The terms inclusive design, accessibility, and usability are being used interchangeably by most of us. Although the purpose of those 3 terms are kind of similar (accommodating the web to as many as users), however, they are slightly different from each other in terms of it’s meaning. This blog post attempts to give you the basic understanding of these 3 terms. Let us look into them one by one
Inclusive design is nothing but no one should be excluded in using product and it talks about people first as well as design for all. Let me explain this with simple examples. If I am giving the lecture in the Spanish language to the group of people and some of the group members do not know the Spanish language, then my lecture is not an inclusive. The reason for not being inclusive is that the group members who do not know Spanish language are completely excluded from the other group members due to the language barrier, which is not really great thing. To make the environment inclusive, we need to figure out what is the common language among all of them (perhaps English) and start giving the lecture as accordingly. Similarly, another example could be manufacturing the chairs. During the initial stages of chair development itself, manufactures should think through different personas who uses the chair. The different personas in this context could be, is my chair usable for tall person, is my chair usable for short person, and so on. if the manufacturer does not thing through different type of end users who use chair during the initial stages itself then it is high chance that chair is not going to be usable to certain group, which is not inclusive. These are the simple examples that I provided to make you understand what is inclusive. We can apply the same concept anywhere starting from designing the physical products to the designing the web and so on.
To put the things simpler, Inclusive design targets/aims to accommodate the web to the full range of human diversity. When we say diverse users then the design of the product should be in such a way that it can be used by different people such as people with different culture, people with different geographical location, people with different computer literacy and skills, people with low internet connectivity, people who speaks different languages, people with different education background, people with the different age group, people with disabilities, and so on.. thus, inclusive design does not talk accessibility of people with disabilities alone and it talks much more than just accessibility of people with disabilities. Accessibility of people with disabilities is just one single part of the inclusive design. On other hand, most of the designers forget to consider people with disabilities group all together during designing phase. Forgetting to consider people with disabilities group during design phase may not be an intentional thing but many designers may not aware of that there is such a group exist. Sometimes, forgetting to consider the people with disabilities group during design phase may be an intentional thing because designers/company thing that people with disabilities are minority only. When they think so then implication is so huge as you are leaving 15 to 20% of the world population. Yes, as per the recent census, 15 to 20% of the world population has one or other form of disability. Whatever the reason it could be, you are leaving 15 to 20% of world population in accessing your product if you do not consider the people with disabilities group. Therefore, as part of the design process, designers should consider the different personas including people with disabilities in order to make the design as inclusive as possible. On top of that, when accessibility is being considered at the design phase itself then it is going to reduce your time, money, and effort. In fact, we preach accessibility should be considered at the requirement phase itself and that would result much more inclusive experience.
There is one more term called universal design, and this is almost identical to the inclusive design. It is ok to use either of the terms based on the contexts.
Accessibility talks about addressing the challenges of people with disabilities in general whereas web accessibility talks about addressing the challenges of people with disabilities to the web specific. Inclusive design is the process/method of the making the products/services to the diverse users whereas web accessibility is the result of the inclusive design process. web accessibility means that people with disabilities can equally perceive, navigate, operate, and understand the websites and tools. Web accessibility also talks about more of principles, standards, guidelines, checkpoints, techniques, and so on. and it is kind of the measurement how accessible the product/service/web is for people with disabilities. On other hand, inclusive design talks about more of abilities of the different type of the users, frustration of the different type of the users, challenges of the different types of the users, and so on.
Apart from that, Web enhances it’s usability when the site is accessible. Let me explain this with examples. When the accessibility color contrast guideline is followed then it is not only helping low vision users but also it helps even sighted users who use the device in the sunny. Another example providing the captions for the videos/multimedia. As per the accessibility requirement, captions are needed for all the videos/multimedia in order to help people with hearing impaired. Providing the captions for the videos/multimedia just not only helps the people who are hearing impaired but also helps the hearing people when the videos are opened in the noisy environment. Thus, some of the accessibility requirements enhances the usability for all.
In addition, Web enhances the inclusion aspect as well when the site is accessible. Let us look into that with the examples. Providing the alt text for the informative images is the accessibility requirement in order to help screen reader users. Text alternative for the informative images not only helps the screen reader users but also helps the people who are having connectivity issues. Another example could be making the web content as understandable as possible with all relationships. Simple design and easy language not only help the people with disabilities but also the people with low literacy or not fluent in the language/people who are new users or infrequent users. Thus, some of the accessibility requirements improves the inclusion aspect as well.
Usability is about designing products to be effective, efficient, and satisfying and is the qualities that make a web experience intuitive and easy to use. To put it in the simple words, usability is nothing but how easy it is for the users to complete certain task on the web. For example, booking flight ticket in the airlines involves with multiple steps (such as searching for the flights, choosing the right flights, booking the seat, payment, and so on.) and how easy user can navigate, understand, operate, and complete the desired task is all about the usability.
The sad part of the story is that most of the times people with disabilities are not considered in the usability process and this is forgotten. It is important that real people with disabilities along with other users are involved in the usability process to make the web usable to all. In addition, the real people with disabilities should be involved from the design phase to all the stages of the product development and that leads to usable accessibility. Usable accessibility is nothing, but web is usable and accessible for all the users including people with disabilities.
Inclusive design is the process/method to accommodate the web for diverse users including people with disabilities. Web accessibility talks about how well the people with disabilities can access the web and it is usually the result of the inclusive design process. Usability talks how easy it is for all the users including people with disabilities to accomplish certain task on the web. All 3 terms (inclusive design, accessibility, and usability) sound similar but they are slightly different from each other and all together makes the web better place for everybody.