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Principles of Inclusive Design: How to Apply Them to Your Digital Spaces

Posted April 22, 2024


Posted April 22, 2024

Silhouettes of people in varying shades of purple.
Silhouettes of people in varying shades of purple.

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Inclusive design prioritizes creating online spaces that are usable by as many people as possible. Learn inclusive design best practices and how they benefit both your business and your users.

The purpose of inclusive design is to create online spaces that the full range of human diversity can use. It goes beyond accessibility to help designers and developers create digital content that meets diverse backgrounds, experiences, and needs.

Digital content should be designed to be used by all, not just a portion of people. However, what works for some people might not work for others. Designers and developers must recognize these differences to create accessible, inclusive experiences.

In this article, we’ll go into more detail about inclusive design, why it matters, and the principles behind the approach.

What is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive design refers to creating products, services, and experiences that are accessible and usable by as many people as possible. The approach considers factors such as age, geographic location, ability, economic situation, gender, race, and language to fulfill as many diverse perspectives as possible.

Accessing digital content is a civil right. Everyone should have equal access, yet numerous accessibility barriers keep people from accessing the web. Inclusive design aims to break down those barriers and exclusion points by working inclusivity and accessibility into product design and design processes. By embracing inclusive design, organizations can create products and services that accommodate a diverse group of users.

Inclusive Design Vs. Accessible Design

Both inclusive design and accessible design empower designers and developers to create digital content that can be used by as many people as possible. While the boundaries between the two often become blurred, there are key differences between the two approaches.

Accessible design, for example, is focused on designing digital content that can be used by all users, particularly those with disabilities. The goal is to ensure that no user is excluded from accessing and using websites, web or mobile apps, and other digital content. 

Inclusive design, on the other hand, is focused on creating digital content that works for a broad range of people, their various abilities, and their various contexts, situations, and environments. Where inclusive design differs from accessible design is that it doesn’t necessarily address a user’s particular need but rather provides tools and features that users can choose from to meet their specific needs. 

Additionally, inclusive design usually leads to designers and developers creating more robust design solutions that anticipate and address a wider range of user needs beyond accessibility compliance.

Checklist with boxes checked off next to a purple accessibility symbol.

Principles of Inclusive Design

Now that you understand what inclusive design is — and how it differs from accessible design — let’s delve into the principles of inclusive design.

Comprehensive Accessibility

A key part of inclusive design is ensuring it’s usable by all users, including those with disabilities. Many people with disabilities rely on assistive technologies, such as screen readers or keyboard navigation, to navigate the web.

To ensure your site is usable by the disabled community, it should include accessible features and functionalities, including screen reader compatibility, keyboard navigation, closed captions for video, alt text for images, etc. You may also consider including accessibility tools that enable users to change web elements to fit their unique needs.

Flexibility in Use

No two users will interact with digital content in the exact same way, so digital products, services, and content must be flexible.

For example, videos should include closed captions so people can choose to listen or to read content. Not only does this accommodate people with hearing impairments (e.g. deafness or hearing loss), but also allows those who want to watch a video in a public space without disrupting others. This also allows those who prefer to read content to do so.

You may also want to consider additional customization options, including the ability to adjust text size, pause or stop animations, or change color combinations.

Simple and Intuitive

Web design should be simple and easy to use regardless of a user's abilities. Design elements should not rely heavily on a user’s previous experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration to be used. Users should be able to access your content and immediately understand how to use it.

To ensure your site is intuitive, provide clear headings that give users an idea of how content is organized. This can also help improve navigation. You may also want to use visual elements to guide users through the page. For example, using colors, white space, and icons can help differentiate between sections or highlight important links.

Perceivable Information

When delivering information online, it should be perceivable to all user groups, including those with sensory disabilities. More simply, necessary information should be clearly and effectively communicated to users, regardless of their abilities. 

To ensure digital content is perceivable by people with sensory disabilities, you should provide alternative delivery methods. For example, whenever you have videos, be sure to include voice-to-text or Braille displays. This allows those with visual impairments (e.g., blindness or low vision) to read content.

Tolerance for Error

While it’s impossible to avoid user errors entirely, there are ways to minimize their impact and handle them gracefully.

For example, confirmation boxes or dialogues inform users that they’ve correctly completed an action or clarifies they want to perform an action. Say a user wants to delete an item. A dialogue box would announce: “Are you sure you want to delete this item”? This ensures the user wants to perform an action and gives them a chance to save data or information. While dialogue boxes are parituclalry useful for individuals with visual impairments, they’re also beneficial for non-visually impaired users as it decreases errors or lost data.

Similarly, these tools can highlight errors, letting users know where the issue is and how it can be resolved. Another example is the use of multi-step undo capabilities, which are particularly useful for keyboard users and can quickly undo actions when errors occur.

Low Physical Effort

Digital designs should be used efficiently, comfortably, and with minimum fatigue. Users shouldn’t have to expend a huge amount of energy or brain power in trying to navigate through your digital content. This is particularly important for those with physical or cognitive disabilities as numerous or complex web elements can be distracting or hard to use for these users.

Using voice recognition technology or gesture-based controls can reduce the physical effort needed to navigate the web.

Size and Space for Approach and Use

Finally, physical accessibility is important in UX design. This includes elements such as touch targets or interactive elements — both of which should be easy to manipulate. Web designs should have the appropriate amount of space for reach and manipulation, regardless of a user’s body size, mobility, or posture.

To fulfill this need, designs should:

  • Have a clear line of sight to important elements for both standing and seated users.
  • Ensure the reach to certain components is comfortable for seated or standing users.
  • Accommodate various hand and grip sizes.
  • Have enough space for assistive technologies to navigate the page easily.
Web browser with an accessibility icon that has a cursor over it.

Benefits of Inclusive Design

Inclusive design aims to create digital content that supports as many people as possible. By accommodating a diverse range of experiences, you:

  • Meet accessibility standards: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, requires organizations to provide accessible online spaces. The act enforces the recommendations included in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which detail how to create accessible digital content. Following these guidelines helps you create an ADA-compliant website, which decreases the chances of legal action (including lawsuits and demand letters) occurring due to non-compliance.
  • Broaden user engagement: Inclusive design fosters a sense of belonging among users, which increases user engagement and loyalty. 
  • Enhance your reputation: Inclusive designs show both current and potential customers you’re committed to providing an inclusive, positive experience for users. According to one study, showcasing your commitment to inclusivity can increase customer loyalty by 57%. This improves your brand reputation and can help you win more customers.
  • Create more sales opportunities: The disabled community is a huge, highly loyal community. By creating inclusive and accessible web designs, you open the door to a market with more than $13 trillion in annual disposable income
  • Improve the user experience: Most importantly, an inclusive design creates a positive, accessible space for all. Access to digital content is a civil right — everyone should have access to it regardless of their abilities, demographics, or geographic location.

Implementing Inclusive Design in Digital Products

The first step in bringing inclusivity into your designs is understanding the unique needs of your users. This involves conducting user research to determine what their needs and preferences are. Conducting interviews, surveys, or usability tests with users from different backgrounds is a great way to capture those insights and user preferences. Be sure to address your own biases prior to interviewing others as this will help you keep an open mind throughout the prototyping process.

Once you have an understanding of your users’ needs, remember to include accessibility features. Inclusivity includes the disabled community, who need accessible features like alt text, keyboard navigation, and screen reader compatibility. 

Next, you can begin creating your digital design. As you’re doing so, keep flexibility in mind throughout the entire process. Remember, no two users interact the same when using online spaces. Be sure to provide users with options to adjust font or text sizes, change color contrast, or other visual elements. You may also want to provide alternative input methods to accommodate users with limited physical mobility.

Finally, test and iterate your designs regularly. As technology evolves and user needs change, so too does the meaning of inclusivity. Regular accessibility testing is the only way to continue to provide an inclusive, accessible experience even as needs change.

AudioEye’s Role in Promoting Inclusive Design

Inclusive design isn’t just the latest design industry buzzword. It’s something more consumers are looking for and prioritizing when evaluating products and services. By incorporating inclusive design, you foster an environment where inclusivity thrives and users feel a strong sense of belonging. Additionally, accessibility ensures that everyone has equal access to products and services which expands your market reach and drives customer loyalty.

At AudioEye, we’re committed to creating inclusive and accessible web designs that are usable by all. We do this by first helping you understand your current accessibility levels with our Website Accessibility Scanner. The results from the scan show where common accessibility issues exist and where improvements can be made. Our Automated Fixes automatically fix common issues while our team of experts apply Managed Custom Fixes for more complex issues. 

We even help you maintain a mindset of accessibility and inclusivity by providing Accessibility Training. This also helps you stay up-to-date on the latest accessibility design practices, enabling you to continue to build accessible design as technology evolves and user needs change. 

The result: an accessible, inclusive online environment that is usable by those with disabilities and inclusive for all. 

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