5 Factors Driving the Importance of Inclusive Design
Inclusive design and digital accessibility are important complementary, yet different efforts. Accessibility is built on inclusive design. Inclusive design focuses on creating an accessible experience, and enhances design through a focus on broad usability that enables people with diverse capabilities to use a product.
Inclusive design has existed for many years, but has been largely ignored or deprioritized by most application development providers. However, with increased legislation penalizing those who don’t meet accessibility requirements, and with a growing need to connect with a wider base of users, accessibility and usability testing now take center stage for many businesses.
Simply put, producing inaccessible software is unprofessional and unethical. All users want to interact with software in a meaningful way, and use all necessary app functions and features without having to create workarounds. Recently, it’s also been seen as a source of unlawful discrimination. In the United States, people with disabilities (PwD), permanent or temporary, are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 2019, approximately 2,200 ADA lawsuits were filed against providers of inaccessible websites and mobile apps — this speaks to the importance of inclusive design as a legal, moral and financial must.
Accessibility and inclusive design are important for any industry, and for any product. Let’s explore five key benefits that underscore the importance of inclusive design.
1. Equitable access
In the past, software application development businesses got away with ignoring accessibility or treating it as an afterthought. However, with the increase in litigation, the need for improved usability in general, and the creation of accessibility standards, software development companies are on notice.
An organization should practice inclusive design and prioritize accessibility during development because it’s simply the right thing to do. Anything short might be considered, legally or professionally, discrimination against people with a variety of permanent or temporary disabilities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital world expanded rapidly to support remote working, learning, mental health, healthcare and other essential activities. In that high-risk context, accessibility barriers became seriously detrimental or deadly. The need to serve all patients remotely drove the push to telehealth apps and services, which continue to grow and evolve today.
Software application design, development and testing must prioritize accessibility and treat it as a “must-have,” rather than an optional feature. At any given time, an inaccessible design can have dire humanitarian or business consequences.
2. Improved usability
Accessibility through inclusive design improves application usability. Even if it’s not the intention, accessible software applications become inherently more user-friendly. All users have options that they prefer within any software; increasing those options to boost accessibility improves the user experience.
In this increasingly digital age, the importance of inclusive design and usability are paramount. If an application fails to provide high levels of user satisfaction, the project fails. End users swap one app for another quite easily, and they do so repeatedly based on poor performance times or usability experiences.
By incorporating inclusive design during application development, businesses increase users. Not only that, but they reduce churn — all of which leads to better brand reputation and more profits in the short and long terms.
3. Regulatory requirements
With a variety of global accessibility standards and guides available, there’s no excuse for organizations to ignore their role in promoting inclusive experiences. Rather, these standards should push accessibility to a high priority level for software companies.
Many current applications are simply not designed with accessibility standards in mind. This explains the importance of inclusive design embedded into the software development cycle itself, not just serving as a low-priority bug fix. Likewise, software security was previously an afterthought and has since become critical throughout design, development and testing. Think of accessibility and inclusive design the same way.
Current web and mobile applications often fail to achieve accessibility goals. For example, in early 2022, WebAIM conducted an assessment of one million home pages using automated tests against accessibility standards. The results found an average of 50.8 WCAG conformance defects per page. While this figure was down from 60.9 defects per page in 2020, companies still have a lot of work to ensure accessibility. Each of those companies would potentially be exposed to legal action, in addition to taking a hit to their reputation and failing to reach the largest audience possible.
4. Broadest possible user reach
Apps designed with accessibility in mind reach more users. More users translate into more potential customers and increased profit. Thus, revenue-driven organizations should appreciate the importance of inclusive design.
By providing options to people with visual, hearing and mobility impairments, accessible apps tap into a customer base that would otherwise be ignored. If the risks of inaccessible software weren’t significant enough, imagine turning down millions of potential users with billions of dollars of disposable income. A business wouldn’t dare make that sacrifice along other demographic lines, yet many do it every day with accessibility.
Inclusive design drives better access to technology. Technology access matters more as life becomes increasingly digital. We find jobs online, shop online and receive education online. If you’re one of the millions of diverse users with a physical disability, you miss out on technological advances every day. Without placing a high priority on accessibility and inclusive design, software fails to meet users' needs. That negative brand reputation among PwD stays with a business for years.
5. Positive reputation boost
When companies ignore accessibility, they can expect lost sales as a result, not to mention being branded as inaccessible and uncaring toward PwD. Conversely, if an application or product includes accessible options, there’s a greater likelihood that all customers will at least try it. Accessibility benefits all customers by providing additional features and options.
Inclusive design fosters goodwill toward users. When a company has a reputation of prioritizing inclusive design, other customers may see that as an olive branch to them as well. Every customer wants to feel valued and respected — a careless approach to PwD in today’s business landscape has broad implications that can hurt the company. Through app store ratings, regulatory sanctions or simple word of mouth, customers can easily learn about a company’s practices, and users prioritize businesses that match their values more than ever before.
Make inclusive design a priority today
The time has arrived for both accessibility testing and inclusion. Accessibility testing must become a permanent fixture in application design and development, as well as in test planning and execution. QA teams must learn what accessibility testing includes and the regulations guiding it. From there, add accessibility testing to regression or functional test suite execution. Testers must acquire the expertise to discover accessibility-related defects and regulatory requirement violations when testing web and mobile apps.
Likewise, testers must be aware of the importance of inclusive design and its principles. As with all testing types, analyze software documentation or user stories for defects or missing requirements throughout the software development cycle. The earlier accessibility mistakes are reported and repaired, the cheaper and easier they are to address. By understanding both accessibility testing methods and the importance of inclusive design principles, organizations will possess the skills to find, report and remediate accessibility defects.
Every customer matters. Applause is ready to help you establish an accessibility testing program that conforms to regulatory standards and exceeds customer expectations.
Applause provides expert-led assessments, bug-fix verification and accessibility training with real PwD to help companies all over the world achieve their inclusive design goals. Contact us today to get started.
Tune into our webinar Accessibility Now Means Less Pain Later, featuring Applause’s Julia Zacharias, VP, EU Delivery & Customer Success.