Inclusive design: Whose Opportunity Is It?

Maybe you already know the answer to that question, but let me tell you a bit about the journey I’ve taken so I can answer it myself.

I’m a twin. Born two-months premature with a number of health challenges early on. I was a small kid who wore thick glasses and had a visible scar on my head from a surgery. My twin, Darrell, had a different fate. He didn’t fully develop because of the early birth. He never spoke or walked and required around-the-clock care. When my family visited him, he’d always light up when you gave him a kiss, a hug or whispered in his ear. From an early age, I had this real example that some people’s bodies or environments trap them. Their voices go unheard. Every time someone asked me about the scar on my head, I thought of my brother.

In school, I took to writing. I liked the act of finding my own voice and putting it down on a page. I became a journalist, and had the opportunity to tell other people’s stories. I wrote about a civil rights leader, assassinated before his time, and his daughter’s quest to make sure her father’s work was seen. I wrote about a four-year-old boy with a heart condition whose family was couldn’t afford all of his medical bills. Of course, I penned plenty of mundane stories too. I also discovered the Web. The idea that anyone could publish something thrilled me. I thought I would start writing more on this new medium as a journalist, but then I found HTML, CSS and JavaScript. This gave publishing a whole new dimension.

In my first web-related job, I worked for The Arc, a national nonprofit in the United States that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I felt connected to the cause because of my brother, of course. But it was there that I saw firsthand how much harder people with disabilities had to work to get their voices heard. To be included. To live. They always reached for that opportunity, often limited not by themselves, but the world around them.

As makers of the Web, we also have an opportunity before us: inclusive design. I love this take on diversity and inclusion:

Diversity is being invited to the party;
inclusion is being asked to dance.

Vernã Myers

Every decision we make impacts whether or not people get to dance. Maybe you think you don’t have the skills to make an impact. I disagree.

Inclusive design is a business opportunity. It leads to innovation. Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller proves that.

Inclusive design is a content opportunity. When NPR added transcripts to This American Life, engagement went up. Unique visitors rose by more than four percent.

Inclusive design is a quality opportunity. The most common accessibility errors on websites can be fixed with better quality control.

Inclusive design is a performance opportunity. Seventy one percent of the world connects to the Web on a 2G or 3G network. Combine that with site’s page weight continuing to increase, and people using lower powered devices could be excluded.

Inclusive design is a people opportunity. Hiring a more diverse set of people means they can bring those perspectives into the products a company creates.

The answer to the question of who’s opportunity does inclusive design belong to most? Ours. If you make decisions in your organization, as most everyone does, you can start impacting diversity and inclusion today.

Image by Sergio Souza.

By David A. Kennedy

I work as a Design Director at Automattic on Jetpack, focusing on the front end experience.


Kudos to David Kennedy and Automattic for this great article on inclusive design. It’s so important and something that isn’t talked about near enough in the design world. Thanks for posting it.

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