Job losses, economic slowdown, and large lockdowns have made the pandemic difficult for everyone. But the impact of the pandemic has been particularly acute for people with disabilities since they face unique challenges like lack of accessible medical equipment, an inability to maintain social distancing, and difficulty in washing hands frequently.
Yet, despite all the hardships, the COVID-19 pandemic has unintentionally led to rapid digitalization across various sectors. It has also ushered in the work-from-home (WFH) revolution.
The rapid acceleration of high- and low-technology solutions is also proving beneficial for people with special needs. More and more employers are now introducing tools and software that can cater to a wider range of users including those with disabilities.
The pandemic has strengthened the resolve of companies to look after their employees. To empower workers, drive productivity and innovation and increase, the morale of their employees, employers are trying to create accessible remote work environments.
As per a recent report, almost 73% of employers consult employees with special needs while procuring new digital work tools. Employers are also going the extra mile in ensuring a more inclusive remote work environment by –
- Making office apps accessible.
- Hiring dedicated IT resources to assist employees with disabilities.
- Offering specialized training programs for employees with disabilities.
For the enterprise tools and products that form a key part of these accessible remote work environments, this means a greater focus on inclusive product design.
In this article, let’s discuss inclusive design and how it has become essential for enterprise products.
What is inclusive product design?
Inclusive design is about creating products that can be used and accessed by as many people as possible, without needing special adaptation or specialized design. The core premise of inclusive product design focuses on inculcating diversity and inclusivity right from the start.
The goal is to design products for multiple types of users. Inclusive product design thus creates a level playing field for all users, irrespective of who they are.
Why is inclusive product design important?
An inclusive approach towards product design can help organizations seize opportunities for business growth through enterprise products that are accessible to all. It’s not just about generating feel-good PR but also about a smart business strategy that eventually leads to better products and offerings and increased product usage.
Inclusive product design helps enterprises attend to the needs of the most marginalized customers, thus creating an elevated product experience.
Take the example of Microsoft. During the 2019 Super Bowl, Microsoft first introduced the Xbox accessible controller specially designed for kids with disabilities. The commercial featuring Xbox’s accessible controller attracted a lot of positive publicity. It also helped Microsoft Xbox capture new customer segments. Not just business success, it also helped the brand create a social impact. It fostered an important discussion about the visibility of the challenges of this community.
How to incorporate inclusivity into your product design?
Product designers must adjust their design process to make enterprise products more inclusive and less biased. The following principles should be considered for making inclusive product designs.
- Creating comparable experiences – Enterprise product designers should aim to ensure a user interface that provides a comparable experience for all. An alternative like a transcript, audio description, or sign language should capture the essence of the original.
- Giving a choice – It means allowing more than one way to complete a task. Product designers should try to provide alternatives for layout and task completion and offer users the opportunity to pick from multiple choices based on what suits them.
- Offering control – Designers must put thought into offering users control over how they access and interact with products. Small steps like allowing easy pinch-to-zoom gestures or infinite scrolling can make the user interface more interactive.
- Consistency – During the design process, there should be familiar conventions that must be applied consistently across the interface. Consistency in design patterns helps build familiarity and understanding.
- Considering the circumstances – Since the employees use the products in different situations, the designers must make sure to deliver a valuable experience to them irrespective of their circumstances. For example, using color contrast for the interface when outdoor or indoor can make a difference.
Accessible design for creating inclusive post-COVID workplaces
In a post-COVID world, enterprises wish to reimagine the workplaces to not only make them safer but also more equitable. They are already putting considerable energy into building more accessible workplaces. Enterprise products and tools need to take inspiration from these profound changes to the physical workplace in their design calculations too. For instance, organizations are exploring the potential of using smart cards to facilitate contactless entries and exits, open doors, activate lifts, or even make payments. It can allow employees to interact with their work environment without touching anything and thus making it convenient for people with special needs. Enterprise tools could leverage these smart cards for user and access management.
In another example, organizations are trying to ensure that workplaces should have clear signages that simplify wayfinding for disabled employees. The information would be provided in multiple formats to improve accessibility. This offers great inspiration to enterprise software products and tools in how to make their product interfaces and workflows more intuitive and better “guided”.
Accessible design is essential to support human diversity. The focus is on enabling people with differing abilities by removing the obstacles in their path. Inclusive design in particular incorporates different perspectives into the design process. It helps accommodate diverse experiences from the beginning of the design process. It helps make digital products work well for as many people as possible, which in turn leads to improved productivity. Empathy with a wide variety of people becomes a crucial element of inclusive user experience. And empathy is the key ingredient that makes products better for everyone.