As a result of our ageing population, we are naturally seeing a rise in the number of people living with impairments. In fact, the Papworth Trust recently found that the people most likely to be living with a disability are over the state pension age.

Despite an estimated one in five (12.9 million) people in the UK currently living with impairments, recent research has found that around 70% of websites in the UK are currently inaccessible for impaired users. As a result, our need for accessible, inclusively designed websites has never been greater.

According to the Extra Costs Commission, these 12.9 million people living with disabilities have an estimated spending power of £212 billion. This spending power, known informally as the “purple pound”, represents a tremendous opportunity for businesses that want to harness it, but at the same time highlights the need to ensure their websites and services are accessible to attract their custom.

 So, What Exactly Is Inclusive Design?

Essentially, inclusive design refers to a school of design focused on making sure that everybody – regardless of their relative impairments – can access and use a company’s products or services.

In other words, it ensures that regardless of their situation, people will never be discriminated against or otherwise prevented from accessing a brand’s products or services in any way.

We are living in a world which is becoming more digitalised by the day, and as more and more of our products and services move online, we need to ensure that nobody is being left behind. The vast majority of brands now have an online presence of some description, and those who are not taking proactive steps to incorporate inclusive design into their websites are likely to struggle to engage with their more impaired users.

So, why aren’t all websites accessible to all by default?

It’s certainly not for commercial reasons. Businesses who are not designing for those living with impairments are missing out on whole subsections of their potential customer base – as well as the potentially vast revenues that come with this.

In fact, because the majority of websites are currently not designed with the needs of impaired users in mind, around one in four disabled adults in the UK have never even used the internet. This means that there is a huge prospective user base being passed up by brands who ignore the importance of digital inclusion.

In my opinion, much of the problem comes down to the misconceptions businesses tend to have around the field of inclusive design. The most common of these I come across revolve around what inclusive design actually is, what it entails, or even just about (ironically) how easy and accessible it is to implement.

Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most common misjudgements people tend to make around inclusive design, as well as exactly why these may not be as true as you think.

 The Myths Around Inclusive Design

“Accessible means dull to look at”

This is one of the most popular criticisms of accessible websites that I hear about, and one which in reality could not be further from the truth. While this may have applied 20 years ago in the early days of web design (when designers had much more basic technology to work with), modern technology means that nowadays every good web designer has all the tools and techniques required to build an attractive, accessible website – it just requires a little more planning.

In my view, there is no reason for inclusion to come at the expense of aesthetics. The Royal National Institute for the Blind put this best when they said: “well designed graphics and multimedia are a positive aid to using and understanding websites, and do not need to be sacrificed for accessibility”.

In terms of best practice examples, sites that manage to strike a great balance between aesthetics and accessibility are the Arts Council and Apple websites to name but a few.

“They’re expensive to implement”

While there is an upfront cost to making websites more accessible, this cost is relatively modest, and I would recommend that businesses view it as an investment that will actually make them money over time.

Inclusive websites also allow brands to reach a far larger customer base, boosting market share, brand awareness, and long-term profits.

“The cost isn’t worthwhile because it only applies to a small minority”

A common perception of accessible sites is that they’re not worthwhile for businesses because it means spending a lot of money to only reach a few more customers. Again, this is simply untrue. Even if we’re just taking into account those living with impairments, that’s still another 12.9 million people your business could be reaching.

However, inclusive design is much more than that – the whole point of making a website accessible is making sure that your online services cater to everybody, giving equal consideration to everyone’s unique needs.

The way to do this is to “design for the 5%”, meaning that the website will not only be accessible to those living with impairments, but also for the other 95% of the population – a truly inclusive design.

“Impairments are solely long term”

When I refer to impairments, we are not just talking about those which affect you in the long term.

There are also “situational impairments”, which is when people have difficulties using technology due to the situation or context they are in, rather than something they are born with. This could take the form of background noise making it more difficult for someone to hear, poor lighting making it harder to see, and exercise or a lack of space impairing our ability to physically interact with devices. A situational impairment could even be something as trivial as having your hands full or having forgotten your glasses.

This provides another important consideration for designers – take into account the situation in which your devices will be used, as well as who may be using them.

A great example of inclusive design in this regard is Facebook’s video function on its mobile app. The company recognised that the majority of users browsing the app are likely to be in a public setting (such as on their morning commute) on their phones, and so their hearing is likely to be impaired due to the background noise.

To help users who might be in these noisy environments, Facebook designed their videos to autoplay without sound and with captions turned on by default, to compensate for this situationally impaired hearing.

 How To Design For Accessible Experiences

Of course, for a business that has never considered inclusive design before, it can seem a daunting prospect. However it doesn’t need to be, and there are many practical, easily actionable tips which can be implemented immediately to start making a website more accessible.

To help users that are physically impaired, it’s wise to avoid demanding precision inputs when browsing websites. Avoid grouping together small clickable items – opt instead for larger, spaced out interactive areas to ensure your users can navigate around your site without undue difficulty. As well as this, websites should be fully navigable via keyboard or speech only use – users should never need to mix the two.

If users are hard of hearing, or even fully deaf, make sure any video and audio content hosted on the website is subtitled/transcribed. Finally, any websites which contain a “contact us” section should always include an email option, as users who are hard of hearing may prefer not to use the phone.

For visually impaired users, content should be presented in a readable text size, and all information should be published on web pages – where possible, never hide any information behind a separate download.

Another tip is to avoid relying on colours wherever possible. For example if a user has made a mistake when entering data, I tend to see a lot of websites which mark erroneous fields in red, which visually impaired users may struggle to make out. Instead of this, consider making use of clear error messages which direct your users on exactly how to fix their mistake.

As we move into 2018, full access to the internet should be a basic right – not a privilege which excludes those living with a disability. It’s seen as the norm for offices and stores to cater for those living with impairments so why should a business’s online presence be any different?

Even if we put aside the obvious ethical arguments for designing inclusive online experiences, the brand building and commercial benefits of reaching as many customers as possible are numerous.

Considering the fact that the average age of our population is consistently rising, and more and more of our products and services are moving online, there has never been a better time for brands to embrace inclusive design. And if there was ever a time for your business to take the plunge and work towards creating a more accessible web offering, it’s now.