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Prioritizing accessibility and inclusive design

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May 6, 2021
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Photo by Yomex Owo on Unsplash.

In its earliest stages, product design starts with a simple premise: what problem is being solved, and how? The answer to the second part of that premise must include accessible and inclusive design.

To capitalize on a promising concept and bring it to life, a good design team takes the perspectives of different user groups into account. A great idea can't reach its full potential if its design neglects users with physical and mental disabilities or contextual constraints.

So the importance of accessible design, creating products and services that can be used effectively by the broadest range of users, cannot be overstated. A digital design's minimum viable product and the prototype for a physical product require a comprehensive approach to inclusion.

More specifically, accessible design can help the deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, senior citizens, and those with physical disabilities that affect dexterity and motor function.

Two essential resources for accessible and inclusive design are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

But what about the limitations of a particular situation? Too often, design teams fail to invest the time and resources required to address accessibility and inclusive design in this manner.

A specific website may lack a mobile version and prove challenging to use on a smartphone. Poor responsive design could make it difficult to use the same system on different interfaces like desktop versus tablet. Certain apps are designed for either Apple or Android but not both platforms, eliminating the possibility for a significant percentage of the population to benefit from that app. Sometimes, the situation just does not allow for usability because the design team did not consider that situation when developing the product.

Take, for example, the design of a mobile app that notifies college students of shuttle bus arrivals and departures. It's intended to help students get to and from campus on time, but what if the student can't take advantage of the system because they don't have immediate access to their smartphone?

In this context, maybe a student in gym class can't access the bus schedule because their phone is in a locker. Or perhaps they're participating in a science dissection and don't want to get entrails on their phone just to check an alert in the middle of class.

By rolling out a mobile app to solve their bus problem, the college did not consider the situational context of different students. The effectiveness of that system will suffer as a result.

While some students were excluded from this initial solution, it's our responsibility as designers to note those exclusions and decide whether they outweigh the inclusions built into the current design.

Here at 3Digit Creative, we are part of the solution by consciously designing products that can be enjoyed by the broadest group of users possible. We conduct thorough research and employ an iterative design process to ensure that no user or context is forgotten.