Today’s businesses have a tough time implementing accessible design because of its ‘complexity’ and ‘costliness’. But is it, really? Our today’s guest says, ‘if your product and its design are limiting somebody, it’s a bad and broken design.’ In this interview we’ll unpack this statement and discuss why inclusive design is not costly, but is, instead, an investment.
Moisen is a PhD candidate at University College Dublin, who works with the public and private sector. He is a Senior Inclusive Designer at Maritime Digital Art and Design (MDAD), and Walmart International; and as a digital accessibility consultant for Ontario Public Service (OPS) for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (MGCS). Moisen is also a member of the (IAAP) Task Force and Certified Professional in Accessible Built Environments (CPABE)
When I returned to Canada from Malaysia in 2012, a great friend and colleague Feriyal H. Arani introduced me to the Inclusive Design program at OCADU. I audited a class taught by Jutta Treviranus, and just felt at home. It was an amazing feeling to see like-minded and like-hearted people in one place. Besides the welcoming space, safe environment, and emphatic culture, what stood out to me was the focus on human-centered design and not excluding anyone from this point of view (POV).
I was always intrigued by the concept of human-centered design. Many years ago, when I used to design websites, this was back when we had DHTML (I know!), we used to aim for a “user-friendly design.” The buzz word was to create a product that is easy to use for everyone, especially for people who were new to the digital era and the internet.
To me, an accessible design is the same as a user-friendly design.
Inclusive Design is a method, mindset, and philosophy, of considering the user (an individual) before we think of the idea for a project. I like the official definition of inclusive design by IDRC, which is: A design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to abilities, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference.
Inclusive Design and, as a result, Accessibility, is not an upgrade or an extra feature of design. It is the actual service and/or product.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) at least 2.2 billion people in the world have some sort of vision impairment. So, the question is not what designing an accessible digital product would cost, the question is: can you afford to make a product that is inaccessible for over 35% of the world's population?
To give a better perspective consider that disability affects 73% of consumers and people with disabilities are potential clients; their families and friends together control over $13 trillion in disposable income, according to a report by The Global Economics of Disability.
Thus, if any company (public or private, small or large) wants to be part of the ‘new world’, they need to rethink their approach and stop with the excuses. A good design is not costly, it is an investment. And, if you bake accessibility into a design at the beginning, the costs are either negligible or zero.
As with the movie, The Fight Club, the first rule of the Inclusive Design Club is to never assume.
Inclusive Design is about knowing and understanding that we as humans are all unique. It also allows people to acknowledge that on a psychological level we all have biases and assumptions due to our life experience, education, culture, and society. And we are all different on a physical level too.
The Inclusive Design Mindset requires not only being aware of our own assumptions and needs but considering, and designing for, those who we intend to serve; and is related to how our design and end-product and service would impact them and how it could be used.
At the risk of offending well-known designers, (or anyone that believes they are a good designer), I will say this: “if your product is limiting (creates a barrier to any user), if your design is only considering a limited range of abilities, your design is not a ‘good design.’” I would even say: it is a bad and broken design.
WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT INCLUSIVE DESIGN THAT YOU’VE HEARD THE MOST?
Often, when people ask me about Inclusive Design, they believe that there’s one universal set of rules or a specific guideline to follow. However, it’s far from the truth.
Inclusive Design is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It uses a holistic approach, focusing on people (which is a key concept of human-centered design). Inclusive Design depends on an individual's disabilities and abilities, culture, education, understanding, sociology, or just day-to-day interactions and expectations in order to plan and implement its characteristics.
I see Accessible Design as a design principle that allows us to design while being mindful of the range of human diversity. AD is a design that is accessible, easy-to-use, practical, manageable, and needs minimum physical and cognitive energy to be implemented. Thus, by including people with lived experience (people with disabilities), we make sure our product is more accessible, or “user-friendly.”
Inclusive Design (ID) is a mindset, it is a method and a design culture. It is a way of living and experiencing the world. It is about always asking “who are we missing?” It is about unlearning and culture change. It is a way to break out of our assumptions, beliefs and what we thought we knew. And be open to alternative, different experiences and POVs.
For practical purposes, AD and ID are not so different, because both of them require using human-centered design, and focusing on different needs, requirements and preferences of each individual.
Assistive technology is a range of devices that allow us access and enable us to navigate the world (digital and physical). For example, a Screenreader is used by people with low vision or blind people, but can also be used as a smartphone feature that reads out the SMS or articles for the user. Or in an urban environment an automated door or a curve-cut on the sidewalk was designed for people in a wheelchair, but we all benefit from them and use them day to day. There are many more examples such as:
We talk about utopia as just an idea, a never-coming future.
But we have the technology and the resources to create a utopia, we are just stuck in consumerism and the repetition of ill practices and biased cultures. Just look at the new-COVID-age, look how this pandemic has changed our lives, how it has changed the POV of big corporations in providing online services. How the non-flexible bureaucratic system (public and private) has become flexible and provided remote work by implementing accessibility.
Companies that had already invested in technology and designed their system around our habits, culture, needs and requirements with ease of use and had better accessible digital service, were more successful and gained customers' loyalty, and made more profits. For example, an online store that you can only use with your laptop browser, and you need a mouse to navigate, versus an online store that has a user-friendly accessible design that works on a laptop browser, a touchscreen, and you can navigate it by using your touch, keyboard, or a mouse.
We cannot and should not exclude anyone.
If that is not enough reason to do better, design better, create better products, then I refer you to the 35% of world population that live with a disability, and the fact that designing for accessibility is designing for ourselves.
By not considering accessibility in design, we, as humans, are partly missing ourselves. You don’t have to have extreme disability to not be able to use a service. Just having a broken arm, not being able to use a mouse, you need to navigate the page by keyboard only. If the website is not accessible by keyboard it is not usable. Or if the font size is smaller than 12-pixel points and the font color has low contrast, i.e. light blue on a gray background, anyone with low vision (think removing your eyeglasses or moving the screen back a couple of feet), will not be able to read the content.
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT ACCESSIBILITY IN DESIGN SHOULD BE DEMANDED ON CORPORATE AND/OR GOVERNMENTAL LEVELS?
YES! I think it should be demanded, monitored, and governed, by the government and the legal system. I believe that it should be written everywhere in the form of law, as it is in many places, i.e. the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Canadian Accessibility Act, American Accessibility Act, EU and UN human rights acts, and many more.
But just having the law would not help. There must be a governing body to police it and provide education. The key word is education. We can give a list of reasons on why a corporation or the public sector needs to design with accessibility in mind, but we also need to educate ourselves and others on how to be inclusive and design with accessibility and inclusion in mind. It is a journey, and it is a learning process.
Following the laws and standards is not enough. Because Inclusive Design is not about creating a box or another checklist to mark done! It is about welcoming and designing for ourselves and for everyone. It is a human-centered approach. It is the responsibility of the designers to be aware of the context and broader impact of any design and strive to affect a beneficial impact beyond the intended beneficiary of the design.
Just to re-emphasize, we need the law, we need education, and we need the legal system to force the public and private sector to aim towards and be responsible for creating accessible services. And it is essential to have a culture shift, a mindset change, that we are aiming for accessible design because it is the right way, it is beneficial to our lives today and tomorrow.
An Inclusive Design Mindset is forgetting everything we thought was the “fact.” Knowing that the “fact” is an assumption based on biased data. Inclusive Design is the realization, meditation, and honesty of “not knowing for sure.”
I think we will never achieve full accessibility because we will never be able to fully include everyone in the design. However, what we can do is to aim for it and to provide alternatives. To include individual users and allow them to modify and tailor their own solutions. To keep asking, “who are we missing?” Are we including the people we are designing for in the process? So to everyone starting their journey in the design industry: never assume, practice unlearning and culture change.
In the end, I want you to remember that Inclusive Design is made for all and by all, creating a world that is welcoming of all.
If you want to learn more about Inclusive Design and Accessibility in design, check out our interview with two senior designers about real-life cases of implementing accessible design practices into their workflow in our Design blog.