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Inclusive Design

The Center for Universal design at North Carolina State University defines universal design as the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.

In Europe the term "design for all" has a similar meaning to "universal design". However the term "inclusive design" also includes the concept of "reasonable" in the definition. The most commonly used definition for inclusive design is "The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible on a global basis, in a wide variety of situations and to the greatest extent possible without the need for special adaptation or specialised design".

People with special needs can include:

Children (< 16 years)
Older people (> 65 years)
People with disabilities
Left handed

Another significant group is those people who have limited knowledge of the English language, this includes some immigrants as well as foreign visitors.

Please treat the above percentages of the population in the UK solely as indicative of the order of magnitude. In addition the design of ICT systems should take into account differences in culture, particularly among ethnic minorities, which may render some designs unacceptable to some groups.

The increasing interest in adopting an includive design approach is because of a greater awareness of:

  • The increase in the older population
  • Changing consumer expectations, particularly with regard to retirement
  • New legislation
  • New procurement policies (particularly from governement departments)

The draft British Standard on Managing Inclusive Design (BS 7000-6) proposes tasks at corporate level as well as at project level.

At corporate level:

1. Explore potential / Assess demands and commitment / Finalise proposition

  • Acknowledge responsibilities for the quality of inclusive design generated and address key issues regularly at board meetings. Assign inclusive design responsibilities to competent executives, then motivate them to perform to specification.
  • Research opportunities and key issues, augment knowledge and seek guidance on inclusive design, such as demographic changes, shifting consumer expectations, existing and likely legislation, and standards relating to inclusive design. Also research their implications for the organization, its products, operations and facilities to raise understanding of key issues.
  • Undertake audits of 'what is and what could be' regarding inclusive design. Audit the organization's consumer offer, operations and facilities perhaps with assistance of experts and targeted users working with in-house teams. Determine extent of exclusion (how many consumers are inadequately catered for or discouraged).
  • Communicate business case for the organization to embrace inclusive design. Promote an inclusive perspective encompassing the whole business (not just design). Challenge prejudices and stereotypes, and maintain a visible commitment to inclusive design.

2. Establish foundation / Get into gear

  • Craft a mission statement relating to inclusive design that ties in with the organization's strategic intent, makes its overall vision more tangible internally and externally, so contributes directly towards achieving its overall goals.
  • Formulate a corporate design philosophy, objectives and strategies. Ensure that longer-term business plans reflect market needs and trends to enable the organization to grasp opportunities for growth and create competitive advantage. Insist that strategic plans address key issues and incorporate explicit statements relating to inclusive management and design.
  • Plan a corporate campaign to introduce new orientation to inclusive design. All organizational change needs to be planned in detail and executed meticulously to achieve success over the long term. Identify champions to spearhead that campaign.
  • Communicate the essence of philosophy, objectives and change programme. Ensure that colleagues throughout the organization are properly informed of the proposed changes, why they are necessary, and how they will unfold over the foreseeable future. Champions should also ensure that colleagues understand what is expected of them and there is an appropriate degree of 'buy in' even before the campaign starts.
  • Promote a nurturing culture for inclusive design. Reinforce the profile of inclusive design by acknowledging its value in raising corporate performance, and ensure that it features in corporate 'folklore'. Insist that inclusive design is administered without concession to the highest standards. Demonstrate pro-active support and enlightened commitment over the long term to enable inclusive design to establish firm roots and flourish.

3. Implement changes / Determine impact

  • Introduce the infrastructure and systems necessary to implement the inclusive design mission, administer the master programme, and ensure that inclusive design is embedded into other disciplines.
  • Draw up a master programme of inclusive design work that enhances the organization's other major plans. Specify criteria against which initiatives relating to inclusive design will be sought and approved. Review and update programme at appropriate intervals to sustain relevance in fulfilling corporate objectives. Allocate and ring-fence the necessary finance and other resources to enable this programme to be carried out effectively.
  • Bring together and develop inclusive design expertise. Ensure proper consultation with inclusive design specialists and users to validate all project proposals. Involve employees as well as disabled and older customers in an active search to improve the organization's consumer offer. Strengthen links with the older and disabled communities, ideally within a corporate social responsibility programme. Harness the expertise of appropriate partners throughout the supply chain.
  • Implement master programme and support new orientation to inclusive design.
  • Evaluate progress and contribution of programme. Monitor and control performance and expenditures against plans, then determine the returns on investment on all resources committed to inclusive design (not just capital). Compare contribution of, and return from inclusive design with investments in other business disciplines. In particular, document the distinctive outcomes as well as extraordinary achievements through inclusive.

4. Consolidate expertise and benefits / Refine approach

  • Develop inclusive design as a leading competency that creates competitive advantage. Constantly reinforce inclusive design mission, extend objectives and enhance master programme to maintain the challenges presented. Evolve unique perceptions and methods. Establish training programmes for executives, staff and other 'partners' to promote the right attitude and skills relating to inclusive design throughout the organization.
  • Document, share, publicize and celebrate inclusive design achievements to make contributions to corporate performance more tangible and assign credit properly where it is due. Collate evidence and gain acknowledgement that inclusive design is a vibrant, embedded part of corporate culture.
  • Enhance corporate reputation through inclusive design. Build inclusive design into an important distinguishing characteristic of corporate reputation that is backed up with extensive evidence of solid achievement. Establish inclusive design as a key driver, and the most visible deliverer, of corporate social responsibility.
  • Review and refine inclusive design approach. Enhance a regime of continuous improvement with more substantial longer-term reviews that reflect increased confidence and credibility as a result of mounting successes reinforced by quantified achievements. Carry through the 'inclusive approach' into a wider range of areas in the organization.

At project level:

  • Build up an in-depth understanding of key issues and facts through an involvement with an internal change team, by developing appropriate knowledge and skills, establishing a collection of thorough reference material and other design tools, developing a network of contacts in various organizations, and so on.
  • Encourage active links, collaboration and alliances with disability and older adult groups and centres, future trends researchers in academia and consultancy to identify needs and provide feedback on new design directions.
  • Use knowledge of demographic and social change to identify opportunities for innovation when developing products and services that match the changing consumer and legislative framework.
  • Learn from 'best practices' elsewhere and develop own practices accordingly.
  • Ensure all participants (especially project leaders) understand, and are committed to, inclusive design principles, and acknowledge their 'inclusive' responsibilities.
  • Establish a project management system that addresses inclusive design principles from start.
  • Insist that all proposals for initiatives include clear inclusive design requirements; unless some factor is specifically excluded, assume it is included.
  • Ensure holistic 'inclusive' approach throughout supply / value chain
  • Involve appropriately experienced people (users and other partners) at all critical stages (such as the design process, evaluation and testing) and ensure all teams have access to inclusive design expertise
  • Experiment with simple research methods that deliver quick insights into user issues and build empathy with older and disabled consumers.
  • Ensure that all areas where there is the possibility of exclusion can be identified
  • Set inclusive design criteria for all project reviews.
  • Capture all relevant experiences contemporaneously and ensure that documented experience is passed on from project to project for all to benefit
  • Take responsibility for continuing professional development executives and staff; promote opportunities through conferences, training courses and workshops.

Checklist for Inclusive Design

Further information