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Unlocking the Power of Inclusive Design with One Question

Updated: Aug 24, 2023


A rotating video of different people holding different flavors of delicious ice cream
GIF by Amy Pedid and MidJourney


Inclusive Design is Everywhere


Have you ever entered an ice cream shop that served only vanilla ice cream? If you did, you would probably become annoyed that your preferred flavor was nowhere in sight, or you felt alienated because you were allergic to vanilla. If the store didn’t listen to your flavor request it could drive you to never step foot in that store ever again and even advocate against the store. Leading to thousands of dollars in another company’s pocket.


This is the experience for hundreds of thousands of your potential customers who need specific disability-based, LGBTQ-based, or equity-based accommodations in order to access and benefit from your product.



The Question Is...


When I work with clients who are confused about where to start, I have found that repeatedly returning to one question throughout the creative process gets answers better than anything else. That question is, "What is your preference?"


It is important to ask this inclusive design question, not only of your audience, but of your employees as well. It normalizes listening to those who need help instead of trying to come up with answers alone while locked away in silos.


Keeping this question at the center of the conversation signals to the recipient that their preferences matter and that you are genuinely open to listening and accommodating their needs. It is the keystone of inclusion.


I take this step on the initial project intake form, where I ask if potential clients have communication or disability accommodation needs, and make space for follow-up questions during one-on-one meetings, during user experience research, when I am crafting digital or physical creative work, and when I create Accessibility Statements for websites.


In my experience with small businesses and nonprofits, companies can be confused easily about how to improve and what to prioritize. They assume that big budgets are needed, and they can be fearful of alienating their current market because of past marketing failures by big companies like Bud Light.


However, after I show my clients that it can be as easy as asking one simple question, they tend to embrace this strategy for improvement and change. Incorporating this into audience experiences and client relations significantly reduces experience friction, removes disabling assumptions, and fosters mutual respect. It also cuts down on the awkwardness, anxiety and fear that can sometimes arise when discussing diversity, equitability, and inclusion.


Both the client and the recipient of the message should feel comfortable and empowered to share their preferences without feeling burdened. Even if they do not have preference requests at the moment when they are asked, they can leave that meeting feeling assured that they can request them later, and that their needs will be met.


Starter actions to implement inclusion:

  • Verify communication preferences. Email? Phone? Text? Voice Memo? Messenger Pigeon? Other?

  • Find at least 5 different preferences that can be implemented in your current project.

  • Listen to, learn from and contact non-profits in the disability, LGBTQ+ and equity space.

  • Learn quickly by referencing disability resources or asking an AI chatbot and then verify with your audience.

  • Use free best practice tools like the Color Contrast Checker on all digital assets.

  • Evaluate your site for free with a non-overlay scanner like WAVE from WebAim.

  • Use website builders like Wix with accessibility templates and scanners built in.

  • Add an Accessibility Statement to your site to be honest about improvements and have a clear way for your audience to contact you if they have a preference request.

  • Ask potential employees, freelancers, and vendors what inclusive actions they utilize.

  • Create a project or company feedback form to request and record improvements.


If you have used any of the inclusive design questions before reach out and let me know how it went. Thank you for investing in inclusion, and let me know if you have a preference request. The world is too big to serve only vanilla ice cream!

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