Inclusive design is opening avenues of opportunity for design strategists and thinkers to imagine innovative solutions serving both mass market consumers and the market for people using assistive technologies (AT). Take for instance two prominent products with native assistive technology – iPhone’s VoiceOver and Android phones with Google’s TalkBack. Unlike most design solutions that start with the mass consumer in mind and trickle down to specialized segments, voice-enabled assistive tech on mobile devices “trickled up” to benefit mass market consumers in situations where they had been situationally impaired. How so? Consider a common scenario – you’re sitting in your car at a stop light thinking you’ll add a meeting to your calendar. Your better judgement stops you, but then you’ll miss the meeting without the reminder.
Take another example. This one from Microsoft. Disability helped change Microsoft’s design principles for Cortana and Bing. According to a 2016 issue of On MSFT, Latest News, Microsoft’s head of design Albert Shum, along with principle design director Kat Holmes, shifted the company’s ethos to “reframing disability as an opportunity,” thereby serving a largely underserved market while simultaneously creating new products for the organization. Both were inspired by Microsoft design lead for Xbox, August de los Reyes, a disabled employee who looked outside the company to uncover unmet needs that could serve all of Microsoft’s customers (a mass market design solution). This designer’s empathy and awareness that we are not binary beings (i.e., either fully able or disabled), caught on at Microsoft and helped focus Cortana’s development. It also helped transform the company’s design thinking to one that is now recognized as inclusive and focused on the diversity of each individual.
Inclusive design is growing, but it may go unnoticed
The list of companies committed to inclusive design is established and others are starting to catch up, but it’s not talked about that much within the intersection of design, tech and business. But that’s starting to change. Just recently I heard Sean Pizel with IBM tell an audience at SuperNova South how he helped stand up the global IBM Design Thinking group when he joined in 2012. At IBM, “accessibility is an integral function of its design thinking and language,” and “inclusion by design” is part of the DNA of its overall design process.
Adobe, a leader in content development and creation, is also leading in accessible content development across all of its products, empowering designers to build inclusive solutions by making its products more accessible from the start.
Accessible design will benefit us all
Creating accessible digital technology is about creating digital services, products, and platforms that are useful and easy to use for every user – not just for a single segment of society. Current design-led strategies are recognizing that almost all of us will, at some point in our lifetime, stray from the hypothetical average. So, design makers are recognizing that digital products must work for a diverse audience of end users. And this is good news. It has opened the door to designing new solutions that are adaptable for the various needs of different audiences. Solutions like video captioning to watch videos when you are in a noisy location, and audio transcripts to skim or search through when you don’t have time to sit through an entire webcast or podcast. Another thought—
Not connecting with a wider base of customers with and without disabilities is a real financial missed opportunity; it can also lead to financial penalties. Last summer a federal court conducted a “full trial regarding website accessibility as it relates to the ADA,” and Winn-Dixie was required to effectively adopt the WCAG 2.0 standard as a measure of a compliant website. This decision will change how organizations think about consumers and customers and hopefully pave the way for inclusive design practices that benefit us all.
I’m a Senior User Researcher out of the Atlanta office.