What is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive Design is a method of creating experiences that can adapt to fit an individual and their context. Consider the full range of human diversity and how to include the widest diversity of human interaction with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, and other forms of human difference.

You might think that designing for everyone leaves no one happy. But in reality, designing for inclusion creates a better experience for everyone. Let’s explore why.

The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as: “The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible… Without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.”

In a nutshell that means:

  • Every design decision has the potential to include or exclude customers. Inclusive design emphasizes the contribution that understanding user diversity makes to informing these decisions.
  • Inclusive design does not suggest that it is always possible (or appropriate) to design one product to address the needs of the entire population. Instead, inclusive design guides an appropriate design response to diversity in the population through:
    • Developing a family of products and derivatives to provide the best possible coverage of the population.
    • Ensuring that each individual product has clear and distinct target users.
  • Reducing the level of ability required to use each product, in order to improve the user experience for a broad range of customers, in a variety of situations.
  • In the context of product design, both “Design for all” and “Universal design” approaches pragmatically accept that it is not always possible for one product to meet the needs of the entire population. Nevertheless, these approaches maintain that all mainstream products should be accessible to as many people as technically possible (Preiser and Ostroff, 2001).

What Does Inclusive Design Mean for This Film?

Access is a short nonfiction film intended to convey the experience of one person. Because of this, it focuses heavily on the voice of that person in interviews (in two brief moments, the voice of the director can be heard reacting from off-camera). Access was designed to be an inclusive film. First, very little is shown that is not already being discussed using the subject’s spoken words—this is important because you don’t need to see the visuals to access the information being presented. Second, when a visuals-dependent experience is present (notably during demos of accessible software), it is aimed at users who can see and are unfamiliar with audio-only accessible technology—in other words, if you are sighted, you can look at what’s happening and learn something; if you are not, you can listen and follow along with the narration describing what’s happening; if you are neither, there are still ways to access the film (more on that in a moment). Third, Audio Description has been built into the film in order to help level the playing field for sighted and non-sighted audiences…and to tacitly explain to the mass audience what Audio Description is, and why it’s useful. Choices made both in the interview and the edit allow diverse audiences to experience the same film and come away with relevant experiences. The film includes Closed Captions, as well as being available in text-only form (a narrative transcript), and an audio-only form (literally just the audio track of the film presented as an MP3 file), so that it can be used in a variety of ways that may not fit the traditional “let’s watch a film” use case.

Chris, the director, intends to write more about what he learned during the making of this film. But the summary is: If we believe the key message of this film as Cory explains it, creators should be concerned with making their creations accessible and usable to broad audiences. By taking that message to heart, Chris designed the film intentionally to reach a broad audience. That meant a variety of technical and editorial decisions (adding audio description, avoiding flashing lights, using high-contrast titling, etc.), but it all boiled down to figuring out how to actually embrace the message of the film in the making of the film.