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.
Inclusive design is not exclusively for people with disabilities the way that assistive technology is. But assistive technology is reactive, whereas inclusive design is proactive. #inclusivedesign #ux #designforgood #tech— Mario Van der Meulen (@MarioVDMeulen) April 24, 2018
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.
"By designing products through the lens of edge cases like disabilities first, they can often become better products for everyone" https://t.co/MQ6NrJvxIG— Mariesa (məˈrēsə) (@MariesaKDale) April 24, 2018
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.
Very glad of iOS 11's influence on iPad software for pro users; finally seeing keyboard shortcuts in Things, 1Password, etc etc.— Matt Gemmell (@mattgemmell) November 3, 2017
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+]. This is a great keyboard shortcut for English layouts. However, Turkish and Swedish Require
]. This makes the shortcut impossible to use, as I have told the company multiple times.
Hey @panic, love Coda, lovely app, still annoyed by this bug I sent in at the end of March. Any way to help out international layout users? pic.twitter.com/C45e3sxrqC— Cem Kesemen (@cemkesemen) December 12, 2016
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.
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.
more gender friction: the @porterairlines check in functionality requires me to declare a gender, passenger info must match travel documentation, but my official ID documented gender (X) isn't represented as an option... pic.twitter.com/oLubwk6VJR— Robot Hugs (@RobotHugsComic) January 25, 2018
And sometimes even government has a hard time catching up.
ok everyone and @TorontoComms in particular for your City Hall Security survey 'male, female, or transgender' are not inclusive gender options. Transgender is not distinct from male or female. What is a trans woman expected to chose? pic.twitter.com/mi64b21Gmp— Robot Hugs (@RobotHugsComic) March 29, 2018
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:
Being trans-friendly in an app mostly boils down to letting people change their name/username/email/photo and not keeping around artifacts of the old values. And if you *need* to ask for a gender, let people choose options outside the gender binary. That's really all you need.— Sophie Alpert (@sophiebits) March 29, 2018
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:
#sketchnotes from @oohmawolfie presenting a case study of a project and how she made sure it was designed inclusively. She talked about way more but this is a key insight I took away. #canux pic.twitter.com/Xv5HPtzVWA— Eva-Lotta Lamm (@evalottchen) November 4, 2019
Yanny or Laurel? ↩︎
The cramping became so unbearable that I had to simply stop using the app. ↩︎
Apparently they are not the only ones, and not even the first; they did this after multiple countries –including ones like Malta and Pakistan. ↩︎
Though, apparently, the national anthem was gender neutral to begin with. ↩︎