Forget accessibility, think inclusivity

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Ergonomics Society Annual Conference where I presented a paper on Agile User Centred development. One of the themes of the conference was inclusive design. I think this is a concept that should gain greater prominence in software / web design.

We talk a lot about “accessibility”, and this to most organisations generally means adhering to W3C guidelines. It is driven from a fear of the Disability Discrimination Act. Yet from a business perspective there is not much of a business case for this stuff. And from a design perspective it can be a pain in the proverbial. -Being told that you can’t do all that 2.0 stuff because it relies on JavaScript (and therefore isn’t DDA compliant) stifles creativity and is guaranteed to annoy fired up developers.-

So here is where inclusive design makes things exciting. Forget about accessibility and think inclusivity and suddenly your perspective changes. You stop thinking solely about “disabled” users and broaden your horizons to a much wider audience of users. From the age of 40 the functional capability of the eye rapidly decreases; 25% of over 55s have reduced overall sensory / motor / cognitive capability which includes a declining memory. (Check out the work of Roger Coleman at The Helen Hamlyn Research Centre for more on this and inclusive design as a whole). Assumptions of what the younger population find easy in usability tests may not be valid for the over 60s.

Include the aging population into your design considerations and suddenly “accessibility” becomes “inclusivity”, a more compelling business case grows and new design decisions can be made. The “silver surfers” are generally considered to be time rich and cash rich. They are a segment unto themselves. So rather than trying to shoehorn “accessibility” into the design with the final design being compromised, isn’t it better to be inclusive and design for the needs of this different segment.

When a supermarket rolls out its in-town “metro” store format, they are not trying to shoehorn the “superstore” format into it. They design according to the needs of the task, customer and environment. Good interaction design considers these three things, but how often to we overlay “constraints” onto this holy trinity? We create personas, but how often to we create a 65 year old persona with myopia and reduced dextrous ability?

Talking of supermarkets, Tesco do inclusivity well with their website. Their retail website may not be DDA compliant, but they have an accessible alternative; a web format for the different segment. They offer a lightweight version of their site that is inclusive. And by the way, it is also muli-device compliant.

So let’s forget about making DDA compliant web sites, let’s forget about accessibility compromising the design. Let us offer compelling alternatives to the commonly excluded population, let us be inclusive rather than trying to satisfying everybody and delighting nobody.


  1. Sam Newman · Wednesday, 19 April, 2006

    Just because using Javascript isn’t DDA compliant doesn’t mean you can use it if you want to remain DDA compliant – it just means that you have to offer alternative ways of performing the same action that don’t use Javascript. AJAXy type operations can enrich the UI of an application – but it is a simple matter to have a fall-back system of simply performing normal POSTs and GETs.

    The reality is that far more commercial sites are completely and utterly unaware of accessibility standards than are in thrall to them.

    Accessibility doesn’t mean “Don’t do” it means “allow all” – lets not throw out a well used term because of the slavish adoption to rules by a group of people that will follow anything written down if it means not having to think!

  2. Sam Newman · Wednesday, 19 April, 2006

    I am also keenly aware that I just spent three paragraphs preaching to the choir 🙂

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