According to a study conducted by the World Bank, roughly 15% of the world’s population is affected by some form of disability. That’s an estimated 1 billion people. Having a disability often results in a number of barriers between the consumer and essential goods and services - the internet included. A study by Pew Research indicates that 81% of adults in America without a disability own a computer, while only 62% of Americans with disabilities do. That same study also indicates that 15% of Americans with disabilities say they never access the internet in comparison to 5% of individuals without disabilities.
In order to combat these issues, businesses and organizations should focus on an inclusive design approach for their digital assets that can help to ensure their products are accessible for all. By making inclusivity a priority, tech companies can help to tackle access and opportunity gaps for people with disabilities. Inclusive software design is an active and intentional approach to product development that specifically targets disenfranchised and underrated groups.
People with disabilities are significantly more likely to encounter issues when using technology, and only 10% of the estimated 1 billion people world-wide with disabilities have access to products designed for them.
So, why is inclusive design so important for tech and software development companies? Ultimately, businesses that empower their employees to design and create inclusive products not only contribute to building a more inclusive and accessible world, they also create more opportunities to grow and expand your business. The benefits to your business include reaching a much wider audience, fostering a more intense sense of loyalty, and staying ahead of any competitors you might have.
Here are a few examples of why inclusive design is so important:
Identifying and implementing key inclusivity features can help to foster new levels of innovation. A great example of this is Wayne Westerman’s touchpad keyboard invention which shows just how an inclusive design approach can go way beyond simply being accessible. Although the product was designed specifically for those with hand disabilities, it quickly gained widespread popularity among a much larger audience. Apple eventually acquired his technology, leading to a revolution in the iPhone’s interface which helped to shape how we interact not only with technology, but also each other.
Beyond accessibility and usability, inclusive design can also lead to an overall improved user experience. It can help to foster a sense of loyalty and belonging, making more users open to using your products, platforms, and apps. A simple example of this is adding an option to increase font size which creates a better experience for older users.
By focusing on inclusive design principles, tech companies can enhance the lives of disabled people and make a lasting, positive impact on society. A great example of this would be the app “Be My Eyes,” which connects visually impaired users with a sighted volunteer through a live video call. The volunteer can assist with simple tasks such as checking expiration dates, distinguishing colors, reading instructions, or helping the vision impaired user to navigate new and unfamiliar surroundings. Apps like this not only enhance the user’s life, but also help to foster a sense of community and connection. By embracing and focusing on inclusive design principles, developers can create new and innovative tools that advance the societal impact of their digital products.
Generally speaking, users tend to favor businesses that prioritize inclusivity in their product designs. Ignoring it could do great harm to a business's reputation. Making a commitment to inclusive design shows consumers that your business cares about all of your customers. And with so many different ways for users to review, share ratings, and spread information about a company’s practices, focusing on inclusivity is now a crucial factor in elevating your brand’s reputation.
Search engines like Google care a lot about inclusivity. In fact, they may even give higher rankings to sites that make inclusivity a priority. If users are visiting and then leaving your website quickly because of accessibility issues, Google will pick up on this and may think it’s because they haven’t found what they are looking for. If this happens enough, Google may drop you down the search rankings.
Recognizing issues, uncovering biases, and learning from users that are the most impacted will create the necessary foundation that developers need to successfully use inclusive design in tech.
Successfully integrating inclusive design principles is generally built on the following five principles:
In order to fully embrace inclusive design, the first step is to simply recognize that most technology can inadvertently exclude certain groups of people. Being mindful of how these unintentional barriers help to lay the foundation for a design process that is more empathetic and inclusive.
After your development team has recognized how design can sometimes be exclusionary, the next step is to uncover and identify latent biases in their approach to how they build their apps. These biases are often deeply ingrained and completely unintentional, but can hinder the development of inclusive and accessible products.
If you want to ensure your products are genuinely inclusive and accessible, a key step is performing extensive research into the needs and wants of all your users and potential users. Go out of your way to seek feedback from marginalized users. During the design phase be sure to collaborate with users from diverse backgrounds and needs. Doing this can help shed light on potential design biases and give insight on how to meet the needs of all your users.
If your developers are committed to cultivating an inclusive mindset and creating accessible products, they must first understand how certain users are being marginalized. This process begins with empathy and being able to put yourselves in the shoes of someone who experiences exclusion. While designing an app, your developers should be asking themselves questions like “What does our product look like to someone who might be visually impaired?” or “How would someone with hand dexterity issues navigate our app?” Questions like these open dialogues that can lead to a greater understanding of inclusive design principles.
The previous four steps are meant to help your team of developers eliminate uncertainties and guesswork as they seek to build a more accessible product. By the time your developers reach this step, their primary goal is to analyze all of the information gathered throughout the process to identify the needs of your marginalized users as accurately as possible. That data is what helps your team to lay the foundation to build or improve upon your products and make them as inclusive as possible.
As we noted above, there are substantial economic benefits for creating inclusive digital products. You can foster a sense of loyalty and belonging with your customers, driving innovation and reaching a much broader audience. Beyond financial reasons, making inclusive and accessible design a priority gives tech companies a way to enact meaningful change throughout the industry. Developers and businesses who embrace inclusive policies can help shape the world where all users feel valued and empowered in their digital experiences.
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