in our society – despite the fact that the Lisbon Treaty requires the EU to combat discrimination based on disability when defining and implementing its policies and activities.”

Since then, the European Accessibility Act (2019) has enforced accessibility criteria for various products, including ticketing machines, computers and operating systems, smartphones, banking services, and e-commerce.

Whatever the UK’s future holds, international developments like these often set the precedent for national law, and the ethical right of disabled people to inclusive design is increasingly becoming a legal one.

The legal case

Within the UK, businesses are bound by the Equality Act 2010, which protects disabled people from discrimination, and requires organisations to take proactive steps to achieve equality between  groups. Importantly, the act aims to prevent “indirect discrimination”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission defines indirect discrimination as occurring “when an organisation puts a rule or a policy or a way of doing things in place which has a worse impact on someone with a protected characteristic than someone without one.”

The Commission makes clear that providing inaccessible products, including websites, can constitute indirect discrimination.[ii] Being disabled in Britain review

This means that businesses should be aware of the ways in which their products and services might unwittingly be excluding disabled users. If they are made aware of a product or service’s discriminatory nature, and act quickly to resolve if, they are not liable under the Act. [iii]

In some areas, stricter regulations are applied. The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 ensure that all public sector websites and conform to specific rules on accessibility.[iv] These regulations come into force from Summer 2019.

Regulatory frameworks vary around the world, and in some cases similar standards are applied across the whole of society.

In Norway, the agency for Public Management and eGovernment (DIFI) ensures that all websites based in the country adhere to certain accessibility criteria.[v]

Focusing on large companies, DIFI can issue lists of changes required by a certain date, with fines levied if the company fails to respond. In November 2017, this resulted in the Norwegian Airline SAS being threatened with a 150,000 kroner per day fine if it failed to correct a remedy a range of faults.[vi]

This and other approaches to legal enforcement on accessibility, including litigation, are likely to become more common around the world over the coming decades. For this and many other reasons, it is important for UK businesses to get their house in order.

Looking to the future

As disabled people constitute a larger and larger proportion of the population, disabled consumers will demand access to a wider and wider range of products and services. For example, whereas older disabled people are still less likely than their non-disabled peers to use the internet, there is now little meaningful difference between disabled and non-disabled internet usage within younger age brackets.

The most recent ONS data on internet usage showed that in 2018, 98% of disabled adults aged 16-24 were recent internet users, just one percent lower than the figure for non-disabled adults. By contrast, the figure for disabled adults aged 75 and over was 39%, 10% lower than the non-disabled figure. The report added that since 2014, the number of disabled adults regularly using the internet had increased by 11.7% to 9.5 million.

Applying the logic of these findings on a wider scale, correlations between disability and non-usage of certain products and services are likely to become less and less significant for the future. And as more and more companies switch their practices in response to these developments, those left behind will increasingly become a minority. Now is the time to act.

How to get there

Inclusive design means different things in different contexts, but some principles apply across the board. In this section, we look at some examples of best practice, enablers and barriers, and how to ensure that inclusive design is applied in a holistic and sustainable way.

Best practice

Some larger companies, particularly in the technology space, have actively shaped the dialogue around inclusive design. Microsoft’s webpage on inclusive design surveys recent improvements to the company’s own services, and outlines its approach to inclusive design.

Often, however, it is smaller companies that have the creative and organisational flexibility to make strides forwards. Examples of best-practice within the tech start-up space, include:

  • the GPS app Blindsquare, which describes environments and announces points of interest and street intersections for visually impaired travelers
  • AccessEarth, an app offering TripAdvisor-style information on accessibility

One lesson we can learn from these case studies is that often inclusive design doesn’t only benefit the people for whom it was intended. The Microsoft-produced ‘Inclusive’ film considers the example of Skype Translator, which uses speech transcription software developed for hard-of-hearing users in combination with machine translation to allow Skype users to speak to each other in different languages.

Consortiums and collaborations

In many cases, best practice is achieved when businesses actively seek out the views of the disabled community and their non-disabled allies, integrating them into discussions with designers and managers. Often, these organisations spread out internationally, allowing skills from a wide range of backgrounds and local contexts to be brought together.

Examples of businesses collaborating successfully with third-sector and government bodies in this way include the Canada-based Big IDeA Consortium, led by Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) at OCAD University, Toronto, and hosted by the Inclusive Design Institute.

Members of the consortium include DPOs (Disabled People’s Organisations), businesses, and business organisations. As detailed in their Business Innovation Guide for Inclusive Design and Accessibility (BIG IDeA), the consortium was established in order to allow customers and businesses to co-design inclusive products and services.

Specifically, the aim was to develop an online platform helping customers to find and review accessible businesses (“similar to TripAdvisor, but for accessibility”). The consortium also aims to help businesses looking for accessibility tools and resources, and to initiate “a virtuous cycle that benefits customers, businesses, and communities”.

What this example and others teach us is that inclusive design works best when it arises from the need to find solutions to real and specific design problems. It is also most effective when designers, businesses, and the disabled community are brought into direct dialogue, rather than responding to each other from afar.

Tips and toolkits

If you are looking to make your business and design practices more inclusive, there are a huge range of primers and toolkits available online, all including tailor-made advice and practical resources for businesses of all sizes.

Here are a few examples of toolkits and similar resources available online:

G3ict. Universal Design Toolkit for Customer Engagement

Inclusive Design Norway. Innovating with People: The Business of Inclusive Design

Microsoft inclusive design webpage

Kate Nash (for Business Disability International). ‘Learning Directly from Disabled People: A Toolkit for Global Business’

University of Cambridge Inclusive Design Toolkit website

University of Cambridge Inclusive Design Toolkit pdf 


Making it stick

One of the most important lessons to be draw from all the available literature is that inclusivity must be integrated into the design process in a holistic and sustainable way.

Consistent themes to emerge from the sources on this subject include:

  • the importance of co-production with users
  • aiming for diversity of design approaches rather than ‘one-size-fits-all’ targets for accessible products
  • that knowledge of the economic and social benefits of inclusive design must filter throughout a whole organisation, rather than having single inclusive design ‘experts’ or advisors

Kate Nash’s toolkit on Learning Directly from Disabled People (2016) includes a range of advice on using direct interaction with disabled employees and customers to ensure embedded and sustainable inclusive design.

Graham Pullin and Alan Newell, in their paper “Focussing on Extra-ordinary Users”, make the point that in order to achieve true ‘inclusive design’, and to embed the concept in companies’ design policies going forwards, users with specific impairments must be included from the start of the design process.

There are many similar resources to choose from if you are keen to get to work on integrating inclusive design into your business. All the information you need is out there waiting: most of it is easy to find online and it is generally free. The best advice we can give you is to get going!


Design Council (2008). Inclusive Design Education Resource

John Clarkson and Roger Coleman, “History of Inclusive Design in the UK.” Applied Ergonomics 30 (2013)

The Extra Costs Commission (2015), Driving Down the Costs Disabled People Face: Final Report

Extra Costs Commission (2015), Driving Down the Costs Disabled People Face: Final Report

Rick Williams and Steve Brownlow; Freeney Williams/Click-Away Surveys (2016), The Click-Away Pound Report 2016

Anna Mieczakowski, Sue Hessey and P. John Clarkson, “Inclusive Design and the Bottom Line: How Can Its Value Be Proven to Decision Makers?” In C. Stephanidis and M. Antona (eds.) UAHCI/HCII 2013: Part 1 (Berlin; Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, 2013)

University of Cambridge, Exclusion Calculator (web-page)

C. Jagger, F. Matthews, P. Wohland et al., “A Comparison of Health Expectancies over Two Decades in England: Results of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study I and II.” The Lancet (2015)

ONS (2018), Living Longer: How Our Population is Changing and Why it Matters

Tom Rutherford; House of Commons Library (2012), “Population Ageing Statistics”

See the sources quoted in Age UK (2019), Later Life in the United Kingdom 2019

Andrew Powell (2019), People with Disabilities in Employment House of Commons Library Briefing Paper

John Clarkson, Roger Coleman, Ian Hosking and Sam Waller (eds.) (2007). Inclusive Design Toolkit

WebAIM (2019). The WebAIM Million: An Accessibility Analysis of the Top 100,000 Home Pages

Scope (2018). Independent, Confident, Connected

European Disability Forum, Freedom Guide: Paving the Way towards Free Movement for Persons with Disabilities (2011)

European Commission, European Accessibility Act (web-page)

The Equality Act 2010 see Article 19 for indirect discrimination

Equality and Human Rights Commission, Your Rights under the Equality Act 2010 (web-page)

ONS, Internet Users, UK: 2018 

Microsoft, Inclusive Design (web-page)

BIG IDeA Consortium, Business Innovation Guide for Inclusive Design and Accessibility (BIG IDeA) (n.d.)

Kate Nash; Business Disability International, Learning Directly from Disabled People: A Toolkit for Global Business (2016)


[i] These principles are derived from a range of articles in the Lisbon Treaty, such as article 45, which asserts the right for all EU citizens to study, work, establish themselves and travel or live in another Member State.

[ii] Equality and Human Rights Commission (2011), Equality 2010 Code of Practice: Services Public Functions and Associations Statutory Code of Practice. Section 29 of the Equality Act states that failure to provide goods or services to disabled people amounts to discrimination. Section 20 requires that reasonable adjustments be made should include the provision of information in an accessible format. Taken together these two articles mean that public and private providers of goods and services have an ongoing duty to anticipate and resolve issues that would prevent disabled people from accessing their products services.

[iii] Breaching the Equality Act constitutes a civil rather than criminal offence, and as such has to be enforced through private legal action. Nonetheless, there are cases of organisations such as RNIB pursuing this kind of action, and the law in this area remains untested. Civil Society (30 Jan 2012), “RNIB Launches Legal Action over Accessibility of BMIBaby Website”

[iv] The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. While the regulations themselves do not refer to specific accessibility standards, the Government’s guidance on compliance recommends using Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 AA standards. Government Digital Service, Cabinet Office (2018) “Public sector website accessibility statements – what you need to know”

[v] Specifically, it enforces almost all of the criteria laid out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

[vi] Ida Aalen,; “It’s Illegal to Have an Inaccessible Website in Norway and That’s Good News for All of Us”