Inclusive vs. accessible design and why you should know the difference

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Vernā Myers

Inclusive design and accessible design have in some circles become interchangeable terms, but they are different. Accessible design is a part of inclusive design however, they are not the same. Here, we’ll dive into what true inclusive design looks like, how it extends beyond accessibility, and why it’s more important than ever to understand the difference.

Amelia Campbell
Stefan Hajek

The difference between accessible and inclusive design

In the first instalment of this blog series, we explored the foundations of accessible design. Accessible design is the process of making products, services, and environments usable by everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. It ensures that people with different abilities can access and use the same resources as people without disabilities without facing any barriers or restrictions.

Whether a design is accessible is an important aspect of inclusive design, but the terms ‘accessible’ and ‘inclusive’ are not interchangeable. The process of accessible design involves adhering to a set of standards. It’s a crucial part of the design process. That said, designing inclusive products and experiences shouldn't be thought of as following a set of standards. Inclusive design goes a step further than accessible design – it gives designers the power to remove barriers and open our minds and hearts to a more representational experience.

To be truly inclusive, designs must ensure robust and accurate representation, and it's essential to consider user characteristics like cultural and environmental backgrounds. Inclusive design requires curiosity and nuance, and the most holistic approach to executing it necessitates a set of diverse team members and consultation with diverse groups to ensure they are represented.

Inclusive design is nuanced – and necessary

Creating truly inclusive design outcomes goes beyond the consideration of disabilities and physical or cognitive challenges; it requires true collaboration with those who are often overlooked. It calls for a shift in design approach and language from designing ‘for’ people to designing ‘with’ them. This ensures that your solutions are not created from assumptions based on what you think will work, but rather that they genuinely meet the needs of the people you’re designing with.

Involving a diverse range of voices in the design process enables you to work towards considering everyone who might experience your design. It’s important to point out that inclusive design isn’t a path to perfection. It’s unreasonable to think you can precisely represent every need and consideration of every human during a design process. But that shouldn’t be a barrier to committing to inclusive design. You can still genuinely and carefully consider diverse needs, and bringing a diverse set of voices into the process helps you move in that direction.

Two ways you can move toward inclusive design

To avoid inclusivity pitfalls when designing, we all need to recognise and address our unconscious biases. While this can be challenging, there are various resources available that can help begin to unpack this challenge. One tool we use in the Designit Melbourne studio is Cards for Humanity. It’s an excellent online resource that you can ‘play’ to test or ideate designs from different perspectives. Another valuable tool is the DOGA Inclusive Design Framework and its corresponding assessment, which helps you visualise the building blocks for inclusive design within the holistic parametres of products and services, design process, design teams, and company culture.

Understanding the distinction between inclusive and accessible design is crucial for creating meaningful and impactful user experiences. Accessible design ensures that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can use a product or service. Inclusive design goes beyond this by actively seeking to represent diverse user characteristics and backgrounds, fostering a deeper connection and understanding. By embracing inclusive design, you move from designing ‘for’ people to designing ‘with’ people, ensuring that your solutions genuinely meet their needs.

As we collectively continue to learn and grow in this field, we must remain committed to diversity, collaboration, and empathy, paving the way for designs that truly resonate with and include everyone.

Dive into part three, where you’ll get a chance to explore what a future shaped by accessible design looks like.