June 22nd 2020
I stumbled on the topic of accessibility and inclusion while learning user experience (UX) design from MOOCs. At first, I thought it’s a reasonably familiar topic but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After reading through several resources, I now firmly believe, there is no better way to practice user empathy than understanding accessibility and inclusion. This blog post outlines the need for accessibility and inclusion in building products and how it’s a win for everyone involved.
Disability – redefined
A deaf person approaching an intercom door
The user faces enormous friction in this situation. It is a loss for both the candidate and the recruiter in the world surrounded by non-inclusive, inaccessible products. The philosophy of inclusive design addresses this problem.
Inclusive design is about considering the full range of human diversity such as age, class, color, gender, literacy, race, and all forms of disability. Any exclusion results in hampering the interaction of the individual with their friends, family, their neighbourhood and society. Ramps and access cards in buildings, Braille inscriptions in elevators are examples of inclusive approaches to design and offer social participation for everyone.
There is a misconception that inclusive design means designing one thing for everyone. It means creating multiple things where everyone has an option. For example, an inclusively designed train station may offer stairs for youth, escalators for elderly and elevators for those who are wheelchair-bound. The use case of mobility inside a train station is solved via multiple designs with a primary motive — do not exclude anyone.
Challenge of exclusion
Exclusion is the biggest challenge in entertaining diversity. There are temporary and situational exclusions in everyday life. Few of my MBA batch-mates broke their legs and were wheelchair-bound for months. They faced temporary exclusions from several activities on the campus. Navigating to the check-in counter of a busy airport with luggage creates a situational exclusion. Mobile phones come handy in such circumstances. The touchscreen of a mobile phone that contains every necessary option within a reach of the thumb is designed with inclusive design philosophy.
Technology interactions depend on the way we touch, see, hear, and speak and remember. I have personally faced difficulties in teaching my father how to use a mobile payment application. He was forced to learn the nuances of One Time Password and Two-Factor Authentication. Many essential modern applications are not friendly to elders. It begs a question whether technology is adapting to us, or we should adapt to technology.
Empathy is a key ingredient in designing accessible and inclusive applications. Personal biases can influence the way we speak and behave. It can easily influence the products we build unless we choose to empathize with the users.
Product Managers (PM) usually think about user personas when they face a problem statement. Need-driven user personas help PMs practice user empathy while designing products. A noise-cancelling headset or a blindfold during prototyping will come a long way in making the product more accessible. Empathizing with users will help us see more barriers than we can imagine.
Solve for one, extend for many
User empathy and inclusive design philosophy will help us design solutions that can work for multiple situations of exclusion. Consider the high contrast screen that was invented for people who had vision impairments. Today it helps people who are using their laptops under sunlight — a situational exclusion gap.
While designing a product, recognize the exclusionary aspects. Empathize and learn from the diversity of users. Solve for one and extend it to many. These are the most important takeaways from my UX lesson yesterday.