Inclusive design goes mainstream – how could you benefit from it in 2019?

Stop press: For the latest in accessibility trends, we’ve created a new trends video from our webinar in which we updated this blog in 2021. Check it out on HiHub (requires registration) at Trends in Digital Accessibility for 2021


Happy New Year!

It’s the time of year when people look ahead to what they think is going to be important in their part of the digital world this year. So we wanted to do the same for what is going to be important in digital inclusion in 2019.

Next time, I’ll look at how new digital technologies and standards will impact accessibility and digital inclusion in 2019.

This time I want look at why large organisations are seeing this year as the year Inclusive Design goes mainstream, and why they believe it’s so important.

It’s about taking accessibility upstream into the design process

I’ll start with ‘Big Idea Number 6’ from Linkedin’s great 50 Big Ideas for 2019: What to watch in the year ahead blog. For the record, this comes just after Brexit and just before AI:

6. Inclusive design will go mainstream
A growing awareness among professionals and advances in artificial intelligence are transforming inclusive design, says Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft (LinkedIn’s parent company). “We used to call it assistive technologies and it used to be a checklist of things you did after the product was built,” he says. Now it’s “about taking this way upstream into the design process. What if we said upfront we want a design for people of different abilities to fully participate?” He points to the new Xbox adaptive controller, where even the packaging was designed to be accessible, or new AI that helps people with dyslexia read and comprehend written text.

This statement is massively welcome. However it’s not really new.

In 2014 the newly created Chief Accessibility Officers of large organisations like Microsoft, IBM and Amazon were already using their C-Suite positions to make these sorts of statements. And back in 2010 I created BS 8878 with the Heads of Accessibility across many large companies to codify our common experience of how accessibility could best be taken not only upstream into the design process but also into organisations’ digital strategies.

In 2010, it was Heads of Accessibility saying accessibility was a Big Thing. In 2014, it was CAOs saying accessibility was a Big Thing. In 2019, now it’s CEOs, like Satya Nadella and Richard Branson.

And leaders in the UX community are also taking their lead. To give one example, in his A Look at Emerging UX Design Trends for 2019 blog Sharan Grandigae picks Inclusive Design and Universal Experience as designs trend for 2019 alongside Voice UIs, Design for Privacy, Emotive Mapping, Micro-interactions, Design for Awareness, Flat 3D or 2.5D.

It’s about adopting inclusive design because it’s a business benefit, not just because of the fear of lawsuits

The headlines from many accessibility companies at the end of 2018 may lead you into thinking the reason that companies are making digital inclusion a priority is because of lawsuits.

It is true that the number of accessibility lawsuits has grown steadily over the past few years, and shows no sign of slowing. In their 2018 Ada Web Accessibility Lawsuit Recap Report UsableNet found:

In 2018, we tracked 2285 lawsuits—up 181% over 2017 which had 814.

11% of companies sued are headquartered internationally, including in Italy, France, Japan and Brazil.

It is clear that many organisations are concerned about accessibility lawsuits. Many are also hiding in FoFo. This is an acronym usually applied to people experiencing symptoms who will not see a doctor to discuss them because they have a “fear of finding out” what’s wrong with them. But, like brand marketers who also suffer from this condition, many organisations are scared of getting their site accessibility tested in case the results aren’t good and they then have to do something about it. If your organisation has either of these worries, please Contact Us, and we’d be happy to help you.

However, according to What Design Chiefs at Uber, IBM and Microsoft Care About in 2018 and Why, Tim Allen, Design Partner at Microsoft, has a top priority to “evolve Microsoft’s existing design skills, methods, and tools to meet the needs of people interacting with technology in immensely diverse ways” because:

Inclusivity is not only a philanthropic imperative, but a business one.

“[W]e know that customers and employees prefer companies that design in ways that are inclusive, cohesive, and sustainable for all human beings,” he says.

Inclusive design for Allen doesn’t mean creating one thing for all people; rather it is creating many different ways for many different kinds of people to participate in an experience. In an ideal world, the result is technology that fits each person and creates a sense of belonging regardless of physical ability, cognitive ability, and social context.

It’s about responding to the needs of the new neurodiverse workforce

Richard Branson’s advocacy of Made By Dyslexia is just the latest in a move of companies talking about the value of neurodiverse people to their workforces, for example, that Autistic employees can give companies an edge in innovative thinking.

In the linkedin Big Ideas blog, this is now being recognised as a Big Idea for 2019:

47. Employers will make room for neurodiversity
Neurodiversity refers to the inclusion of people with all sorts of cognitive abilities and patterns, from ADHD and dyslexia to people on the autism spectrum. It is coming to workplaces as the chronological consequence of a cultural and scientific shift in the 1990s; conditions once seen as pathologies to be medicalized became differences society should embrace. “You have a whole generation of people who were much more rigorously diagnosed entering the workforce now,” says Ed Thompson, founder of Uptimize, an organization that helps employers attract, hire and retain neurodivergent talent. Add to that a “chronic war for talent,” he says, which is prompting recruiters to look beyond their usual demographics, and neurodiversity is “becoming a category of workplace [diversity and inclusion] that a lot of people are talking about in a way that wasn’t true even a year ago.

Disabled people have often been under-represented in discussions around Diversity & Inclusion, and so it’s refreshing to see this changing. For example, at March’s Telegraph Diversity & Inclusion conference there are two companies talking about how they support the inclusion of people who are neurodiverse in the workforce.

And, obviously, key to this is accessibility. Beyond the breakthrough in appreciation of the skills of people who are neurodiverse and HR practices that support their recruitment also needs to be a breakthrough in accessibility in the workplace – all these neurodiverse people will need workplace adjustments and accessible applications to thrive in their jobs.

For more on Diversity and Inclusion in 2019, I’d encourage you to check out Toby Mildon’s Diversity & Inclusion Predictions for 2019.

How to do it: ‘The Power of Habits – Learning isn’t enough, it’s about doing’

So, if you want to know how to do what all these digital leaders are encouraging, here are a few useful resources on adopting inclusive design in your organisation:

These will give you inspiration and skills, but you will need to go further than that to implement inclusive design – you need to change your team culture and habits.

And, to do that, this Big Idea from the same linkedin article gives a good steer:

41. Learning isn’t enough; professionals will focus on doing.
After the explosion of the online learning sector, our heads are full of all those classes we’ve been taking. But what we are doing with this newfound knowledge? Whitney Johnsonauthor of “Build and A Team” and “Disrupt Yourself,” says the next trend is to focus on improving our behavior, not just our expertise, in order to apply these lessons to our work and personal lives. She points to the success of books like “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and “Willpower Doesn’t Work” by Benjamin Hardy, along with perennial bestseller “The Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg. “Perhaps because of the political environment, people want to take action, take control,” Johnson says. “And the only thing you can control is what you do.

At Hassell Inclusion, we train thousands of people in the accessibility skills needed for their jobs every year, for some of the largest organisations, and we completely agree with this Big Idea. Our training is moving more and more from helping people learn accessibility skills to helping them apply those skills in their work in workshops, and from one-off training sessions to continuous on the job mentoring which better helps people take these skills and make applying them habitual in their work.

As I’ve always said, most recently in our ‘Future of Accessibility’ podcast, the aim should be for inclusive design to become so much ‘just the way we work’ that it ceases to be discussed as anything separate from design or product creation. That’s what mainstreaming inclusive design looks like to me.

If you need help in embedding inclusive design in your culture, please Contact Us, and we’d be delighted to talk you through how we can help.

What do you think?

We hope these insights are useful to you, and would love to hear your experiences around implementing accessible accordions. Please share your comments below.

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