July 21, 2020
By Amy A – UX Architect,

You may have heard the phrases “inclusive design,” “universal design,” or “accessibility” pop up more and more when planning for a re-design of your website, an optimization project or perhaps have been served with a lawsuit regarding the accessibility of your site. The challenges that people with disabilities face when browsing the Internet are very real but fortunately becoming more understood, and solutions being developed are more widely available for application. Practicing inclusive design habits is not only good for ensuring all of your customers can easily navigate through your store experience but has become an obligation to ensure accessibility to all users. In this article we provide you with some key insights into what inclusive design really means and how you can apply best practices when building or optimizing your eCommerce website?

What is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive design refers to the processes and cultures that successfully create websites and other digital products that can be used by anyone, regardless of their individual capabilities or disabilities.

Designing inclusively is often presented as a culture or mindset because it requires support from designers, developers, content creators, and managers. No one person can create and maintain an accessible site on their own; inclusive design must be embraced by the entire company. The process must turn out a finished result that tests positively with users of all abilities. It is important to discuss, promote, and act on accessibility considerations as required habits within your process.

These days, inclusive design is not just a “field” or a “school of thought,” as it has been called in the past. With the growing awareness of inclusivity and the benefits it brings, many designers are pushing to make all design inclusive by default.

Why Inclusive Design Matters

  1. Inclusive design opens up your product (website) to a new market and deepens your relationship with existing customers. As of 2018, over 25% of American adults have some type of disability, representing $21 billion of discretionary income in the US. Designing to accommodate these disabilities increases your site’s usability, helping customers achieve their goals. Some types of disabilities disproportionately affect certain demographics. If your target market has a prevalent disability, it is critical to make sure that your website can accommodate it.

    For example, although colorblindness affects between 4% and 5% of the global population, it is much more prevalent in men than in women. Around 1 in 12 men have some form of colorblindness, compared only 1 in 200 women. Whether or not your site has a high proportion of men to women, you should double check that your color palette has enough contrast so that text is legible regardless of color to account for this significant portion of consumers.

    Similarly, mobility impairments impact 40% of Americans over 65 compared to 17% of general population. Sites designed for seniors need large clickable areas that don’t require precise mouse movements or can easily be clickable from a mobile device. The best way to know for sure what disabilities affect your market is to do research, learn more about your customers, and find out what their needs are.

  2. Inclusive design gives you an edge over your competitors. Like all customers, users with disabilities want to find what they’re looking for with speed, minimal friction, and no outside help. For many types of disabilities, it is hard to find these positive experiences; less than 10% of websites are accessible to everyone. If your website provides an easy, self-reliant experience to those with disabilities, they are less likely to shop for a different supplier next time.
  3. Inclusive design makes things easier for your existing customers. All of us encounter temporary or situational constraints that inclusive design can solve for. If your mobile website can be easily navigated with one hand, it will also be easy for users who are holding a child. If you provide transcripts for your important how-to videos, you make that content accessible to deaf users as well as users who are in a loud environment or those that simply prefer printable text over video.
  4. Inclusive design reduces risk. Accessibility litigation is on the rise. In 2018, there were 2,258 web accessibility lawsuits filed in the US, more than triple the number filed in 2017. These lawsuits have affected everyone’s websites from Domino’s Pizza to Beyonce. Inclusive design awareness is growing; make the updates before it becomes an issue for your customers!

What do we need to design for?

Inclusive websites must accommodate a range of disabilities. Generally these considerations fall into one of five categories.

  1. Visual Impairments include designing for blind users as well as accommodating partial impairments like cataracts, glaucoma, or color blindness.
  2. Auditory Impairments may include partial or full deafness and tinnitus.
  3. Motor Impairments range from a lack of fine motor skills to a complete loss of limb control due a wide variety of conditions.
  4. Speech Impairments may encompass conditions like stuttering, apraxia, and dysarthia.
  5. Cognitive Impairments cover a variety of conditions like attention deficit, short- and long-term memory loss, or difficulty with reading or math.

It is important to note that users with disabilities don’t need every detail of an experience to be accessible to them. For example, a website’s branded color palette may not be visible to colorblind users, but the text should have enough contrast from the background to be legible.

The most important thing is that any user should be able to accomplish the main goal that they came to the website for. On an ecommerce site, the most common user goals are:

  • Browsing the products to make a selection
  • Completing a purchase
  • Finding information
  • Getting in touch with support

All of these tasks should be possible for eCommerce customers regardless of disabilities.

For a more thorough list of guidelines, check out the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

How do you make your website inclusive?

Inclusive website design require a couple key processes:

  1. Start with an evaluation of your existing website to determine its success with users of different abilities as listed above. Create your list of solutions based on best practices, access the level of effort required to complete all inclusive design updates and establish an implementation plan for addressing. This can be done as an independent project or as part of a larger upgrade or replatforming. This can be time consuming and costly, so prioritize your list of enhancements and work through it overtime if needed.
  2. Develop an ongoing strategy to design inclusive content. After you develop an accessible structure, you need to develop a standard operating procedure for designing and implementing ongoing site updates and content. Make it part of your marketing and development process, educate new employees and ensure a QA protocol is in place before pushing anything live on the website.
  3. Get everyone involved. You cannot execute your accessibility strategy alone. Copywriters will need to make sure text alternatives are included and copy is written understandably. Designers must commit to checking color contrast and using readable fonts. Developers should create any new features with accessibility in mind.

    You will need to get everyone on board with this new approach if you want to enjoy the long term benefits of inclusive design.

  4. A Few Quick Tips:
    1. Use a font size of at least 16px but ideally 20px for body text
    2. Uppercase, letter spacing, and heavier weighted fonts can make a big difference if must you smaller text
    3. Maintain shorter character limits on description content areas
    4. Use high-contrast color combinations
    5. Avoid color combinations like blue and purple or red and brown that can blend together
    6. Make Call To Action buttons big enough to easily Tap
    7. Consider alternative content file types such as video and audio transcripts

Navigating the new world of design for all can be overwhelming when you start out, but implementing the guidelines for inclusive design can drive customer loyalty and make you stand out from your competitors.