Inclusive design starts with recognizing exclusion



Inclusive design starts with recognizing exclusion

Inclusive design isn't just a trend—it's a necessity born out of acknowledging diversity and promoting equality. The core idea is that disability is not an attribute of a person but a mismatch between an individual's abilities and their environment.

Historically, disability was viewed as a personal deficit. However, the World Health Organization’s updated definition highlights the interaction between individuals and society. 

Now, this shift encourages designers to focus on how environments can be adapted to better suit all users.

The power of inclusive design

Inclusive design starts with recognizing exclusion. When we design based solely on our biases, we inadvertently create barriers. Understanding these points of exclusion opens doors to new, inclusive ideas. For instance, designing for someone with a permanent disability can also benefit those with temporary or situational limitations.

 Learning from diversity

Diversity can teach us invaluable lessons. We, as human beings, are exceptional at adapting to different situations. Inclusive design puts people at the center from the beginning, leveraging diverse perspectives to create better solutions. Observing how people adapt to their environment provides valuable insights. For example, a person with a permanent disability might use a tool in a way the designer never intended, revealing new ways to improve the design.

Universal benefits of inclusive design

Inclusive design works across a spectrum of abilities, connecting people in similar circumstances. Designing for permanent disabilities can seem restrictive, but it often results in innovations that benefit a broader audience. One perfect example is closed captioning, which was initially created for the hard of hearing, but also helps people in noisy environments or those learning to read.

It’s important to understand that exclusion and disability come in various forms: permanent, temporary, and situational. A permanent disability might be a lifelong condition, such as blindness or paraplegia. Temporary disabilities are short-term issues, like a broken arm or recovering from surgery. Situational disabilities arise due to context or environment, such as trying to read in bright sunlight or using a phone with one hand while holding a baby. 

Permanent, temporary and situational disabilities. Source: Microsoft

Designing with these different types of exclusion in mind doesn't just benefit a few—it benefits everyone. By addressing the needs of those with permanent disabilities, we can create solutions that also assist those with temporary or situational limitations. For instance, voice recognition software, initially developed for individuals with mobility impairments, can also assist someone recovering from a hand surgery (temporary disability) or a person needing to use their device hands-free while cooking (situational disability).

Common pitfalls when designing 

However, even with the best intentions, it’s easy to make mistakes in inclusive design. Here are five common pitfalls:

  1. Relying on universal solutions: Believing that one design can meet everyone's needs often leads to exclusion. Tailoring solutions to diverse needs is essential.
  2. Neglecting temporary and situational disabilities: Focusing only on permanent disabilities overlooks the many people who face temporary or situational challenges, such as a broken arm or a noisy environment.
  3. Ignoring user feedback: Failing to gather and incorporate feedback from a diverse range of users can result in designs that don't meet real world needs.
  4. Overlooking contextual factors: Not considering how different environments affect usability can lead to designs that work well in one context but fail in others.
  5. Inadequate testing: Skipping thorough testing with diverse user groups can prevent designers from identifying and addressing exclusion points.

From mindset to making

Adopting an inclusive design mindset means constantly challenging our assumptions and striving for greater understanding. It's about more than just meeting accessibility standards; it's about creating designs that are inherently flexible and adaptable.

To incorporate inclusive design into your projects, you must be ready to:

  1. Manage: Consider inclusivity in every stage of product development, from planning to creation.
  2. Research: Gather comprehensive information about the project and its users, understanding how different people will interact with your design.
  3. Create: Use this information to build prototypes that can be tested and refined.
  4. Evaluate: Test with diverse user groups and use feedback to improve the design.

In other words, inclusive design is a journey, not a destination. By focusing on how environments can be adapted to better suit all users, we move towards a world where everyone can interact with products and services without barriers

At Fail Fast, we are committed to this journey, continuously learning and improving to create designs that truly serve everyone, turning challenges into opportunities.


Inclusive 101 Microsoft Guidebook (2024), Microsoft

What is Inclusive Design? (2016), Interaction Design Foundation

A Comprehensive Guide on Inclusive Design in 2023 (2023), Imaginovation


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