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Inclusive and Accessible UX: A Starter Syllabus

Looking to make "accessible" and "inclusive" more than buzzwords at your organization? Here are some guides, reads, and listens you'll want to know about.

Words by Tony Ho Tran, Visuals by Emi Tolibas

“Well, you can’t design for everyone.”

It’s a cliché that’s finally starting to hear some backlash.

It's exciting to see UXRs and designers increasingly invested in accessibility and inclusivity. It's discouraging to see company's throw the terms around as buzzwords.

And as is the case with all buzzwords, their meanings have become background noise at the expense of users.

We think that’s a true loss—especially since inclusive design allows more users to take part in our products. So we’ve found some of the best resources to lay a foundation for inclusive and accessible design knowledge. Check them out below

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Guides and Checklists

Guides and Checklists:

A11Y Project (Resources + Checklist)

The Accessibility Project (A11Y) is an open-sourced website dedicated to making accessibility easier to implement on the web. Drawing on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), A11Y created a checklist for designers and developers to make sure their websites are as accessible as possible.

NHS Digital Service Manual

The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s publicly-funded health service organization. In 2018, their standards team released the Digital Service Manual. It outlined design principles, accessibility information, and even a style guide for designers to create inclusive and accessible digital services for NHS. However, it remains a great resource for any designer looking for accessibility best practices. You can read the guide, help contribute, or join the service manual Slack channel.

Cannon Access: Accessibility Checklist

Aaron Cannon is the cofounder and chief accessibility officer of Accessible 360, an organization dedicated to helping others provide accessible digital products. In 2009, he published an accessibility checklist on his blog that remains one of the best for designers looking to make their websites as accessible as possible.

NN/g Report

The Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) is a UX research consulting firm dedicated to providing leading thought leadership and guidance on all things UX. They released a 47-page report on how to conduct usability testing for accessibility. It includes advice on topics ranging from conducting studies at users’ homes or offices, to consent forms, to conducting braille sessions. As of 2019, you can pick up an individual license for $82. Alternatively, you can get a gist of some web-based best practices with their free report on usability guidelines for accessible web design.

Lauren Isaacson's Inclusive Research Templates

Lauren Isaacson of Curio Research gave a comprehensive talk at PUSH UX on conducting studies more inclusively. Her slides are all available online, alongside a few critical free templates: a research accommodation checklist, a list of strategies for inclusive research design, and list of inclusive recruiting screener questions. Access it all here.

Extra Credit: 

Inclusive Design Principles (The Paciello Group)

Inclusive Design Toolkit (University of Cambridge)

Accessibility Toolkit (Government of South Australia)

The Inclusive Design Methodology (Microsoft)

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The Mixed Methods Podcast

Mixed Methods is a community interested in exploring topics on all things UX research. While they have a few different avenues to dive into UX research including a Slack channel and a blog, it’s their podcast that really stands out. They dedicated the better part of their third season to inclusive research and design. Our episode recommendations: The Power of Disability featuring Liz Jackson of the Disabled List and The Future is Ethical with Tristan Harris.

Inclusive Design Playlist

Inclusive Design 24 is an annual 24-hour online event that generates discussions around inclusive design. The best part: They upload all of their sessions on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. Be sure to follow them on Twitter and check their website for future ID24 dates and times.

InVision: Exploring Diversity & Inclusion with Atlassian

Collaborative design software and platform InVision hosted an in-depth conversation on diversity and inclusion between the company’s VP of design education Aaron Walter and Atlassian’s global head of diversity and belonging Aubrey Blanche. They take on topics around biases and building a culture of inclusion.

Microsoft: Inclusion

In 2016, Microsoft released an eye-opening 20-minute film about how they design for inclusion. It’s a great look into how one of the biggest software companies in the world tries to ensure their products are as inclusive and accessible as possible.

99% Invisible: Curb Cuts

The podcast 99% Invisible took a look at how a movement to make sidewalks more accessible to people in wheelchairs transformed the way our streets are designed forever. Though it’s not a digital product or service, curb cuts offer a look into how inclusive design practices can benefit everyone—not just the people who “need” it.

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We need to change our focus from “we can’t design for everyone” to “we can’t design for every user need.” Because as things get more global, everyone is our user. And that starts at: ‘who are we speaking to?’ When we talk about the voice of the customer, we have to ask ourselves: “what customer?”

Vanessa Whatley, UX Researcher, Google 


Design In Three Dimensions

Inclusive design is hard to nail down—and for good reason. Too often designers find themselves falling into the trap of designing for the “average” user. In reality, there’s no such thing. At least that’s what Jutta Treviranus, Director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC), told us when we interviewed her for People Nerds. Instead, we should focus on a principle to guide our designs to be more inclusive: nobody’s average. You can also pick up some free resources and see some of the IDRC's research at their website

4 Principles For Gender-Identity Inclusion (And How To Get Them Implemented)

Though UXRs pride themselves for being steadfast advocates for our users, there are so many ways we fall short. One of the biggest: gender-identity inclusion. Despite so much research showing that gender falls on a spectrum, we often compartmentalize our users along the gender binary. That’s why we took steps toward inclusivity, and created a four principle framework to guide changes on our platform—and yours.

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) by Kat Holmes

When the products we design fail to meet the users’ needs due to disability, then we failed as designers. Instead, we need to learn how to create products with inclusivity in mind by working with our excluded users. Kat Holmes, the Director of User Experience at Google, penned this primer to show us just that. Not only does it provide great principles for inclusive design, but it also provides an in-depth look into the history behind it.

Why We Need Universal Design | Michael Nesmith | TEDxBoulder

Michael Nesmith has been deaf since childhood. While some might see that as a disadvantage, Michael has leveraged his loss-of-hearing to help him create universal designs that account for people’s disabilities. In this TEDxTalk, he talks through his solutions to the challenges of creating inclusive designs.

Working With Others

For more than two decades, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have been the North Star for designers creating inclusive assets for the Internet. But how well do these principles really stand up to rigor? Not very well at all, according to usability and accessibility consultant Maurizio Boscarol. In this article, he challenges WCAG and offers up a solution: listen to your users.

Designing for Cognitive Differences

Inclusive design isn’t just designing for physical disabilities. It’s also addressing the cognitive and mental differences in our users as well. Many designers get that wrong. Designer Brandon Gregory gives a solid primer on how we can approach designing for cognitive issues such as inattention, anxiety, and depression.

Inclusive Design Patterns by Heydon Pickering

To design for our users, we need to take them all into consideration. To do that, we need to elevate as designers and developers. Author and designer Heydon Pickering breaks down why exactly we make digital products that are inaccessible to large swaths of users—and how we can serve those users better.

Extra credit reads: 

An Overview of the Current Thinking: Inclusive Design (UX Matters)

How Inclusive User Research Makes Your Products Better (

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I’ve always resisted the idea that designers could come up with a set of criteria that would apply to everyone, and the first dimension of inclusive design is to recognize that everyone is diverse. We have to push against the idea that there is a “typical” person.

Jutta Treviranus, Inclusive Design Research Centre


Accessing Higher Ground

The Accessing Higher Ground conference brings together designers, faculty, administrators, and other education professionals to spread knowledge and acumen on accessible design. Held each year by the Association on Higher Education and Disability, the conference focuses on actionable ways we can implement accessible products in higher ed and beyond.

A11Y Project Meetups

The Accessibility Project (A11Y) offers a wealth of opportunities for those interested in learning more about inclusive design to meetup, converse, and spread knowledge with one another. As of 2019, there are 30 meetup groups from places like Chicago to Edinburgh to Australia.

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Tony Ho Tran is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. His articles have appeared in Huff Post, Business Insider, Growthlab, and wherever else fine writing is published.

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