Inclusive design is an approach to design that considers the needs of the widest possible audience, exploring and examining similarities — but also differences — to inform design decisions. The term was first used in the 1990s by Roger Coleman (now a professor emeritus at the Royal College of Art, London) and has been increasingly applied to many disciplines since then. The early focus of the approach was to improve accessibility for the aging population and people with disabilities.

Interest in inclusive design has grown recently, bringing about a steady realization that by considering users with different abilities at the start of the design process, you will ultimately create a design that works for more people, in more circumstances. This shift also acknowledges that design is not about creating one solution for all; it’s about creating the right solution for the right people. Perhaps the biggest shift in thinking is the belief that inclusive design is for all of us, whether we have a permanent disability or not.

In the learning and development (L&D) context, this problem-solving framework ensures that people benefit from richer, deeper learning experiences. These experiences, in turn, lead to greater organizational inclusivity and, ultimately, effectiveness.

Let’s consider the circumstances in which a person may experience some degree of disability when engaging with video or multimedia learning content. The user’s disability could be permanent, such as having a hearing impairment; temporary, like an ear infection; or situational, like being in a noisy office. One way an instructional designer can create more inclusive content for this individual is by using captions.

Instructional designers and learning facilitators can leverage inclusive design by using the following mapping exercises. These tools can help ensure that they consider their end user, understand their organizational requirements and bring their key stakeholders along with them in the learning process.

Empathy Mapping

To better understand whom you’re designing for, create a four-quadrant diagram and label the quadrants “says,” “thinks,” “does” and “feels.” Using information and data about your users, fill in the quadrants with descriptions of how they operate in each of the four areas.

This tool provides a framework to capture what you already know about your users in one place, uncover any blind spots and identify opportunities for improvement. By the end of the exercise, you’ll have a greater understanding of what makes your learners tick on a deeper level.

Learning Journey Mapping

While it’s crucial to understand your end user, you can’t design without also considering the organizational context. Map out the current touchpoints where your learners come into contact with their learning environment. Then, compare these touchpoints with the ideal environment you are striving for, and find opportunities for improvement.

Journey mapping is great way to develop an understanding of your users’ collective experience; if you position the map in a communal area, you can use it as a talking point and build on it as your user journey shifts and evolves. This strategy will help you track progress and enable a mindful approach to change.

Stakeholder Mapping

When developing training, it’s important to consider which stakeholders you need to bring with you on your journey. Inclusive design can only be successful if it’s embedded in all of your projects, so write down who you need to involve in your design process and keep them abreast of your plans and processes.

You might also want to plan how you deliver your message to each group to cater to their needs and preferred communication styles. Consider linking to what drives them personally, and construct a compelling story for each stakeholder group.

These three mapping exercises are people-focused, collaborative and inclusive by nature. By using them, you will begin to co-design a collective understanding of your users, build a visual of the learning journey and take key stakeholders along the journey with you.

When it comes to inclusive design, every step that considers others is a step forward in designing learning programs for each unique individual. In its simplest form, inclusive design is about doing the right thing: celebrating the diversity of people and empowering you to design a world that we can all be part of.

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