Creating inclusive products and services

What does it mean to create an inclusive product or service? It means designing a product/service that is representative of your consumer base. In this section, we offer advice on understanding the need and opportunity for inclusive design, as well as tips for improving the inclusivity of your product or service across a range of design considerations.

The opportunity for inclusive design

In the tech industry, designers and developers often imagine one, single “target” user. The “target” user may well be somebody from the majority population, who is then represented in design choices, onboarding and marketing.
In practice, no two users are exactly alike. Physical and cognitive disabilities, as well as environmental factors or barriers, can result in people encountering design barriers that prevent them from fully engaging with technology: hardware, software, and beyond.

As we’ve discussed in previous sections, there are many reasons why accessibility should matter to you and to your work. These include:

  • The business benefit of reaching broader and marginalised audiences. In the UK, Government prevalence data shows around 15-20% of the population identifying as disabled3. And when looking more broadly at the people who encounter impairment related barriers with day to day tasks regardless of how they identify, the figure is as much as 57% of the working adult population.
  • The creative benefit of thinking about different kind of problems – many technologies that we rely on today, from the keyboard to the touchscreen to vibrating ringtones came from thinking about disability.
  • A means of making your products better for everyone, as what’s an impassable barrier for one group is often also an annoyance for everyone else. If you solve for a permanent physical impairment (e.g. one arm) you also solve for temporary impairment (eg. broken arm), situational impairment (e.g. driving, holding a beer) and simple difference in preferences too.
  • Legal compliance: many industries have explicit accessibility requirements under both domestic and international law.

Don’t exclude people with disabilities from advancing and meaningfully making use of your product or service; think in terms of how to reach as wide an audience as possible rather than how to design for an average. Remember that representation does not mean adding a token solo shot of a technology user with disability but truly aiming for broader inclusion in society.

General principles of accessible and inclusive design

Basic accessibility can often require relatively minimal development impact. Indeed, accessibility features may already be a built-in feature of the software, tech and tools you already use.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (2.0) provide a helpful framework to analyse accessible design in a methodical way, based around four key principles:4


Can users perceive the content? This helps us keep in mind that just because something is perceivable with one sense, such as sight, that doesn’t mean that all users can perceive it.


Can users use UI components and navigate the content? For example, something that requires a hover interaction cannot be operated by someone who can’t use a mouse or touch screen.


Can users understand the content? Can users understand the interface and is it consistent enough to avoid confusion?


Can the content be consumed by a wide variety of user agents (browsers)? Does it work with assistive technology?

For more online tools and resources see Part Five: Tools and Resources

”Diversity and inclusion isn’t just good for business. It’s necessary”

Henry Davis

COO and President, Glossier

Design considerations, for a range of situations


Disability is a mismatched interaction, a difference between the capabilities of the user and the requirements of what they’re interacting with. When someone’s impairment encounters some kind of barrier, making it difficult to perform a day-to-day task.

These barriers are usually designed, put there by another person. By being aware of what kind of barriers people can face we can remove or avoid them, preventing disabling situations from occurring and avoiding unintentional exclusion. It’s that process that is known as accessibility.


Accessibility can seem like a daunting prospect as there is such a wide variance of physical abilities. But each individual ability is’t what matters: you do not need to design for each individual condition. What matters is barriers, and barriers are shared. So, for example the barrier of small fiddly interface elements. Avoid that barrier and you’ve solved for not only people with unrelated motor conditions from Parkinson’s to Dyspraxia, you’ve also solved for a wide range of vision related conditions too.

There are some considerations that take time and money. There are others that are cheap and easy, sometimes even free, just a simple design decision. The earlier you address accessibility in the process the cheaper and easier it becomes. Retrofitting accessibility can be difficult, expensive, and limited. For example, trying to change all of your small text to a reasonable size once you’ve design a product is no fun at all. Deciding at the outset that you aren’t going to use small text is free.

While it may seem tempting in early stages of design and ideation to think that it would be wasted effort, that it would be better to wait until you have something more concrete, this is a mistake. Early design decisions can save you considerable time and effort later on, and often do carry through even if you’re planning on scrapping your current prototypes. They can also influence the direction you’re heading in, and provide you with new angles that you might not otherwise have considered.

There are three key tools to help you, all of which are better carried out as early as possible. Each has its own pros and cons, but if you’re able to make use of even one of them your products will provide a much better experience; if you can make use of more than one you stand the best possible chance of them being as useful or enjoyable as possible for as many people as possible.

1. Follow existing best practice guidelines

Most industries have freely available resources on the kind of barriers that exist for that sector and the kind of solutions available to bypass them. Sometimes guidelines may be in the form of legal requirements, such as CVAA’s requirements on communication and broadcast video technologies for use in the US market, WCAG2.0 requirements for UK public sector websites and software, or the upcoming European Accessibility Act’s requirements across several digital areas.

2. Testing directly with the audience

There are many companies who can help you recruit participants with disabilities for to take part in user research and focus groups. This even can be done before any design and development takes place, through formative research on competitors’ products.

3. Expert advice

Seek advice to help interpret and prioritise and bring experience of solving similar issues in your field.

But even just spending a couple of hours looking at your early ideas and thinking about what kind of unnecessary barriers they might present relating to vision, hearing, mobility, cognition (taking in, processing and actioning information) and speech can go a really long way to improving your product or service.

Language (international, reading ability)

Text structure and presentation

The way you structure and present the written word can have a huge impact on customer experience, from people who have difficulty reading to people who have difficulty seeing small print, to people trying to read something on their phone’s screen in sunlight.

Difficulty reading in particular is much more common than many people realise; around 14% of the UK’s population are at the lowest possible level of literacy, known as “below basic”. Avoiding unnecessary complexity of language helps, but design choices can help too, through ensuring simple clear typography.

Subtitling and captioning

If you are producing content that contains audio, offer a text equivalent. The most obvious reason for this is to provide access for people who have difficulty hearing, but it also applies in many other circumstances, such as people viewing in a noisy environment, people viewing autoplaying social media content that is muted by default, or people who don’t speak English either as a first language or at all.

English is the most dominant language on the web, but on a global level, it’s not that widely spoken or understood.  According to Ethnologue (2018) the top 10 most-spoken languages are:5

Top 10 most-spoken languages
1 English 1.121 billion
2 Mandarin Chinese 1.107 billion
3 Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) 697.4 million
4 Spanish 512.9 million
5 Arabic 422 million
6 French 284.9 million
7 Malay 281 million
8 Russian 264.3 million
9 Bengali 261.8 million
10 Portuguese 236.5 million

It’s also worth noting that reading and writing abilities may vary too. In the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 10 people has some degree of dyslexia6. The chart below shows the percentage of adults between 16 and 65 who have literacy difficulties.

Percentage of adults between 16 and 65 years with literacy difficulties

  Average 16,4
Austria 15,6
Czech Republic 11,9
Denmark 15,8
Estonia 13,1
Finland 10,6
France 21,7
Germany 17,8
Ireland 17,5
Italy 27,9
Netherlands 11,9
Norway 12,5
Poland 18,8
Slovak Republic 11,7
Spain 27,7
Sweden 13,3
Flanders (Belgium) 14,8
England and N.I. 16,6

Strategies to consider

  • Ideally use the built in functionality of the device or software that the content will be played through; for example YouTube has excellent subtitling functionality.
  • If that isn’t an option and subtitles need to be burned into the video itself, for example for social media playback, ensure that the text is decent size and easy to see against any background, ideally through putting them on a dark solid or semi transparent background.
  • Consider captioning too. Subtitles are text equivalent of speech, useful for localisation, captions are going beyond that to add text specifically for people with hearing loss, covering important background sounds as well as speech.
  • Provide manually created subtitles for languages common in your target markets. While some platforms (e.g. YouTube) offer both automated subtitling and automated translation of subtitles, the results are not good enough for professional/commercial use.
  • If manually creating subtitles and captions is too heavy a workload for you, outsource. There are many companies who will do it for you at a low cost.

Colour blindness

Colour blindness (more accurately known as Colour Vision Deficiency) is a condition affecting your ability to discern and differentiate certain hues. While a small number of people see only in black and white it is generally just difficulty perceiving a single hue; for example difficulty seeing red, which makes it difficult to tell the difference between blue and purple, red and brown, red and green. This can come up against many barriers in day to day life, from buying clothes to knowing whether potatoes and bananas are yellow or green.

It is primarily a genetic condition, mostly affecting mainly males (8% of males, 0.5% of females), although it can also occur through brain or eye damage. There are a range of different types and severities, so effective strategies seek to sidestep the issue of which hues people can see by reinforcing with another means of communicating or differentiating the information. This is good general design, offering easier recognition for everyone.

Colour is usually a pretty straightforward ordeal. You take a look at a colour and without really having to actively think about it you know what colour it is. You know the name and where in the colour spectrum it resides.

For the colourblind, it isn’t so simple. Naming colors and telling the difference between two or more colors can be difficult. 4.2% of the population – some 300 million people worldwide – are colourblind (affecting 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women).7

Strategies to consider

  • Do not rely on colour alone to communicate or differentiate; while colour is an effective differentiator also use some other method, such as icon, shape, text, or pattern. This includes links on websites, ideally reinforce the colour difference with an underline, bold type, and a contrast difference.
  • Use a colourblind simulator to check for contrast issues between foreground and background
  • Avoid colour-based instructions, such as “follow the green line” or “correct the fields marked in red”
  • If offering people a choice of colours (e.g. when buying a car or a sofa) don’t rely on colour swatches, also provide textual colour names.

Dexterity & mobility

The ability of your potential customers to physically manipulate and interact with your product will cover a very broad range of capabilities, everything from being left handed to having one hand to not being able to use their hands at all, from limited strength and limited range of motion through to interacting while holding a baby, holding a drink, driving a car.

While it may seem like an intimidatingly broad range of possibilities, thinking about a few core considerations can go a really long way. And don’t forget it doesn’t stop at the products themselves; the same considerations can apply to others areas too, like packaging and to booth spaces at expos.

Strategies to consider

  • Ensure your product/service can be used using only one hand, and in either hand
  • Avoid relying solely on complex movements or gestures
  • Avoid relying solely on holding things down or lots of repeated movements
  • Avoid unnecessary complexity
  • Ensure physical or digital interactive elements are large and well spaced
  • If you’re developing for a platform that supports a range of input devices – for example mouse, keyboard – ensure what you are building can be used using each one of them independently.
  • Consider a wide range of heights, including seated
  • Avoid reliance on specific positions or locations
  • Support alternative methods of input, such as speech

For tools and resources, see Part Five.

”The earlier you start build a diverse and inclusive team, the simpler it is to recruit talent who share these values and amplify your culture of high performance, diversity and inclusion.”

Dr Uma Valeti

Dr Uma Valeti

CEO and Co-founder, Memphis Meats

Collect Feedback, Adapt and Grow Stronger

Track metrics on all of the action plans you employ as part of your D&I strategy (for example, sourcing, hiring, and the composition of the current workforce). However, metrics alone only paint part of the picture8. To measure the full impact of your D&I strategy, seek feedback on strategies from all employment levels in the organisation (from the C-team to junior hires) using some of the recommended methods suggested in previous sections of the guide (i.e. employee surveys, one-to-one and group meetings). For areas needing development, adapt strategies accordingly to meet those concerns and to strengthen the strategy.

Ultimately, an effective D&I strategy will foster a diverse representation of employees who interact with one another. In other words – one step closer to equality.

  1. HM Government, 16 January 2014, (online)
  2. 16 Colourblindness,
  3. HM Government, 16 January 2014, (online)
  4. 14 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, 11th December 2008, (online)
  5. Top 10 most spoken languages, Ethnologue, 2018, (online)
  6. NHS, “Dyslexia” (online)
  7. 16 Colourblindness,
  8. Yamkovenko, B and Tavares, S. To Understand Whether Your Company is Inclusive, Map How Your Employees Interact. HBR: online, July 19, 2017. Accessed on Oct. 01, 2018.