Cem Kesemen

Accessibility ≠ Inclusivity

People usually talk about accessibility and inclusive design like they are one and the same.

And the math checks out when you consider the basics. Sure getting the right color contrast and text size helps everyone read more easily, and yes having buttons that are easier to press dissipates confusion at all ages, and of course video subtitles are a great help even if you have perfect hearing1.

By all means everyone should continue to learn about accessibility and design with those principles in mind.

But here’s the thing: Not everything that is accessible is inclusive. Just like there are many types of disabilities and accessibility features, there are many different types of inclusiveness.

Case 1: Localization (and Keyboard Interaction)

I love iPad’s. I love keyboard shortcuts. Therefore, I love iPad apps that are keyboard accessible.

I am also not alone in my love of keyboard accessible iPad workflows.

Keyboard shortcuts are even 1 of the 10 commandments usability heuristics of Jakob Nielsen: providing accelerators to power users for flexibility and efficiency of use. Its also great for mobility, even for able-bodied people, because moving your arm up to touch a screen while using a keyboard gets very tiring, very fast.

So, if a beloved Apple-only software company meant to create an iPad app and had keyboard shortcuts included, it would have to be great, right?

You can Coda on an iPad (but only in English)

I used to type on an ISO layout keyboard, like most European people do. That is the one with the inverted-L enter key and an extra key to accomodate all the weird extra characters our languages have.

To make space for all the other characters that do not fit in that single extra key, languages like Swedish, Turkish, and German tend to put their accented letters where punctuation marks usually are in English keyboards. So keys like brackets and semicolons move to key combinations that require modifiers to be pressed.

In Coda for iOS, the default keyboard shortcuts to switch between tabs are Cmd+Shift+[ and Cmd+Shift+]. This is a great keyboard shortcut for English layouts. However, Turkish and Swedish Require Alt+8 for [ and Alt+9 for ]. This makes the shortcut impossible to use, as I have told the company multiple times.

Since there is no way to remap keys on iOS like there is on macOS, the developers need to implement that themselves. So when they don’t, users are stuck with unusable shortcuts and having to use the screen to do simple things2.

Also, Localization is not just limited to keyboards.

There was a great talk on UXAlive! 2017, where Karolina Skalska of foodora talked about different challenges of designing products for international markets. It is a good primer on cultural and lingual barriers.

Designing Products for International Markets from R.Dilara Cumhur

Case 2: Psychological Effects of Gender Selections

Inclusivity isn’t just about interaction either. There may be cognitive, emotional, or personal reasons that might make a platform unusable, or a country inhabitable.

Canada recently made a change to their gender policies3, allowing Canadians to mark their gender as “X”.
They even changed their national anthem to accomodate the new changes4.

Trickle Down Inclusivity

Of course, having an inclusive law is not a magic wand, and everything the country touches doesn’t suddenly become inclusive. The companies have to put in some effort.

And sometimes even government has a hard time catching up.

Mind you, these forms might be 100% accessible: They could pass every level of WCAG requirements and be perfectly usable by every screen reader out there. They still fail at being inclusive.

It is easy being inclusive.

The problem is not limited to low cost airlines or under-staffed government agencies either, there are even huge startups that lock people into choices and don’t give them a way to express themselves.

But this is not a hard problem to solve:

Just be more thoughtful.
And maybe take it one step further from WCAG guidelines next time you are designing or analysing a product.

November 2019 update:

Eva-Lotta Lamm illustrated a CanUX 2019 talk by Emma Howell that beautifully summarizes the point I try to make with this post:

  1. Yanny or Laurel? ↩︎

  2. The cramping became so unbearable that I had to simply stop using the app. ↩︎

  3. Apparently they are not the only ones, and not even the first; they did this after multiple countries –including ones like Malta and Pakistan↩︎

  4. Though, apparently, the national anthem was gender neutral to begin with. ↩︎