What is inclusive design?


Inclusive design

The result of seeing the world through diverse viewpoints is the creation of more inclusive products, services, or experiences that remove barriers and inspire innovation. Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft's Chief Accessibility Officer, began to lose her hearing at the age of five. Today she leads Microsoft's efforts to drive great products, services, and websites that empower people with disabilities.

Jenny says, "Disability isn't just my strength, it is our strength. By having people with disabilities at the core of Microsoft we can, and we will, do amazing things." This vantage point enables Microsoft to improve products, features, and accessibility for a wide range of abilities while driving innovation.

Not only is this an exciting area for technology and innovation, but it can also drive incredible impact. Being a person with a disability encompasses a range of experiences that apply to all of us at various points in our lives. For example, someone who has had an arm amputation has a permanent disability, while a person who suffers a broken arm has only a temporary experience of how this problem affects an individual. There's an additional variation of which we often aren't aware. For instance, someone holding their child while trying to write an email creates a situation with a related challenge.

As our CEO Satya Nadella says, "The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it."

Long term, we believe that designing with and for people with disabilities will lead to innovations in ubiquitous, inclusive computing. Today, it's about ensuring that accessibility is woven into the fabric of how we design and build. Accessibility isn't optional.

Inclusive design is for individuals who want to make great products for the highest number of people. The definition is a design methodology that enables and draws on a full range of human diversity.

The foundational belief explains that, "Exclusion happens when we solve problems using our own biases. As Microsoft designers, we seek out those exclusions that may be visible or invisible, and use them as opportunities to create new ideas and inclusive design."

Most importantly, this process means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives. By recognizing exclusion, learning from diversity, and solving for one to extend to many, you can shift your design thinking toward universal solutions.

Let's take a closer look at the three core principles of inclusive design. They are:

  • Recognize inclusion
  • Solve for one, extend to many
  • Learn from diversity

Recognize exclusion

Designing for inclusivity not only opens up our products and services to more people, it also reflects a deeper commitment to understanding who "everyone" really is. All humans grow and adapt to the world around them, and we want our designs to reflect that.

Disability happens at the points of interaction between a person and society. Physical, cognitive, and social exclusion is the result of mismatched interactions. It's a designer's responsibility to know how designs affect these interactions and create mismatches. Points of exclusion help generate new ideas and inclusive designs. They highlight opportunities to create solutions with utility and elegance for many people.

Solve for one, extend to many

Everyone has abilities and limits to those abilities. Designing for individuals who have permanent disabilities results in designs that benefit people universally. Everyone experiences exclusion as they interact with our designs. Inclusive design works across a spectrum of related abilities, connecting different people in similar circumstances.

Seeing disability differently and understanding exclusion helps benefit more people by our mindfulness of the continuation from permanent disabilities to situation impairments. It's helping us rethink how our designs can scale to more people in new ways. In the United States, 26,000 people a year suffer from loss of upper extremities. But when we include people with a temporary and situational impairment, the number is greater than 20 million.

Diagram of disabilities and impairments categorized by type and the affected sense.

Diagram showing motor, visual, auditory and speech disabilities and impairments. A person with one arm has a permanent motor disability, an arm injury is a temporary motor disability and being a new parent creates a situational motor disability. A person who is blind has a permanent visual disability, a cataract causes a temporary visual disability and being a distracted driver is a situational visual disability. A person who is deaf or hard of hearing has an auditory disability, an ear infection is a temporary auditory disability and a situational disability can occur when a person works as a bartender. A non-verbal person has a permanent speech disability, laryngitis causes a temporary speech disability and having a heavy accent is an example of a situational speech disability.

Learn from diversity

Human beings are the real experts in adapting to diversity. Inclusive design puts people at the center from the very start of the process. Those fresh, diverse perspectives are the key to true insight. When experiences don't serve people the way they should, we adapt. Sometimes, this happens in astonishing ways that the designers never intended. We can try to imagine how a person with a given set of abilities would use an experience, but we can't envisage their emotional context, what gives them joy, or frustrates them. Insights come when we understand those adaptations, and what's shared across everyone's experiences.

Learning how people adapt to the world around them means spending time to understand the experience from their perspective. Empathy is an important part of many different forms of design. When empathy is done well, we can recognize more than just the barriers that people encounter. We also see the motivations that everyone has in common.