Human-Centered Design Q&A: Accessibility and Inclusivity

How can we create truly inclusive digital products and services?

This is the question we explored at our latest Human-Centered Design Manchester Meetup and put to our panel of experts; Alex, Rosa, Gareth, Leilah, Simon, and Emma.

In what was an insightful and engaging discussion covering a variety of talking points, we’ve pulled together some key highlights from our audience Q&A below.

What prevents us from making products and services accessible?

Alex, Software Engineer at Cinch

“The lack of education around accessibility. Coming from an engineering point of view, there are a lot of engineers who don’t know semantic HTML, which is a foundational way of coding when building accessible products.

“Lack of awareness is down to essentially what engineers have been taught, which is also how the engineering world has shifted recently. We’re at a place where there’s a lot of bootcamps out there that only teach JavaScript heavy frameworks, and thereby are not educated in basic frameworks. This lack of education in basics leads to roadblocks when building accessible products.”

Emma Andrews, Business Development Manager at Manchester Deaf Centre

“I think there’s an issue with presumption. I can only speak on behalf of the clients we support at Manchester Deaf Centre, but there is a presumption of language acquisition and understanding languages.

“A really common misconception for deaf people is that they can understand written English. Again, it’s a complete lack of awareness and lack of representation. If you don’t have someone on your team to put their hand up and say ‘have you thought about this?’, it’s not a priority.”

Four framed images of British Sign Language, which are collectively signing the letters for "Code".
“Code” in British Sign Language

How do you cope with the breadth of accessibility needs?

Gareth, Accessibility Consultant

“No matter what demographic, you should start with the difference between medical and social models of disability. People’s needs are where you need to start. They can be needs around culture, modality, or they can be needs around cognitive modelling.

“This is design, when it gets down to it. It all starts in design and asking good questions. Not thinking about what the solutions are up front, but understanding what questions we should be asking, what the barriers and the needs are, and how those needs, if not met, create barriers. This approach allows us to see needs as intersectional.”

Rosa, Digital Inclusion and Engagement Officer at Citizens Advice Manchester

“There’s a lot that’s being done for accessibility, for inclusion, but people don’t know where to find those solutions. What’s the point of having an accessibility statement if no one reads it?

“There’s a lot more that needs to be done directly with these people to support them, to make them aware of the services available to them. For example, 20% of the UK’s population is disabled, however, for internet non-users, over 50% of them are disabled. Life is too complicated, we need to go back to the basics and simplify.”

Do you ever feel like a small fish in a big pond? How do you deal with it?

Leilah, Software Engineer at Code

“I used to work at a company that had to build accessible websites, so coming to a company where accessibility wasn’t in the forefront was very difficult. But I met Jim, and together we started the accessibility champions network and have been pushing for it from there.

“I completely understand it’s draining, but keep pushing and try and find someone else within your business who feels passionate about it as well.”

Simon, Lead User Researcher at Government for Education

“I think it’s figuring out what lever you can pull from to convince others about why it’s important. Is there a diversity and inclusivity champion? Is there someone more senior you can get as an ally to support you?

“Put together some sort of case saying this is why we need to consider this: It’s a moral thing to do, legally you have to (because of the equality act) and name examples of cases where being inaccessible has backfired.”

. . .

You can watch the full panel discussion and Q&A here.

Human-Centered Design Manchester is a community of multi-disciplined designers, developers, business owners, product owners and startup entrepreneurs that believe in tackling challenges with a human-centred approach.

We organise regular Meetups, events, workshops and socials for anyone interested in learning and sharing new skills.

Want to stay in the know about future events? Join our Human-Centered Design Meetup.