Inclusive UX Design & Accessibility: Part 1

In order to help our clients build great products for their users and to meet their business goals, our crew has to be informed about industry changes, trends, talking points, and innovations. One subject we’re most excited about is the push for greater accessibility and inclusivity in product design.

What better way to kick off 2021 by sharing one of our most resourceful internal training webinars we gave to our own team. Our goal is to not only make these inclusive design practices a core part of our own development process, but to also encourage our fellow developers and technology users to implement and understand the value of making more accessible products.

We’ve broken down this webinar by our own UX/product design expert and Mapping Lead, Kelli Lucas, into 2 parts. But if you’re in a hurry to scan key talking points, we also have the transcript below our 15-minute video. Enjoy!

Transcript for Inclusive UX Design & Accessibility: Part 1

Today, we are going to talk about inclusive design. I know. I have been peppering several people at Airship to talk about this. So I’m sure that we have varying levels of understanding of it, but I wanted to take today to kind of roll out what we have been working very hard with our OKRs to roll out.

So, today, we’re going to be talking about what is inclusive design, what isn’t it, why does it matter, why are we talking about it, Kelli, what steps can we take at Airship to ensure that we’re actually building more inclusive products, and, also, why are we talking about this now. So I haven’t been an Airship all that long. It’s been about a year and a half, but, in general, I’m passionate about building products that are accessible to as many people as we can include in that process, but not only that.

It’s not just a feel-good activity where we check a box and say, oh, because it’s the right thing to do. There’s actually a very big business impact when you talk about inclusive design. What it means at its base is that you’re including as many people in the ability to use your products as you can.

So, without going into the details, it opens up market share, right? So that’s a main business motivation for doing this. With as many people who have varying abilities, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that.

I think, with technology, it’s really important because it’s so integral to our society. We can’t just pretend like these are optional apps for people to use. A lot of times, they’re going to be integral to their life. So, if people aren’t able to use it, that’s a terrible feeling.

But I wanted to take a minute and just see– you guys can go off of mute if you feel like talking. If not, we’ll see how this goes. But, in general, who has heard of the term inclusive design? I can’t see everyone’s faces right now. So that’s unfortunate.

I see Marnis, Crystal, and Adam only because they’re– oh, and Katie. I can’t see anybody else in my Zoom. But it sounds like varying yeses, nos. What about universal design? They sound very similar, but they’re not. Yeah, couple of yeses. How about accessibility?

All right, so there’s a misconception that these are, all three, the same thing. They’re not. They do overlap to certain degrees, but, with inclusive design, I’ve already covered that a little bit, but the distinction between that and the others is universal design is all about making one thing usable by everyone. So it’s one design. Everyone can use it.

Universal design is– inclusive design is more about a diverse ways of people to use things. So it could mean, if I am hard of hearing, there’s closed captioning. If you are not, maybe there’s something else that you need accommodations for. So it’s more of a variety of ways, instead of one design for everything.

And then accessibility is more of an attribute under that broader umbrella. So there’s a checklist that we can go through that makes sure that any technology we build can be read by a screen reader. There’s a lot more to it, but, at a high level, that touches on it. All right, so that’s the basics.

So what– oh no, what’s going on? There we go. What does inclusion mean? Anybody want to take a stab at that? I would love some thoughts on just the basic structure of what that actually means. Any takers? Like what does it mean to be included in something, anything?

A major part of it.

Yeah.

Kelli, it means you can participate. It means that I was out. Now I’m in.

Yes, that is– there’s a very good diagram I could show you. And it’s literally the word in with a circle and then out, out, out, out, out all outside of it. So it literally just means that you have been left out of something, or you are included in something. That is the very basic definition of that.

So, when we think about it, how that applies to design, we talk about designing around our biases, right? Everyone has a bias. Every single thing that we build is built from our perspective and not others’ perspective.

It’s very hard for me to understand how someone with a disability reacts to something, uses something, needs to use something. It’s not natural. It’s not natural for me to try to do that, but the entire exercise of inclusive design is the idea that we can think about other people through this process and empathize with them, not only that, but also include them in our processes.

So I’m never going to know what it’s like to be on a wheelchair. I’m never going to know what it’s like to be marginalized. But there are ways that we can help accommodate that in our designs.

So, plain and simple, we design for our specific gender, our age, our language ability, our literacy ability, and physical ability. So being included is more a sense of belonging to something. And, since technology is so baked into our lives, it’s really important that we consider that.

Kelli, you said before– you said before that it’s not all about physical disabilities, and you mentioned several physical disabilities just now. But there are other things, right, that we’re talking about besides just being blind or not having good hearing or those sorts of things.

Yeah, I’ll go through some more examples in a minute, but, yeah, it’s not always physical. Cognitive abilities is another thing I have a daughter with ADHD. There are certain considerations that she needs to take when she’s interacting with something. Things that distract her a lot in technology are really frustrating.

Some of the examples I’ve run into just this week is, now that she’s doing virtual learning, there are notifications popping up all day long. And I’m like please stop. She is working on a task. Please stop disrupting her. And, sometimes, there’s not a way to turn that off, so just being cognizant of that varying abilities of people.

And it’s not always a disability. Like I said, there’s actually some examples on the screen right now. You can see all of the different icons on here, but one simple example is, if I am a new parent, and I’m having to use an app that requires both of my hands, if this app was built for new parents, that can be a frustrating experience.

Just knowing that that’s the type of person who’s using an app can dictate the way that we design it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be more expensive to make. It just means that we’re considering that as we’re building it. Does that help, Luke? I’ll give some more examples too.

But so what does it mean to be excluded? I think Luke touched on this. It means that you’re not involved, and that is a really terrible feeling. So, when it comes to people, there’s no such thing as normal, right? We are this huge species of humanity, and you can be at one spectrum or another spectrum. And there is no such thing as normal.

So the interactions that we design with technology really depend heavily on what we can hear, what we can see, what we can touch. And, when we build this, we assume that all of those senses and abilities are fully enabled for everyone. And that’s just not true.

Like I said, there’s a huge range, but let’s step back a little bit. What happens when a door does not open, when a transit system won’t service your neighborhood, or a touchscreen payment system requires that you speak English, that you have 20/20 vision, and that it only takes a credit card? Can you imagine some of the circumstances that just those constraints right there cause people to be excluded?

Yeah, we’re going to go through some fun examples later that’s probably going to make us uncomfortable, but that is the entire point. All right, so we decide where we belong, when we’re outsiders. It shapes our sense of value. It shapes our sense of belonging to society and what we can contribute.

So what is inclusive design? Like I said, at its very basic, it’s a mismatched human interaction. You could be the person who, just because you speak a different language, cannot use a system. It could mean that, because I don’t own a credit card, I can’t swipe in a certain technology.

So there’s all kinds of ways to be excluded. It does not necessarily mean that you have a disability or varying abilities. It is just the act of excluding someone.

So, designing for inclusivity, it not only opens up our products and experiences to more people with a wider range of abilities. It also reflects how people really are. Like no one on this team is the exact same as the next person on this team. So we’re all growing and changing and adapting to the world every single day. And we really want our designs and our products to reflect that.

All right, so, Luke, you asked for some specifics, and I told you I was going to give you some. So there’s three categories that it typically falls into. So, when we talk about mismatches, they can be temporary. They can be situational, or they can be permanent.

So the ones that we typically are aware of, but don’t necessarily empathize with, is the permanent, right? So someone born without an arm and a leg, someone with a degenerative disease or paralyzed, those are really obvious. We see them a lot.

The ones that we don’t necessarily think of all that often fall really in the temporary or situational. So, if you’re using an app– and imagine back when the iPhone, before they allowed you to change the contrast or brighten or darken your screen, and you’re out in bright light.

Imagine Tocaro Blue. I’m on my yacht. I’m in bright light. I cannot adjust the contrast or the brightness of the screen. Well, it’s unusable to me. Well, that’s not going to do me a lot of good, right?

Ordering dinner in a foreign country, I only speak English. It is very hard to order meals in another country where you do not speak the language. You can’t read it. You don’t know what you’re ordering. And you also require someone else to translate for you. Let’s hope there’s someone in the restaurant who speaks English.

Wearing a cast is another one. I’m sure most of us have had this happen before, but we’re definitely seeing it as a temporary thing. I’ll go back to being back to normal, quote unquote, “normal,” at some point.

Situational, now this is one that I think is incredibly hard to pinpoint, but it’s really important. So, when do you think about situational, some of the designs that come to mind is in a loud crowd. Imagine being a bartender in a sports bar, and imagine not having closed captioning. It’s not going to help a lot, right? Like, if you can’t hear or see what’s going on, you have no idea what’s happening.

Driving in a car, that would be considered visual impairment. If everything on your car required a touch screen for you to interact with– all of the words were very lengthy– I would say that’s not a good design for someone who’s visually impaired. Like I said, new parent holding a baby, that was the example I mentioned earlier. Does this clarify for everyone a little bit?

All right, so, like I said, mismatches can occur to various circumstances– temporary, situational, permanent. So, like I said, this is all about considering all of this from a different perspective outside of the one that we’re used to.

So let’s talk about some principles. Principle number one, equitable use, the design is useful and marketable to people with various abilities. Number two, flexibility in use, the design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. Simple and intuitive use is principle number three. So the use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

Number four, perceptible information, the design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. Number five, tolerance for error, the design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. Number six, low physical effort, the design can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue. And, number seven, size and space for approach and use, appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

So these are some specific areas that our design team is definitely going to be trying to incorporate in our design processes, but it doesn’t start and end there, right? So Crystal and I run our mapping service. We come up with designs at the very beginning, but in no way, because we’re using the word design, does this mean that all of this falls on us. It means that any new feature that we build on the Voyager side should be considered against some of these circumstances. Who’s going to be using the app?

So I just want to reiterate, on this particular page, this is not– like I said, this is not just for designers. It really is for everyone. And it also doesn’t mean that we have to achieve every single one of these. There could be– I’ll give you an example.

We did a mapping last week for GroundWorks. And what we kept hearing from the GroundWorks team was, when I go to someone’s house, GroundWorks works on foundations. They’re going to people’s houses. They don’t know what the client is going to be like. They don’t know what their home is going to be like.

So, a lot of these houses, if they were to come to my house, they’re going to hear a dog bark. They’re going to hear three kids. They’re going to hear two cats, a husband, me. So you can imagine just the general chaos that they might be walking into in a house.

Part of what they’re doing with this GroundWorks app is allowing for videos and other educational materials to be heard and seen by the people in these houses, right? So what if all of this is going on, and they’re trying to watch a video and listen to a video? Well, currently, they don’t have closed captioning on any of these videos.

Well, that’s not a super expensive thing to include. It just means being cognizant of varying things that are happening around people. It’s not like we have to go out of our way to make a diverse way– diverse number of ways for people to interact with this stuff. It just means being aware of some of these circumstances. Does that make sense? Any questions so far? I’ll pause.

How do you feel about like the iterative nature of inclusive design principles? Like you mentioned closed captioning just then. Is that something that, once you identify it, you’re like, hey, we must do all this stuff from the beginning? Or, no, we can just continually get better at adding things that make it more and more and more and more and more and more inclusive.

Yeah, Luke, I think it’s all of that. I think, the more that we can identify, obviously, in the mapping phase and the planning phase, the better off we are because it’s going to allow for a broader range of brainstorming ideas. The sooner that we know, the easier that we’re able to accommodate for the stuff.

It’s not a checklist for, afterwards, we need to backwards make everything compatible. I think it’s more of a raising of awareness. So, being more considerate of the types of people who would be using the software that we build, it really starts with that. And then, yeah, we can absolutely iterate.

This is stuff that, as you are talking to some of our clients or end users, if you realize that this is a public app that everyone has access to, I would say that that’s probably more important to consider the broad range of humanity, as opposed to an admin section that’s only used by two people. I would say probably not so much, as long as you know who those two people are, and you understand what their motivations are and what their abilities are, then probably not as high priority. But it’s definitely something that the sooner that you recognize it, the better. Does that help?

Yeah, no, what I hear you saying is that it helps us make an informed choice, right? Like, even if we can’t choose to do everything from the beginning because of time constraints or budget or whatever, but make an informed choice. Like, this most represents our best user. And then we can continue to make improvements along the way.

Yeah, definitely. And, like I said, I want to reiterate again that this does not necessarily increase the cost of what we build. It just means that we need to recognize it sooner and think about it from various perspectives.