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A11Y vs Inclusion

What’s the difference between accessible design and inclusive design?

Accessible design and Inclusive design, "Along with other human-centered concepts such as Ethical Design and Responsible Design, they [form] a vanguard of design practices and thinking that mark an important shift for designers: A shift away from designing for the companies or brands that pay our salaries, and towards designing for the actual people who use the things that we design." – Understanding the key differences between Accessible Design and Inclusive Design

So what is the difference between accessible design and inclusive design?

Let’s start with what these design concepts have in common:

  • Both accessible design and inclusive design are part of the same family of design concepts, human-centered design.
  • Both have specific vocabulary. Examples: When talking about accessibility, use the term "wheelchair user" instead of "confined to a wheelchair." To be inclusive, one would say "humankind" instead of "mankind."
  • Both accessible design and inclusive design are concerned with creating things everyone can use.
What makes them different?
  • Accessible design is the older of the two concepts, and consequently, perhaps the most well known.
  • Definitions: According to Adobe -
    • Accessible design "includes designing for the varying levels of ability when it comes to the eyesight, hearing, mobility, dexterity, and memory of your audience."
    • Inclusive design is design "that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference."
  • Inclusive design is not only concerned with whether everyone can use a product but is also concerned with whether everyone wants to use that product and feels safe doing so.
  • Inclusive design should result in an accessible design, but accessible designs are not always inclusive.
  • Accessible design is, for the most part, standardized and enforced by the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Contents Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). At the time of this post, inclusive design has no enforceable standards or guidelines.

Accessible and Inclusive design work together by:

  • removing and lowering barriers to make technology more usable by all people
  • learning how people adapt to technology based on their abilities
  • creating digital experiences that related to a diverse audience and the way they interact with the world

How do we make sure we are designing both accessible and inclusive technologies?

First, make sure you are using an automated tool like DubBot to guarantee accessibility for all your web visitors. Also, ensure that tool is measuring accessibility using the WCAG 2.1 Success Criteria.  

To measure with inclusivity, make use of custom checks like the ones available in DubBot. For example, by using the EDUCAUSE Inclusive, Bias-Free, Equitable Language Guide, you can set up custom checks to ensure your websites do not contain any specific words or terminology that would be considered discriminatory, biased or harmful.

Put together a diverse production team. Include people from different ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations, plus varying abilities, etc. (See "Inclusive Video Production")

And make sure you recruit, collaborate and test with diverse users. Bring together the very people you are designing for – "the actual people who use the things that we design."


Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
Content Marketing Practitioner