Making our digital products inclusive to employees, potential employees, and customers doesn’t stop at compliance with accessibility guidelines such as the Web Accessibility Initiative’s (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In fact, making our technology accessible should be business as usual. To make products inclusive, we need to think beyond compliant code, keyboard access, good contrast, and text alternatives by taking into account how people with disabilities experience our products.

Inclusive design is about putting people first. It’s about design that considers the needs of people with permanent, temporary, situational, or changing disabilities. While federal laws require workplace technology to be accessible, the benefits of inclusive design reach far beyond our legal obligation to the people with disabilities we may recruit, employ, or serve with our products and services. Inclusive thinking drives innovation and results in a better experience for everyone.

Web content is a prime example of technology that should follow inclusive design. How we interact with the web varies by person and can change day-to-day. For instance, a person could sustain a physical injury or come into work while experiencing a migraine. Moreover, as we age, we may experience shifts in accessibility needs due to changes in our eyesight, dexterity, or memory. Accessible technology can make the web easier to navigate in all of these scenarios.

Designing with accessibility and inclusion in mind from the outset has the added benefit of improving usability for both people with and without disabilities. Imagine, for example, a mobile application used to log the hours you work that can be unlocked with touch identification. This helps people who have difficulty inputting text on small screens or remembering password information. Not only does this make the application more accessible for people who are blind or have low vision, people with disabilities that affect their dexterity, and people with cognitive disabilities, but also it simply makes the application easier for everyone to use.

So, how do we level up our commitment to making technology accessible and go beyond compliance? At The Paciello Group, we use our Inclusive Design Principles in combination with WCAG to inform our design decisions. As we share on our blog:

Behind every great site or application lies thought, empathy and inclusion. This doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by design. How we get there is as unique, original, and diverse as the people who use our products. The Inclusive Design Principles are just one way to help you get there.

The Inclusive Design Principles are a set of 7 considerations to help inform design thinking. They are not a set of “how-to’s,” but rather a framework that can be used alongside established accessibility guidelines while developing products to move beyond compliance:

1. Provide a comparable experience

Ensure your interface provides a comparable experience for all so people can accomplish tasks in a way that suits their needs without undermining the quality of the content.

2. Consider situation

People use your interface in different situations. Make sure your interface delivers a valuable experience to people regardless of their circumstances.

3. Be consistent

Use familiar conventions and apply them consistently.

4. Give control

Ensure people are in control. People should be able to access and interact with content in their preferred way.

5. Offer choice

Consider providing different ways for people to complete tasks, especially those that are complex or non-standard.

6. Prioritise content

Help users focus on core tasks, features, and information by prioritising them within the content and layout.

7. Add value

Consider the value of features and how they improve the experience for different users.

Integrating the Inclusive Design Principles early on in projects helps teams to better understand who will use their products and how. Referencing the principles when writing personas and user stories, building prototypes, and conducting user research will help teams build better features to support users with disabilities. It’s time to shift our thinking away from compliance by recognizing how accessible technology can enable people by design.

For more about this read Accessibility – designing a better web for everybody in Net Magazine. Additional resources include:

About the Author

Henny Swan

Currently Director of User Experience at The Paciello Group, Henny has worked in accessibility for 14 years previously at BBC, Opera Software, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, freelancing, and a startup in China. She was lead author on the BBC Mobile Accessibility Guidelines and also contributes to the Web Accessibility Mobile Accessibility Task Force.