What is Inclusive Design and Why is it Important?

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | May 2022

An illustration of diverse people in front of large text saying "inclusive design".

When creating or updating your website, how much thought do you extend to how differently-abled people might use it?

When selecting gorgeous images to display on your homepage, are you taking the time to consider how someone with vision impairment or blindness might process them? Or, as you're organizing your website structure, are you including a logical flow that will make it easy to use for someone who uses keyboard commands versus a mouse?

As you may realize, there are many aspects to website design that can either make a website accessible and inclusive to as many people as possible — or not. 

What is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive design uses best practices to ensure usability and a great user experience for a wide range of users. It takes into consideration that users may have different abilities, genders, languages, or cultures. Inclusive design aims to create a consistent user experience and satisfies ease of use across the entire spectrum of humanity. 

This might sound like a lofty goal. However, implementing inclusive design into a website is, in reality, quite easy to achieve. 

Think Progress, Not Perfection

The best way to think about inclusive design is to think of it less as having a final "perfect" destination. There may never be a point in time when your website is fully accessible to everyone all the time.

Instead, think of it as a journey of consistent improvement. With each update and iteration, your website becomes more accessible and inclusive over time. 

This mindset is fundamental as accessibility software and tools are also constantly evolving.

What is possible today wasn't possible ten years ago. And going back further, there were very few tools to help make the internet accessible. The progress made will likely maintain forward motion at the same speed as the rest of the technology we've come to rely on. 

So, allow yourself patience as you work toward an ever-moving goalpost. 

Why Does Inclusive Design Matter?

Inclusive design opens up your website to the largest audience possible. Rather than only being accessible by one segment of the population, it is usable by as many people as possible. Especially for nonprofits, this is huge!

By creating a user experience where everyone feels included and respected, you develop a welcoming community while also making a statement about your values. 

In the nonprofit sector especially, it's vital to be as inclusive as possible. Many nonprofits specialize in serving marginalized communities, work to preserve and promote other cultures, or strive to create opportunities for those with special needs. 

Whether or not those goals align with your specific nonprofit, in an industry where the focus is on serving others, the work must start with your organization's front door — your website. 

How Inclusive Design and Accessibility Fit Together

So far, we've been using two terms to describe a user experience that is welcoming to a broad spectrum of society: inclusive and accessible. 

Inclusivity - Inclusive design follows a methodology that creates a user experience that works for everyone based on the concept that there is no typical customer. It works to remove any barrier that creates exclusion. 

Accessibility - Accessible design aims to create an equal user experience for people with disabilities. Accessibility looks at typical versus disabled users and uses laws and standards for guidance focused on specific cognitive or physical disabilities. 

Now that we've defined these terms, let's look at how they fit together and support one another. 

Both accessibility and inclusivity recognize that disability happens when people interact with their environment. When typical users interact with your website, they view pictures, read text, and navigate using their fingertips or a mouse. When a person with a disability interacts with your website, they may navigate the site differently. Accessibility and inclusivity efforts work together to ensure that no matter who accesses your website, they are able to interact with it and consume the information. The ways people interact with your website can inform the inclusivity and accessibility of the design. 


Key Principles of Inclusive Design

In order to ensure that your inclusive design efforts are effective, there are a few key principles to follow. 

Consider Your Audience

In any good design, you should put your audience first. For inclusive design, that premise remains the same, however your audience expands. Rather than considering how a typical user might interact with your website, broaden your perspective to a broader range of users and interactions. 

Offer Choice and Control

While you may present your website to your audience in a way that fits your aesthetic and brand, remember to include choices for users as well. These options may include offering your website in different languages if you reach several cultures. Or allowing the user to increase the font size without scrambling your design. Other choices include closed captioning on videos, adding alt-text to images, and ensuring that your site is navigable without a mouse. These options give anyone interacting with your website a chance to control their experience. 

Be Helpful

At the end of the day, the reason for your accessibility and inclusivity efforts is to be helpful. Rather than focusing on adding every possible accessible feature to each element of your website, think about what would be beneficial for a user. For example, alt-text helps vision-impaired or blind users gain context from a picture on a web page. However, if the image isn't essential to understanding the related context, skip it! Just like an overly busy design is distracting and confusing, too much information can have the same effect. 

Inclusive Design is Important

Creating a website that anyone can use is like putting a welcome mat at your front door. It signals that anyone entering has found a place where they are accepted and will be taken care of. 

Inclusive and accessible design will help users of any ability to access your website and learn more about you. It will also make them feel at home. 


Topics: Design and Technology

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