Article: The Inclusion Principle

Article citation: Link-Rodrigue, M. (2009). The inclusion principle. A List Apart.

In her article “The Inclusion Principle,” from issue 288 of web design magazine A List Apart, Margit Link-Rodrigue explores the idea of “Affordance” as it applies to designing web sites for people of all ability levels and regardless of the technologies they may be using.

Affordance is a design theory which asserts that a thing should be designed in order that the user can “look at [it] and intuitively understand how to interact with it.” As Link-Rodrigue points out, this theory falls short where those with disabilities are concerned. What may be intuitive can all the same be unusable.

Enter universal design. This theory holds that design must be “inherently accessible,” so that absolutely anybody should be able to use the thing you’re designing for it to be successful. Link-Rodrigue notes that many designers—web designers especially—feel this stifles their creativity, and/or may simply be unaware of the challenges that those with disabilities face when browsing the web. More importantly, she argues that universal design doesn’t have to cause problems in either of these areas.

The main problem in web design comes from the fact that accessibility is often a secondary concern, something web designers or web site owners think about after a problem occurs. This is backwards, Link-Rodrigue argues. Instead, designers should operate under the titular inclusion principle: moving away from marginalizing those with disabilities by making ‘standard’ web sites accessible to them, and moving towards including these users by designing web sites with them in mind from the outset.

While this seems like splitting hairs, Link-Rodrigue is quick to point out that it isn’t. A shift to inclusive design means that sites are accessible by the way they’re designed. Instead of an “outcome-oriented” accessibility, which may not even properly make a whole site accessible to those with certain types of disability not covered by the specific outcome, sites created with inclusive design in mind are “distinctively process-oriented”—they’re universal, and do not need anything special done to them in order to be usable by anybody at all.

For fuller details on (specifically for web sites), and how to embrace the shift from accessible to inclusive design, read Margit Link-Rodrigue’s “The inclusion principle” at A List Apart.