Business Case Literature Review

This is a 2-part business case for inclusive design for any organisation.

This literature review is part 1. We present the argument for prioritising inclusive design and accessibility for your customers.

In part 2, we show how much income businesses are missing out on.

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

What’s in our literature review

In this review, we will:

  • lay out the basic ideas behind inclusive design
  • make the case for adopting and prioritising inclusive design
  • explain how to take the first steps towards becoming inclusive

What is inclusive design?

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.

History of Inclusive Design in the UK (pdf)

The social model of disability

According to the social model, people are not disabled by their condition. They are disabled by the barriers that society puts in their way, whether physical, cultural or economic.

This shift in emphasis has put the responsibility on designers to include disabled people in their thinking from the start. Designers increasingly recognise that their customers have a spectrum of abilities and aptitudes.

By identifying disabled people’s needs, we can begin to break down barriers.

Why inclusive design should be a priority

Inclusive design should be a priority for all businesses. Why? The answer is both economic and ethical.

Firstly, an increasingly ageing population and large disabled workforce is becoming an ever greater proportion of the market. Businesses ignore this at their peril.

Secondly, companies have a legal and ethical duty to respond to a changing world. They must prevent their customers from facing indirect discrimination.

So, as our society ages and we increasingly recognise and celebrate our differences, it’s vital that markets respond to our society’s changing design priorities.

The economic case for inclusive design

The economic case for inclusive design is overwhelming.

The Extra Costs Commission inquiry

The Extra Costs Commission reported in 2015 that “disabled people have the potential to be a hugely powerful consumer force”.

It found that businesses that fail to meet the needs of disabled consumers could be turning away a share of £420 million in business each week.

The Click-Away Pound Report

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”.

The report found 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. And 82% of customers with access needs would spend more if websites were more accessible.

Inclusive Design and the Bottom Line

In Inclusive Design and the Bottom Line, the authors find 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”.

They also find that “the effort and cost investments involved in [inclusive design] application will be largely compensated for in the longer term”.

And that:

“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.”

The exclusion calculator

The University of Cambridge’s Inclusive Design Toolkit includes an “exclusion calculator”. This estimates the number of people a particular product will exclude, based on the demands it places on users.

Use the exclusion calculator to find out the impact on your business.

Disability in the population

Inclusive design will become an economic necessity for businesses as:

  • the UK and Western Europe’s population continues to age
  • the employment gap narrows and disabled people have more disposable income

There’s research exploring the relation between the ageing population and disability.

There are more disabled people

Comparison of Health Expectancies over Two Decades in England” (Jagger et al, 2015) finds that increased life expectancy between 1991 and 2011 has led to a larger proportion of disabled people in the population.

The Office for National Statistics 2018 ‘Living Longer survey’ confirms this trend. People living longer has meant more people are becoming disabled in later life.

The population of over 65s will continue grow

This research is significant because this ageing trend is set to continue for decades to come.

House of Commons Library’s Population Ageing Statistics (2012)

Age UK 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]”.

The ONS 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 (GOV.UK)

Employers are hiring more disabled people

Employment levels amongst disabled people are increasing and look set to continue rising. Government figures show an annual increase of 180,000 disabled people in employment.

‘People with Disabilities in Employment’ research briefing (June 2019)

Disabled people are 18% of the working-age population. As the disability employment gap decreases, more disabled people will have greater disposable income.

User capabilities are a spectrum

In the new inclusive design culture, users are not simply ‘disabled’ or ‘non-disabled’. It’s also impossible to define someone’s level of capability based on a single measurement. User capability is a spectrum.

The University of Cambridge’s Inclusive Design Toolkit (print version) contains a useful summary of the physical and cognitive capabilities that designers can assess. These are categorised as:

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

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

Doing the right thing

Inclusive design is not just about market trends. It also represents a social and moral challenge as well as an economic opportunity.

The lack of inclusive design places unacceptable burdens on disabled people. This includes people who become disabled later in life.

Businesses have a duty to acknowledge and respond to this, particularly since the Equality Act 2010. This includes a duty on service providers and businesses to offer an equal service to disabled people.

This includes websites.

Various sources outline the scale of the problem:

Accessibility failures

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 research shows that disabled people find online and digital technology so vital for their independence.

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

The European Disability Forum

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.

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.”

The European Accessibility Act

Since the Freedom Guide, the European Accessibility Act (2019) has enforced accessibility criteria for various products. These include:

  • 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. The ethical right of disabled people to inclusive design is becoming a legal one.

The legal case

UK businesses are bound by the Equality Act 2010. This requires organisations to take steps to achieve equality and 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 be indirect discrimination.

Being disabled in Britain (EHRC pdf)

The Equality Act

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 should include the provision of information in an accessible format.

This means that public and private providers of goods and services have a duty to anticipate and resolve issues that would prevent disabled people from accessing their products and services.

Breaching the Equality Act

If businesses become aware of a product or service’s discriminatory nature, and act quickly to resolve it, they are not liable under the Act.

Breaching the Equality Act is a civil rather than criminal offence. Despite this, there are cases of organisations such as the RNIB pursuing private legal action. The law in this area remains untested.

RNIB launches legal action over accessibility of BMI Baby website (Civil Society)

Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations

In some areas, there are stricter regulations. The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018 make sure that all public sector websites conform to specific rules on accessibility (GOV.UK). These regulations came into force from summer 2019.

The Government’s guidance on compliance recommends using Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standards.

Public sector website accessibility statements (Government Digital Service)

Legal enforcement of accessibility

Regulatory frameworks vary around the world. In Norway, the agency for Public Management and eGovernment (DIFI) ensures that all websites based in Norway adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

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 facing a 150,000 kroner per day fine if it failed to correct a range of faults.

It’s illegal to have an inaccessible website (Medium)

Legal enforcement on accessibility, including litigation, is likely to become more common. That’s why it’s important for UK businesses to embrace inclusive design.

Increasing demand

As a growing proportion of the population, disabled consumers will demand access to a wider range of products and services.

For example, while older disabled people are still less likely than their non-disabled peers to use the internet, there is little difference in younger age brackets.

In 2018, 98% of disabled adults aged 16 to 24 were recent internet users, just 1% lower than non-disabled adults.

By contrast, the figure for disabled adults aged 75 and over was 39%, 10% lower than the non-disabled figure.

Since 2014, disabled adults regularly using the internet had increased by 11.7% to 9.5 million.

Internet users, UK (GOV.UK)

As more companies respond to these developments, businesses left behind will become a minority. Now is the time to act.

How to apply inclusive design

Inclusive design means different things in different contexts. But some principles apply across the board. In this section, we look at some examples of how to apply universal design in a holistic and sustainable way.

Best practice

Some large technology companies, like Microsoft, have shaped the dialogue around inclusive design.

Microsoft Inclusive Design

Often smaller tech start-up companies have the creative and organisational flexibility to lead the way, such as:

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

Inclusive design includes everybody, as Microsoft’s ‘Inclusive’ film shows. It looks at Skype Translator, which allows users to speak to each other in different languages. It uses speech transcription software developed for hard-of-hearing users with machine translation.


In best practice, businesses have sought the views of the disabled community and their allies in discussions with designers and managers.

Examples of businesses collaborating successfully with third-sector and government bodies in this way include the Big IDeA Consortium.

Members of the consortium include:

  • Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) at OCAD University, Toronto
  • the Inclusive Design Institute
  • DPOs (Disabled People’s Organisations)
  • businesses and business organisations

The consortium allows customers and businesses to co-design inclusive products and services. It aims to:

  • develop an online platform helping customers to find and review accessible businesses (“similar to TripAdvisor, but for accessibility”)
  • help businesses looking for accessibility tools and resources
  • create “a virtuous cycle that benefits customers, businesses and communities”

Business Innovation Guide for Inclusive Design and Accessibility (BIG IDeA)

As these examples show, inclusive design works best when it comes from the need to find solutions to real and specific design problems. It’s also most effective when designers, businesses and the disabled community talk to each other.

Tips and toolkits

If you are looking to make your business and design practices more inclusive, here are some resources to get you started:

Universal Design Toolkit for Customer Engagement (G3ict)

Microsoft Inclusive Design

Learning Directly from Disabled People: A Toolkit for Global Business (Business Disability International)

Inclusive Design Toolkit (University of Cambridge)

Big Hack’s guides and resources for creating inclusive products and services.

Integrating inclusive design

To integrate inclusivity into your design process in a holistic and sustainable way, the literature suggests:

  • 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, not just inclusive design ‘experts’ or advisers

Kate Nash’s toolkit on Learning Directly from Disabled People (2016) includes a range of advice on how interaction with disabled employees and customers can make inclusive design sustainable.

Graham Pullin and Alan Newell’s “Focussing on Extra-ordinary Users”, argues that companies must include users with specific impairments from the start to embed true ‘inclusive design’ in their processes.

If you are keen to get to work on integrating inclusive design into your business, the information you need is out there waiting. The best advice we can give you is to get going!