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How inclusive design uplifts equity: foundational to transformational

Accessibility alone is not enough to embed inclusiveness across the enterprise. Inclusive design improves outcomes and builds long-term value

In brief

  • Bringing together accessibility, usability, and collaboration with the target audience, inclusive design creates long-term value and drives innovation.
  • Inclusive design elevates brands and promotes efficiencies by reducing rework and adjustments on the back end.

The US, Canada, the UK and over 60 other countries have laws or regulations requiring companies to make their digital tools and content accessible; in 2025, the European Accessibility Act will require it throughout the EU. In response, many organizations have been building or strengthening their digital accessibility capabilities. The most forward-thinking are going even further.

They’re creating products, services and experiences using methodologies rooted in a simple idea: building with human differences in mind produces solutions that work better for more people and are more profitable. Though it’s not yet as mainstream as accessibility, we believe one methodology in particular - inclusive design - has enormous potential for nearly every business and all professionals should know about it.

Creating in an intentionally inclusive way from initial development through launch can reduce the need for time-consuming, costly adjustments, help identify new potential users, improve employee and customer experiences, optimize productivity, spur innovation and elevate brands.

There are many working definitions of inclusive design. Our framework centers on three ideas: accessibility, usability (a key component of user experience) and co-creation. By combining these three elements, organizations can create designs that are meaningful, authentic, useful for and usable by the widest audience regardless of abilities, disabilities or other differences.

There is no equity without accessibility

Accessibility means ensuring that digital products and content can be used efficiently by everyone, including people with disabilities. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) are the global standard. Examples include adding alternate text to meaningful images (so that they are announced by screen readers used by blind or low-vision persons), ensuring the product is usable with a keyboard only (for people who cannot use a mouse), and adding captions for video and transcripts for audio content (for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing).

Accessibility is a necessity for managing risk and broadening your customer base to include the more than 1 billion people worldwide who have disabilities. It can be a detriment or a significant asset to your brand. In the past few years, a growing number of high-profile lawsuits have proved damaging to corporations; others have been widely celebrated for the accessibility features built into their products and services.

When products and services are built accessibly, more people can use them without requiring adjustments or accommodations. That can streamline and simplify operations while increasing productivity for individual users, teams, support staff and the overall organization. Since there cannot be real equity if everyone cannot fully participate, accessibility aligns closely with the social component of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) framework that is increasingly being recognized as a key driver of long-term business value.  

It must be usable to be useful

Usability is the second key aspect of inclusive design. Usability refers to how easy, effective, and efficient a product or service is to interact with, taking into account differences in demographics, context and user goals. The most popular design methodologies embed usability into their processes.

While there is no standard way to measure usability, the most popular method is to observe a representative group of users completing typical tasks and track completion rates, user ratings and qualitative feedback. Testing and evaluation are repeated in cycles and the product or service is continuously improved based on user input.

However, since usability focuses on elements of the experience that impact everybody, it doesn’t always adequately address the specialized needs of people with disabilities. Accessibility does just that. Some features, like text resizing and captions, can improve usability for everyone. Applying usability and accessibility together helps ensure that products and services are easy to use for the broadest possible audience.

Diverse by design

Co-creation means deliberately involving a diverse range of potential users throughout the design process. Tapping the perspectives of people from different backgrounds, cultures, ages, races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities helps creators develop products and services that feel authentic and meaningful to their audience. It’s especially important that people from historically underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities, are brought into every stage of development from ideation to marketing.

Research shows that collaboration among a variety of people who have different ways of thinking and experiencing the world can spur breakthrough innovation. Products, services and experiences resonate better with a broader audience. When diverse perspectives are leveraged at the start, it can eliminate the need for costly rework that might otherwise not be uncovered until later in the process.

The best way to involve a diverse group of people is to include members of your own already-diverse workforce. If that’s not feasible, research companies can help access diverse consumers, or you can work with non-profits, advocacy groups, or membership organizations to recruit them.

While focus groups and interviews are helpful, they typically happen at a point in time, so may not capture shifting perspectives or responses to newer iterations of the product or service. It’s more direct, and can be more effective, to collaborate with diverse groups of users throughout the development cycle. User research and testing are necessary but not sufficient, because they occur too late in the process to spark breakthrough innovation or avoid rework.


Bringing it all together

Products need to be accessible to their entire target audience, including the more than one in five people globally who have disabilities. The most successful products or services are easy for everyone to use and co-created by a diverse group of potential users so, they authentically reflect the needs and values of a broad range of people. To drive the kind of innovation, process efficiency, productivity, positive employee and customer experiences and growth that can transform your business, all three elements – accessibility, usability, and co-creation – must be embedded at every stage of development from concept creation to release.

Six questions to consider when designing inclusive products and content


  • Has digital content been created and tools built to meet WCAG standards?
  • Have they been tested by professionals trained in accessibility?


  • Are tools simple and intuitive to use?
  • Is content easy to read and understand and is it organized clearly?


  • Have a deliberately diverse group of people participated in initial research, ideation, prototype design, and user testing?
  • Have people with intersecting identities and different kinds of disabilities been involved?


Organizations are increasingly recognizing the need to make their products and services accessible. However, greater benefits can be achieved by embedding accessibility and usability, with input from the target audience, at every stage of the development process.

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