Introduction to Inclusive Design

Speaker: Lou Stringer, Learning Enhancement Team, Academic Support Office

Session report by Ian Gray – Department of Computer Science

Link to session recording

In this session Lou Stringer gave us an introduction to the concept of Inclusive Design and how it can be used to improve our teaching. First we watched Inclusive Design: from the pixel to the city from the Design Council. This video introduced the principles of inclusive design, which then fed into a discussion led by Lou. 

Inclusive design can be described informally as “making stuff better for everyone” and to illustrate this we considered the following image.

A cartoon comparing the concepts of equality, equity, and liberation. Three people - one short, one medium, and one tall - are trying to look over a fence. Equality is shown as giving everyone one box to stand on. The short person still cannot see over the fence whilst the tall person now towers over it. Equity gives two boxes to the short person so all people can now see over the fence. Liberation, however, simply takes down the fence.

This illustrates that providing things equality does not necessarily result in equity, as some learning can remain inaccessible. Equity will require us to make modifications and accommodations to ensure that all learning can be accessed by all learners. However, with inclusive design, barriers can be actually removed rather than simply overcome.

The POUR principles were introduced, that learning should be:

  • Perceivable – the user can identify content and interface elements by means of the senses
  • Operable – the user can successfully use controls, buttons, navigation, and other necessary interactive elements
  • Understandable – users are able to comprehend the content, and learn and remember how to use the interface
  • Robust – users are able to choose different technologies, the learning is maintained and does not rely on a single point of failure

Not Just For The Differently-Abled

We highlighted that inclusivity is not just about accommodating the differently-abled. There can be a wide range of additional barriers such as poor internet access, time zones, lack of digital skills, or different language skills. 

Inclusive design is proactive, not reactive, so to illustrate this we undertook an activity to practice considering the needs of a range of learners. We split into breakout rooms, and each room was given a user profile that details the needs of that learner. We discussed the barriers that they might have to learning and what mitigations or accommodations that we would be able to make for them. For example for a learner with weaker digital skills it might be necessary to provide step-by-step explanations of processes. Transcripts would be important for people with slow internet access. 

A commonly reiterated point was that inclusive design is not only of benefit to a small number of students. An example was offered where mathematics equations are often inaccessible, but the use of typesetting tools like LaTeX with MathJax enables screen readers, but also helps all learners to parse and understand the equation if they need it.

We then again broke into groups to discuss some more specific details for how we can enable inclusive design. Participants shared a range of examples from their teaching and the application of these ideas to Higher Education. Some tips are:

  • Minimise Constraints
    • asynchronous activities as standard
    • complete in own time
    • reduces demand on processing power /internet connection
    • synchronous activities an extra, not a requirement 
    • don’t require use of video/audio in sessions
    • allow downloads of files & videos as well as opening in browser
  • Be clear & consistent
    • consistent structure in documents & the VLE
    • readable text: left align, heading styles, bullet points, highlight key information
    • clear instructions – text and verbal
    • meaningful file names and link text
    • break down chunks of information
  • Give choice of format
    • audio, video and images must have captions/text alternative
    • digital text – can be converted or used with assistive software
    • Blackboard Ally can create alternate formats
    • allow downloads of all content
  • Give students control
    • choose their own tools & interaction method
    • adapt text appearance – can be easier in Google Docs/Word than a PDF (give both!)
    • control video playback (pause, captions appearance, speed, video stream shown)
    • control timing of resources
    • choose to open in browser or download

For more precise legal requirements and more examples of tips and techniques, Lilian Soon from the Academic Support Office has prepared a workshop on Accessibility, and the slides are available online.

A cartoon showing a line of animals: a monkey, penguin, elephant, fish, seal and dog. A man is saying "For a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam: Please climb that tree". Only the monkey is smiling.

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