The difference between Inclusive Design and Accessibility

I am thrilled to bits that my Ten Principles of Inclusive Web Design are being adopted. At the last eAccessibility Forum meeting, it was heartening to hear the message I have spent the past year expounding being articulated by folk from Cabinet Office and the Minister alike. I had no idea that they were actually listening. Go figure.

However, there are also a whole lot of people who seem to be using the phrase "Inclusive Design" when they really mean "Web Accessibility"; as the Principles have evolved through a lot of hard work, thinking and care, I feel that I must now stand up in their defence.

Web Accessibility, or if one is to be pedantic about its purpose - Access to Information and Services - is an essential component of Inclusive Web Design. However, they are definitely not the same thing, and yet, ever since the Principles were published, folk have been using the term Inclusive (Web) Design willy nilly. Suddenly, Accessibility is being arbitrarily replaced with Inclusive Design, which is very distressing, as this means that the whole premise of Inclusive Design has been misunderstood. Have people become so desensitised to the term Accessibility that Inclusive Design has been swapped out because it sounds more palatable? I hope not.

So, what is the difference between Inclusive Design and Accessibility?

Web accessibility is about human rights. Inclusive design is about making a product fit for purpose. Big difference. More so, Web Accessibility in its current guise seems determined to make every last bit of technology accessible to every human being on earth. It asserts rights on behalf of disabled people and puts these before regular folk and before technical innovation. So, what's happening is that regular folk and technical innovation have moved on swiftly without Accessibility. To quote Ian Pouncey, "Accessibility is for everyone. It's just that 80% of people get it for free". I agree with Ian wholeheartedly. However, what most people understand Accessibility to be is how it is defined by the W3C, which is that "Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web". But that's not all. What about Design? Design is about creating products and services that people can use and since websites and web applications are things that people use and interact with, things that change and adapt through this use and interaction, Inclusive Design and not just Access is what is desperately needed. Of course, I dread to think what my life would be without technology, but the web is young, we still have quite a long journey ahead and neither Accessibility nor Inclusive Design can be fully realised under current systems. There is no one-size-fits-all perfect solution, no single means for folk with restrictive impairments to achieve independence, no absolutes. Accessibility is subjective and yet so many advocating on its behalf would let you think otherwise.

Whereas Inclusive Design is about considering all requirements, understanding limitations and using available resources. It's scope is broader than Accessibility, yet it's more realistic, more reasonable. Inclusive Design is in harmony with my human rights values and, as human rights precede law, it is more closely aligned to the legal framework around disability discrimination and, as such, is more achievable. The concept of Reasonable Accommodation, which in the UK is called Reasonable Adjustments, was first articulated around US Civil Rights, in order for people to have the freedom to practice their religion of choice. And it is this concept that I relied upon in writing the Principles and the definition of Equivalence of Service, both of which have been utilised in the eAccessibility Action Plan. Equivalence of Service on the web is defined as:

"The relative value that the user derives through the provision and use of the service, based on achieving specific outcomes in the pursuit of participation and inclusion in society in both work and home life."

The term "relative value" supports an acceptable level of tolerance for limitations. As the aim is to be as inclusive as possible, it is accepted that some folk may not be able to participate due to reasons that fall outside of the auspices of technology. It is accepted that the needs of diverse users must be accommodated, as equal does not mean the same.

Accessibility requires access to be provided, but access alone is not always enough to make a website useful. Inclusive means that as many people as possible and importantly as many as are reasonably practicable are included. Included, considered, respected and with equal rights from the get go.

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