Design should include everyone

Jessica Chiu, NHS Navigator at DigitalHealth.London, shares insights into the importance of inclusive design and her top tips on how to achieve this in digital health.

One size does not fit all, not even for hats. There are more than one billion disabled people around the world, estimated to rise to over two billion by 2050. Each person has a unique background and set of abilities, and it is important to ensure that a solution is designed with inclusivity in mind.

The opportunity

People with learning or mobility issues can be amongst the hardest to reach but can also gain the most from being online. Many people with disabilities miss out on life-enriching experiences – in reality it is the way society is organised that causes disabilities, not a person’s impairment or difference. In my previous role as an engineer in the NHS, designing for disability was fun yet complex and challenging, and, on occasion, surrounded by red tape. Design thinking is the process for innovation and problem solving, and now innovators have the opportunity to develop technologies which disabled people can interact with.

Inclusive design

Incorporating inclusive design considers all end users, and poses the questions “Who are we designing for?” and “Are we excluding anyone?” But inclusive design does not just benefit your users, it is often much cheaper and simpler than retrofitting solutions later. Good inclusive design also results in solutions which are easier, more intuitive, and enjoyable to use.

Warren Berger noted that design thinking teaches us to look sideways, so let us look at this sideways – what if we designed for disability first? There are examples of solutions originally designed for disability which have been fully embraced and used by the mainstream population with or without impairment: text messaging was designed for individuals with hearing impairments and audiobooks were developed to make it easier for those with visual impairments to enjoy a good book. Rather than trying to adapt your product to enable disabled people to use, could a solution be designed to benefit all from the beginning?

So, how can you incorporate inclusive design in Digital Health?

This list is by no means extensive but contains a few pointers to consider and keep in the back of your mind when looking at the design of your digital solution:

  • Keyboard Navigation – People with motor disabilities and poor motor control may have trouble using a mouse or prefer not to use one because navigating with a mouse may be painful or difficult, so can be dependent on a keyboard to navigate content. If your pages do not respond to a keyboard, it could be considered inaccessible. You should enable keyboard users to navigate between sections of the page using the “tab” key on the keyboard, and it should be apparent which element on the page has keyboard focus. Users of the webpage should be able to tab through interactive items in a logical order, which is typically from left to right and top to bottom.
  • Spacing – Spacing on web pages can be an issue if there isn’t enough room between text or buttons. Poor or tight spacing can make it difficult for people with disabilities to click precisely on what they want and links or touch targets that are too close together can be difficult for users with dexterity issues to tap on the desired area.
  • Language – Is your text in easy-to-understand language? Use short, simple sentences to aid readability and engage a wider audience.
  • User focus groups – host them virtually if possible, to encourage more people to attend. Think about the target users for your innovation, there are services which can help with recruiting participants by age, gender, job, cognitive ability and physical ability. Consider including different members of your team to observe the focus groups for their education. Plan out the questions in the surveys before the session, and ask what the users would like to see in your solution in the future too.

The Good Things Foundation has some great resources and reports on why digital inclusion is so important for different community groups, and Microsoft have a list of tools which can test the accessibility of your webpage.  The user’s experience is vital to your product’s success, designing for inclusion can benefit everyone, regardless of their abilities, economic situation, age, education, or geographic location.