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What is Inclusive Design for Learning?

  • 3 Min Read

This Global Accessibility Awareness Day, learn about how to design learning experiences for human diversity.


Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), the brainchild of Jennison Asuncion, digital accessibility leader and evangelist at LinkedIn, is a yearly opportunity for the creators of the digital world to get together and talk about how people with disabilities interact with the digital world and how their experience could be improved.  Creating inclusive learning experiences is a critically important part of that conversation.

Designers of inclusive learning experiences recognize that every learner is different. Their notion of accessibility, therefore, expands dynamically to meet the needs that emerge not just from disability, but from the entire range of human diversity. Designing for human diversity has a special name—inclusive design.

What Is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive design, as conceptualized by the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC), is “design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.” Awareness, compassion and togetherness form the core values of inclusive design—awareness to recognize diversity in learners, compassion to include the needs of those who are different from us, and togetherness in sharing positive outcomes of the design process.

Inclusive design can be applied to learning along three dimensions:

  1. Recognizing diversity and uniqueness
  2. Using inclusive processes and tools
  3. Enabling broader beneficial impact

Recognizing Diversity and Uniqueness

The first dimension is about recognizing the diversity and uniqueness of each learner, which involves identifying and including the needs of learners along the edges, or margins. It is also about enabling and promoting self-knowledge and self-determination in learners so that they are able to recognize their own needs with respect to a learning experience and make use of the available design and configuration choices.

Using Inclusive Processes and Tools

The second dimension is about ensuring that the process of design and the tools used in design are inclusive.  Good design caters not just to the learners right in the middle of the target group, but also to “extreme users”, a term coined by Rich Donovan, CEO of Fifth Quadrant Analytics. Inclusive design teams must be diverse and, if possible, include individuals who have a lived experience of extreme users in the group the designs are intended for. This would be in line with the notion of “nothing about us without us”, popularized by the disability community.

Enabling Broader Beneficial Impact

The third dimension requires designers of learning systems and services to be aware of the context and broader impact of what they create and to strive to effect a beneficial impact beyond the intended beneficiaries. Inclusive design must strive to recognize the interconnectedness of users and systems, leverage the “curb-cut effect” through its outcomes, and trigger a virtuous cycle of inclusion.

The goal of inclusive design for learning is to take advantage of human diversity in the design process to build an adaptive and adaptable one-size-fits-one learning experience that empowers each learner to be the architect of their own learning. Inclusive design for learning is not just a way of doing; it is a way of thinking.

It is a common myth that technology, which forms the brick and mortar of the digital world, creates accessibility challenges. Technology, on the contrary, is amazingly malleable and can accommodate human difference in every form if we recognize human diversity and create with empathy, adhering to digital building codes in the form of accessibility standards.

Unlike the physical world, the digital world has no boundaries. In the words of Jutta Treviranus, director of IDRC,

“Inclusion benefits everyone, it should be everyone’s concern. In this digitally transformed reality that we live and work in – where consumption does not consume and space has no limits – there is no downside to inclusion and it is possible to make room for us all.”

So, let’s do it!

Learn more about D2L’s commitment to accessibility in education

Written by:

Sam Chandrashekar

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Table of Contents

  1. What Is Inclusive Design?