I want to tell you a story. It happened this year (2018). I woke up with excitement coursing through my veins; excited to share a concept with fellow designers and developers at Sugar Labs (we’re an Open Source organization that makes learning fun for kids).

The goal was to improve the experiences of one of Sugar Lab’s products. After airing my thoughts and suggestions, James Cameron, Release Manager at Sugar Labs asked me “how would children who are color blind perceive this?”. Wait, what? I never thought of that, I pondered.

I took my curiosity to Google search and got some useful information on contrast, came back to resume the conversation with James and others on IRC, but they’d moved on to some other topic. Didn’t matter much. Walter Bender, founder of Sugar Labs also shared a couple of design guidelines on including kids with color blindness they used in designing the existing experience. I’ve learnt something new! And since then, I’ve constantly been awed by this aspect of design, and I‘ve taken it as a special, personal responsibility to share this new found knowledge with others — designers especially but actually everyone involved in the initial design process of a product.

As a matter of fact, I was supposed to give a talk on Design with at DevFest South-South Nigeria scheduled for today 16th, but for unforeseen health challenges, I’m unable to. I was however privileged to introduce this concept to an audience of over 200 persons at DevFest Warri just a couple weeks back; and I’ve taken this to medium to put my thoughts into writing to share to as wide an audience as possible.

So what does Design with Inclusion even mean? It basically means considering the wide range of human abilities — age, gender etcetera. Designing a product with accessibility and inclusive design features to accommodate users who may have certain disabilities improves greatly your usability!

The term accessibility “focus on enabling users with disabilities to perceive, interact, understand and navigate tools and services without barriers and that they can contribute equally without barriers”- Jen Devins

A lot of times we fail to take the minorities into consideration when designing products, services, platforms, etcetera. We make general assumptions that people who are going to use our final outputs are just like us; with no disabilities. The shocking truth though is, according to WHO, about 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability. Allow that sink for a moment: mathematically and theoretically speaking, about 2 out of every 10 users of your products might have 1 disability or the other. Include them in your design!

Aside from appealing to users with disabilities, some of the considerations taken into account when you design with inclusion can actually turn out to be helpful to users without disabilities. Some examples:

  • Screen readers are extremely useful to users who are blind but is also very useful to users who may be a little distracted from what is on the screen and prefers to listen instead.
  • Text messaging is said to have been originally designed for people who are deaf, but is obviously a very useful communication medium for almost everyone in the globe today! I for one would rather text than call, lol.

Did you know?

Finland’s Matti Makonen is credited with inventing SMS texting. The first SMS was sent in 1992. The idea of SMS was first discussed by Makkonen in a Copenhagen pizzeria with two other Finns, Seppo Tiainen and Juhani Tapiol. Makkonen invented SMS texting for deaf people to communicate, but when SMS offered an incredible new method for saving telecom bandwidth, the world of cellular telecommunications changed.

Rare blurry photo of the stage

Remember when I said I gave a talk on accessibility at DevFest Warri? The stage at that conference was so tall (lol I had to use the word tall, it was literarily tall), it had just this staircase with about 4 steps (see the picture above). Do you agree that people with walking impairments can’t actually get up there without assistance from someone else? And do you know what happens when someone offers to assist such ones in front of the crowd? They are once more reminded of their disability and many may feel bad for a while. What do we call that? Bad UX!

A primary goal of accessible design is to provide independence for people with disabilities. Granted, there is no product that can truly fulfill the needs of everyone. But when all users’ needs are taken into consideration in the initial product design process, the end result is a product that can be used by the broadest spectrum of users. Yes, there is a lot to consider but it’s not about making compromises, which leads us down to DEFINING and KNOWING our users.

You’d agree with me that one very key role in the design process for both new and existing products is defining those who would really use your product and understanding those who are using this products, if you’re not out there talking, observing and relating with your existing or potential users, you will be leaving out a lot of important details that would improve their experiences and help solve the challenges they may and are encountering while using your product or service. Which will enable you make the right type of compromises.

During my course of research I found this article Being Blind in Japan by Gracebuchele, the article mentioned a variety of ways the country Japan has great designs as to including everyone in it. The author said:

In Japan, it is rare to see someone who doesn’t fit in. And by fit in, I mean, not be perfectly normal

Take a look at some pretty exciting examples of how they included the blind in their product design:

  • Braille on alcoholic cans
    Cans that contain alcohol have braille pressed in at the top, near the tab. It’s nice of them to help blind people pick out alcohol quickly.
  • Braille on elevators 
    All elevators have braille
  • Braille on stair railways
    Apparently they have braille at the top and bottom of each staircase (especially in train stations) that tells you where the staircase is leading you.

A lot of other examples are included in the article.

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