When people talk about accessible and inclusive websites, they are mainly talking about the fact that a website is usable for (blind) visitors that use a screen reader and for people with a visual impairment or color blindness. It also means that a website is usable with a keyboard only without a mouse.
Often, conference/meet-ups talks, blogs, slack channel chats are about: when to use ARIA, how to use it, good HTML structure, CSS tips such as a screen readers class, color contrast and typography that are readable. There is a lot to learn and share with each other about these subjects.
This is a huge improvement compared not so long ago when people didn’t really think about accessibility and inclusive design.
But inclusive design is much more than structure, code and color only. Inclusive design is about the whole website as one — it’s about the complete experience of the user when they visit a website.
The non inclusive internet
In my own experience as someone who has always been hard of hearing and slowly became completely deaf. I daily come across situations that are not accessible or inclusive to me. I have no use for a well coded online form that works seamless in a screen reader or with tab keys, but makes it obligatory to fill in a phone number. Even worse if it doesn’t have a field for leaving a comment so that I can comment that I’m deaf and that I rather communicate through email, text message or WhatsApp.
I can easily make an online appointment on the municipality website for heavy trash pick up. But then I get a confirmation email from a no reply email address and the email only contains a phone number to call if something is amiss.
For years ordering food online was not inclusive. You had a broad choice of restaurants and broad choice of payment options like PayPal, bitcoins, credit card, bank and cash. But there was no extra field for comments and only a phone number in case something went wrong with the order or payment.
A field for an explanatory note on a food ordering page (and every contact page) is not only inclusive towards someone who wants to inform they are deaf and rather receive a text message instead of a phone call. But it is also inclusive towards people who have food allergies and want to make sure they won’t get sick from the food.
Inclusive design is also language and image
A lot of web shops don’t really think about their target group, with consequence that their website doesn’t appeal to a large part of their target group.
For example, a website that sells hearing aids. The stock images all portray older people. I was 12 years old when I got my first pair of hearing aids. Hearing impairment is a disability that affects all age groups. If today I still could benefit from hearing aids, I would for sure spend my time and money on a web shop that appeals to me.
How many times haven’t we sighed when reading a blog on a subject new to us. We want to know more about this subject, but the writer uses many difficult words and long sentences. There is so much to read and do online that it takes too much energy to read online text that is written too difficult. Imagine someone is undergoing medical treatment which gives lots of stress and affects their memory. They visit a website with information about their treatment for example which has difficult text. Such a website is non inclusive.
Design for everyone
When you are building a website, look further than structure, code, and colors. It can pass the Axe test, Lighthouse audit, Tenon.io and such with 100% marks, but still be frustrating to use for many visitors. The best test tools are people — a diverse group of people. Inclusive design is design. There doesn’t exist one single person who doesn’t profit from inclusive design.