This last weekend I went and visited the Design Museum in London. I was SO excited to browse their book selection and discover some interesting ones on inclusive or accessible design. I prompted myself at the beginning of the first row and started browsing one book at a time. What would I find? Row one nothing. Not to worry, certainly there must be something. Row two nothing. Row three nothing. Last row nothing. Ok, I certainly must have been missing them. So I asked. The answer? They didn't have one book on inclusive or accessible design. Not one. Disappointment levels? Major.
A friend did recommend "Mismatch" by Kat Holmes, and no thanks to the Design Museum I ordered it online. It's a short, punchy, very useful read. The description on the back of the book says "Sometimes designed objects reject their users: a computer mouse that doesn't work for left-handed people, for example, or a touchscreen payment system that only works for people who read English phrases, have 20/20 vision, and use a credit card. These mismatches are the building blocks of exclusion".
Please read the book in full, irrespective of what you do, there will be one element to provoke thought. These are the ones that made me pause and reflect:
1) We ALL benefit from inclusive design (even when it's set up to solve another person's need). If you don't know who Vint Cerf is, you certainly heard of the internet or the email. Vint Cerf is known as the father of the internet. He was also the one to create the earliest protocols for email. Why? His wife is deaf and Vint himself is hard of hearing, so they needed a way to communicate with a phone clearly not working for them. How many people use emails nowadays? Based on 2021 projections, 319.6 billion email are sent each day!
2) Disability can be permanent, temporary or situational. The example in the book to illustrate this is:
- Permanent disability can be someone who has one arm
- Temporary disability is somebody who has an arm injury so temporary has use of only one arm
- Situational can be a new parent who is caring their new born in one arm so doesn't have use of that limb in that moment in time.
Imagine a product that is built for one of those personas, it will have use and functionality to all of them. Inclusive design, as shown in the email example, more often then not is used by everyone. It's also easier to built inclusively from the start than try to retrofit later on.
3) The WHO defines disability as a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which they life. Why is this definition important? As Kat puts it in her book it clearly indicates that disability does not equate to personal health conditions (or even the person I might add). Instead disability is a series of mismatched human interactions.
4) When we think of inclusive design or the mismatch that can occur during the design process we should consider:
- WHAT we make
- WHY we make it
- WHO makes it
- HOW it's made
- WHO uses it
By analysing these steps and answering those questions we are more likely to identify mismatches between our product/solutions and be able to address them in accordance.
5) Lastly, how do we make the shift towards inclusion? Kat presents a far more comprehensive list but here are my favourite ones:
- pay attention to any ability biases you might have, and those leading to assumptions on how your product or solution would be used
- bring complementary skills to your team, as well as identifying exclusion experts (these are the people who usually suffer from the mismatches and can share their experience). Don't build for them, build WITH them.
- ensure basic accessibility literacy in your team and invest into developing expertise in critical areas for your business, product, solution, etc
- build one size fits one, instead of one size fits all. By building for one, and for one persona, you are more likely to design a feasible product. One size fits all usually fits nobody. People are not averages.
Please go and buy Kat Holmes's book. Online or at your local bookstore. Not at the Design Museum as they don't have it.