… The keyboard we use is a result of the first typewriter built by Pellegrino Turri for his visually impaired countess to write letters to him.

… Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone to support his work helping the hearing impaired.

… Vint Cerf programmed the first email protocols to communicate with his wife, who was hearing impaired, while he was at work.

It is rightly said, “if necessity is the mother of invention, then intentionally designing for people with diverse needs and abilities is what nurtures ongoing innovation.”

Designing for the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference is of immense significance in world today. In 2000, the UK government attached a simple definition to ‘Inclusive Design’: products, services and environments that include the needs of the widest number of consumers. Designers need to take into consideration a wide range of varying abilities, to be much closer to achieving the design than someone whose designs only serve one group of people.

Look around. Almost anything can be re-imagined with Inclusive Design; some items so ordinary that you use every day, to skyscrapers, a website and some new ideas that don’t exist, but probably should.

What is Inclusive Design?

Pellegrino Turri’s typewriter, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, and Vint Cerf’s email…all these inventions had one thing in common: they were initially designed for the disabled but eventually helped everyone else. While each of those inventors stumbled upon a design that helped everyone else, companies today like Microsoft are starting their design process with the differently-abled in mind. ‘Solve for one, extend to many’ is the motto for most designers today. Here are some common examples of Inclusive Design:

Language: Travelers who don’t speak the local language are presented with information in visual, textual, audio and tactile form. This also helps people with visual impairments. For example, a warning sign with a visual illustration and/or tactile pavement that can conveys “danger ahead” to someone with a cane.

Fluid Interfaces: Designs that allow things to be pushed out of the way and/or reconfigured on the fly. For example, shelves that move up and down to be accessed from any height.

Automation: Removing physical tasks by automating them. For example, automated doors.

Controls: Easy to use controls that are unambiguous and error-tolerant. For example, the auto-correct feature on our smart phones helps with one hand typing.

Inclusive Work Environments

Companies are integrating Inclusive Design principles to make work environments more productive and accessible by everyone.

Assistive Technology for those who are hard of hearing or have difficulty with their vision. Concept Mapping, Voice Recognition Software, Text-to-Speech Programs and apps for smartphones help with the writing process and reading online content aloud to the user.

Workstations. By installing modular and adjustable furniture to ensure that all employees have access to comfortable and accessible equipment. For instance, adjustable desks that can incorporate a wheelchair or be lowered to suit someone with a smaller stature.

Structural Changes. Most common types of inclusive design are replacing steps with slopes for access by the elderly and those in wheelchairs. Automatic door openers and lever-shaped door handles instead of round knobs, wider hallways and doors for individuals in wheelchairs, etc.

Training and Learning. Delivering material in a variety of forms like kinesthetic, auditory and visual ensures that everyone, regardless of age, experience or health condition, can access and understand the material being delivered.

Making the Web ‘Inclusive’ for all

The power of the World Wide Web is its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect. – Tim Berners Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web.

When any Website or an app meets this goal, is accessible by and is usable by as many people as possible, without the need for special adaptation; then it is a successful Inclusive Design!

It is often mistaken that only a small number of people benefit from improved inclusiveness like those with permanent disabilities. But that’s not true; Microsoft categorizes exclusions into three groups that most people fall under:

Permanent. Those who have a disability such as loss of limb, sight or hearing.

Temporary. A person has short-term injury like a sprain or wearing a cast

Situational. Such as in crowded places where can’t hear well or when a new parent needs to do tasks one-handed.

Building Inclusive Websites for a specific problem can benefit a larger number of people. For example:

  • Creating an interface that can be operated with one hand will also help those with arm injuries or new parents holding a baby.
  • Adding subtitles to online videos can help those with hearing loss and also for people who can’t play audio content in their current location.
  • An interface created with high contrast color scheming to accommodate the color blind, may come in handy to people viewing a site on their phones against the glare from the suns.

Designers, who design products and technologies used globally, set the standards for how people interact with the world. If sites are optimized using Inclusive Design, competitors are going to do the same thing to keep up. Soon the web will be accessible to all!

Inclusive Architecture

We often see buildings where there’s a staircase leading up to a main entrance, and then a sad little sign advising physically disabled visitors to use a side entrance. An Inclusive Design solution would be to put one accessible ramp up to the door for everyone to use. This will be useful for mothers with strollers, people moving in and out furniture etc.

Designing, building, managing and populating places and spaces that ensure that they work for as many people as possible is an integral part of Inclusive Design. It could be places where people live, public buildings, health centers, education facilities etc.

Some good examples of Inclusive Architecture:

The Paralympic Games Sports & Fitness Center: In 2012 the Baldinger Architectural Studio designed a one of its kind sports & fitness center for disabled people. The barrier free environment was built over an area of 45000 square feet and the concept behind it was a ‘total environment’ that could be used by everyone.

Hazelwood School, Glasgow:  Alan Dunlop designed a school for children, who are dual sensory impaired. A child learns more from experience. The design of the school based on the essential senses – smell, taste and touch and it helped create the awareness of the surroundings promoting independence.

House of Disable People’s organization, Denmark: The world’s most accessible office building was built with a focus on space. They used a universal design with space in mind that could be accessed equally by everyone.

Rethinking conventional architecture provides a blank canvas, opening possibilities for innovation and inclusivity within the built environment. 300 years ago, the prospect of a lift was inconceivable – now, they are found in almost every building!

At Intellect, Design Thinking runs deeps in our veins. We take inspiration from the outside world to design financial technology products, with customer always at the centre of focus.

We bring to you, the series on ‘Celebrating Design’, to celebrate ideas, people and the plethora of possibilities.