A review of
Inclusive Design for a Digital World: Designing with Accessibility in Mind
by Regine M. Gilbert
298 pages, 10 chapters
About this book
A good reference for Methods/How-To, UX Theory, and Case Studies
Primary audience: Researchers, designers, and technical roles who are new or have some experience with the topic
Writing style: Academic, Matter of fact
Text density: Mostly text
The world would be a happier, more inclusive, and more accessible place if we put the needs and abilities of everyone first, across the full spectrum of human abilities, even before we start the design process.
This is the motivating premise of Regine M. Gilbert’s Inclusive Design for a Digital World. It provides a robust introduction to the concepts, tools, best practices, research, design principles, and standards that would enable anyone who is responsible for design, user research, and development of user experiences to incorporate inclusive design and research practice into their work.
The author starts with a short history and synopsis of how we previously thought, and now think, about describing and supporting people across the full range of visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive abilities. She makes the case that the way we think about people who have disabilities can create barriers. By changing how we think, we also change how we work and prioritize the development of more inclusive user experiences.
The rest of the book is practical. The author provides detail on how to deliver more inclusive experiences. She provides examples of approaches that are effective as well as ineffective and provides code to show how to execute designs that address the needs of people who might have been using adaptive and assistive technologies.
The author advocates for a three-phase model; first, educate yourself on what it is like for someone who has a disability to use your product or experience by simulating it. Chapter 3 describes a sensible standard that one should apply: “If It’s Annoying, It’s Probably Not Accessible.” She provides directions on how to install screen readers, guidance on using only a keyboard to access a website, and how to review captions to ensure they are sensible; these experiences help researchers understand what the user experience is like for people who rely on these strategies to access content.
Her recommendation is to ensure that your design, and the technologies used to support the experience, are at least WCAG compliant, or compliant with your local standard. But she warns to not assume that compliance equates to accessibility. In 2018, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, version 2.0 to ensure that user experiences across mobile as well as desktop experiences would be accessible to everyone. She discusses the need for independent auditors to review and quantify the accessibility issues.
Finally, she suggests conducting accessibility testing using many of the same strategies one would use to test for usability with people who have a broad range of disabilities. The author offers tactical recommendations that range from how to find appropriate participants by partnering with disability organizations to how to plan testing that might ensure participants’ and caregivers’ comfort during the process.
Because web usability is so critical, a primary focus of the book is to cover accessibility standards and describe how to research and design inclusive experiences that take into consideration multiple dimensions of abilities. She provides case studies and many examples of the challenges and solutions that design teams have uncovered and addressed in both the digital and physical world. Her systematic description of challenges, project goals, and details around resolution and next steps make the process of preventing accessibility issues and remediating existing ones seem possible for even the least experienced teams to manage.
The author also speaks to a world that is just emerging in which we will find that we can leverage AI, voice assistants, extended reality, virtual reality, augmented reality, and other existing technologies to enrich user experiences for people with disabilities beyond our current capabilities. Most intriguing is her point that just as the web experience has enabled us to create more information-dense and seamless cross-channel experiences for people with disabilities, these new options offer opportunities to leverage technologies to support peoples’ needs more efficiently. For example, there are apps that “see” the environment and provide alerts and descriptions to help people with low vision, voice assistants that enable people to bypass screen readers, and special gloves that enable deaf people to have richer gaming experiences.
In addition to the practical advice in the book, an extensive appendix includes references, such as a list of books to support those who are new to UX research, the names of organizations that support the needs and interests of those living with a variety of disabilities, and heuristics that can be used as part of a manual accessibility audit and as direction when writing code to support a website user experience. As someone who appreciates and uses appendices and references, this part of the book is critically important to facilitate understanding of what may be to some researchers new skills, communities, and disciplines.
I meet with teams every week who are just starting on their journey to make the products and user experiences that they build accessible to everyone. They understand that they, and the global community, have a lot of progress to make because until recently accessibility has not been a focus. The author provides arguments that enable these teams to structure business cases that not only support the moral foundation of making experiences accessible—because it’s the right thing to do—but also the practical case to extend the target market to encompass everyone, which opens new potential revenue, engagement, and growth opportunities.
This book is a solid addition to your library that will enable you to start or continue your work with clear direction to ensure that everyone can enjoy access to the experiences you design, support, and manage.
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