Accessible design is just the tipping point for a holistic, inclusive user experience
Designing for accessibility is never complete, nor is it a checkbox to mark off your to-do list. When we start thinking about accessibility as an end rather than a means to an end, we fail at user experience. Instead of thinking about accessibility as a “to-do” in the build process, we should think about it in the context of designing a website that is as inclusive as possible — something that is easy to use for every person in our audience, disabled or not.
Inclusive Design vs. Accessibility Compliance
Accessibility is not a rarity or exception; it is the norm that all web designers and developers must aspire to if they wish to be considered valid and competent.
ADA compliance may seem like a matter of logistics for your business, but how you meet those requirements can — and should — go beyond a simple legal standard. If you build a wheelchair ramp that leads to a side door, for example, you may satisfy ADA guidelines, but you may also have created an experience that is less welcoming to a number of your customers.
Any design system that creates unequal experiences for people with disabilities reflects poorly on the business that employs it. This idea applies to your website as well. If you aim only for accessibility — to satisfy rules and regulations, you’re limiting your reach and ignoring numerous potential audiences.
What is Inclusive Design?
While designing for accessibility is an important notion, if you are refactoring your current design system only to meet requirements, then you may be missing out on important notions. Inclusive design considers all potential communities with disabilities at every step in the design and development process.
Accessibility merely gets customers access to a place, but inclusivity makes them feel like they belong.
The point of inclusive design isn’t to create a separate experience for those who are disabled but to keep them in mind at every point in the process, just as you should consider a customer with full capabilities. In doing so, you create a welcoming environment for all, and you begin to consider accessible websites to be just as essential as cell phones are in our modern society.
By pursuing inclusive design as a standard, you are likely to create a better experience for all people, even those not facing accessibility challenges.
The Benefits of Inclusive Design
When you aim for inclusivity in your design, you not only show that your business values and practices empathy, but you also broaden the reach and relationships that result from your efforts. Valuing empathy as highly as we value functionality, aestheticism and clarity is the key to inclusive design.
One of the most common misconceptions about building accessible websites is that you must forfeit creativity to do so. That cannot be further from the truth; it just takes a bit more intentional thought and effort. Practicing inclusive design is easier said than done. It’s a dynamic, eternal pursuit, but it’s worth creating something for everyone.
When we start including everybody, we become more credible as designers and developers and, in general, we become better, more empathetic human beings.