Inclusive Design

The information presented within this glossary entry is aimed at website owners seeking to learn the ropes of web accessibility. Technical elements are described in layman’s terms, and, as a rule, all topics pertaining to the legalities of web accessibility are presented in as simplified a manner as possible. This guide has no legal bearing, and cannot be relied on in the case of litigation.

Inclusive design is an approach that aims to create products, services, and environments that accommodate the broadest possible audience. Unlike traditional design methods, it values and prioritizes human diversity, ensuring that every individual, regardless of their abilities or circumstances, can benefit from the designed solution.

While both inclusive and accessible design focus on catering to diverse needs, they differ in scope and intent. Accessible design primarily addresses the needs of people with disabilities, ensuring they can use a product or service. Inclusive design, on the other hand, goes a step further. It not only ensures accessibility but also strives for usability and meaningful experiences for all, including those with temporary or situational challenges.

A key tenet of inclusive design is that designing for users with extreme needs often results in solutions that benefit everyone. For instance, features initially created for those with motor disabilities can enhance the experience for a broader audience.

Core tenets of inclusive design

Inclusive design is underpinned by several foundational principles that guide its approach to creating universally usable products and environments:

  • Diversity and inclusion: Recognize and embrace the diversity of users, ensuring that solutions cater to a broad spectrum of abilities, backgrounds, and experiences
  • Flexibility: Design solutions that can adapt to different user needs and preferences, allowing for customization and personalization
  • Equitable use: Ensure that the design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities, without segregating or stigmatizing any group
  • User-centered approach: Engage users throughout the design process, especially those with diverse abilities, to gain insights and feedback
  • Holistic perspective: Go beyond mere accessibility features and consider the entire user experience, ensuring that all aspects of a product or environment are inclusive

The main applications of inclusive design

Inclusive design principles can be applied across a wide range of domains to ensure that products, services, and environments cater to the diverse needs of all users. Some of the primary applications include:

  • Digital platforms: Websites, mobile apps, and software interfaces designed with inclusivity in mind ensure that people of all abilities can navigate, interact with, and benefit from digital content
  • Physical spaces: Architectural designs that consider varied mobility and sensory needs, from ramps and tactile paving to clear signage and acoustically optimized spaces
  • Product design: Everyday products, from kitchen utensils to tech gadgets, that are designed to be usable by the widest range of people, considering factors like grip, weight, and visual indicators
  • Education: Curriculum and teaching methods that cater to diverse learning styles and needs, ensuring that all students have equal opportunities to succeed
  • Public services: Services like transportation, healthcare, and civic facilities that are designed to be accessible and user-friendly for everyone, regardless of age, ability, or background
  • Media and entertainment: Films, games, and other media that incorporate features like subtitles, diverse representation, and adaptable controls to cater to a wider audience

Examples of inclusive design

Here are some notable examples that showcase the principles of inclusive design in action:

  • Adjustable font sizes: Many digital platforms allow users to modify font sizes to suit their visual preferences. This feature ensures that content is readable for everyone, from those with vision impairments to individuals who simply prefer larger text
  • Multi-language support: With the global nature of the internet, offering content in multiple languages ensures that users from different linguistic backgrounds can access and understand the material. This not only broadens the audience reach but also respects cultural diversity
  • Adaptable user interfaces: Some apps and websites offer customizable interfaces, enabling users to select layouts, color schemes, or functionalities that best match their needs. This flexibility ensures that the platform is intuitive and comfortable for a diverse range of users
  • Voice User Interfaces (VUI): Devices like smart speakers or voice-activated assistants cater to those who might find traditional interfaces challenging. VUIs can be especially beneficial for visually impaired users or those with motor disabilities
  • Ergonomic product design: Physical products, like kitchen tools or office equipment, designed with ergonomics in mind, cater to a wider range of physical abilities. For instance, a can opener designed for one-handed operation can benefit not just amputees but also those with arthritis or temporary injuries

Inclusive vs. accessible design

Both inclusive and accessible design aim to make products and environments usable for everyone. They often overlap, but their focus and methods differ. Sometimes, the terms are used interchangeably, leading to confusion.

Accessible design zeroes in on ensuring usability for people with disabilities. It tackles specific barriers, like making websites navigable for the visually impaired or adding ramps for wheelchair access. Its primary goal is equal access for those with disabilities.

Inclusive design, conversely, has a wider lens. It embraces human diversity, striving for products and services that cater to everyone, regardless of ability, age, or economic status. It's about designing for an elderly person with arthritis and a young child alike.

In essence, while accessible design responds to specific needs, inclusive design proactively seeks to eliminate potential barriers from the outset.

Inclusive design in the eyes of the law

Inclusive design principles are echoed in various global legislation. Specific anti-discriminatory laws emphasize the importance of creating products, services, and environments that accommodate a diverse range of users, including those with disabilities. Here's a closer look at how these principles manifest in legal frameworks across different jurisdictions:

United States

  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: Mandates that all information and communication technology (ICT) used by the federal government, bodies that receive federal funding, and service providers to such organizations, be designed to be usable by everyone, including people with disabilities. For instance, it emphasizes the need for user interfaces that can be navigated using only a keyboard
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Requires businesses and public spaces to ensure equal access and opportunities for individuals with disabilities. This has been extended to digital spaces, emphasizing websites and online platforms that are usable and meaningful to a broad audience


  • Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA): Requires organizations in Ontario to meet specific accessibility standards, including those for web content. It emphasizes creating digital platforms that cater to a diverse range of users
  • Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA): Prohibits discrimination based on disability and aligns with inclusive design's focus on creating environments that are usable by all. The act's push for equal rights and opportunities resonates with inclusive design's principle of designing for diverse user needs


  • Web and Mobile Accessibility Directive: Adopted by the European Union in 2016, this directive mandates public-sector bodies in EU member states to make their websites and mobile applications universally accessible. This includes guidelines such as providing text alternatives for non-text content
  • Equality Act 2010 (United Kingdom): Requires service providers, including online ones, to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities. This can include features like providing alternative text descriptions for images or ensuring that websites can be navigated using voice commands

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