Apple’s design guide for inclusive technology is essential reading

Building inclusive apps and services is both good for business and the right thing to do — and Apple points the way.

Apple, developers, WWDC, Mac, iPhone, iOS, accessibility, diversity, inclusivity
IDG/Jason Cross

Perhaps the biggest unsung highlight at WWDC 2021 was Apple’s decision to publish a detailed guide to encourage developers to build inclusive applications.

We must be inclusive by design

The company has always led the industry when it comes to accessibility, but its move to push developers toward building inclusive apps is truly significant, particularly given the global shift to support such values. The need to develop inclusive experiences underlines the important place apps now have as windows through which we explore our worlds.

Apple argues that inclusive apps put people first by “prioritizing respectful communication and presenting content and functionality in ways that everyone can access and understand.” The company explains that inclusivity covers many bases: class, culture, ethnicity, creed, race, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, disabilities, height, shape and so many more considerations that need to be thought about when designing digital experiences.

For developers and anyone else looking to place inclusivity at the heart of their business, Apple’s guide has many useful insights. It's essential reading for anyone developing any form of person-focused content.

Take the time to get it right

Apple explains that designing an inclusive app is an iterative process that takes time to get right. Getting it right will require developers (and everyone else involved in creating apps) to consider their own assumptions about how other people think and feel, while remaining open to developing a wider understanding.

“Inclusion is a journey,” the company says — one that requires planning, persistence, and patience.

Aim high

Inclusion doesn’t mean you must reject innovative ideas, nor does it mean you must deliver a lowest-common-denominator experience. It’s a creative challenge that requires deep learning and a willingness to change.

For example, at WWDC Apple discussed tools it has developed that make use of machine vision intelligence to create augmented experiences, and how object recognition tools have evolved to the extent that a partially sighted or blind person can now point their phone at a sign to hear the text.

Practice what you preach

Human nature means most people are more comfortable in like-minded groups, but these usually reflect a limited range of experience. “People are drawn to like-mindedness, consensus, and agreement,” Apple notes. “It feels comfortable and takes less mental energy, but it doesn’t always get you the best results.”

With this in mind, if you truly want to bake inclusion inside your app, your service, or your company, then it makes sense to break out of the echo chamber and ensure that your teams are themselves diverse.

That’s only a starting point, as it is also necessary to empower team members so they can contribute to how a project evolves. Your team can be as diverse as you like, but if all the decisions and project goals reflect the needs of just one group within it, then the results are unlikely to reflect multiple viewpoints.

Collaboration, communication, and an openness to looking at the world from a different perspective are mandatory to this particular goal.  What perspectives are you missing at your company?

Language is important

What language do you use in your app, business plan, or service?

Poorly chosen words can generate negative results. Apple warns of the importance of tone and context, advising use of plain, inclusive language that doesn’t exclude people.

People, in all their diverse beauty, matter.

So, when you are making an app or service to appeal to millions of humans, it’s vital to ensure your language fits with a deep intersection of different experiences, opinions, and situations. Gender-neutral pronouns and use of examples that reflect that diversity should help. A fitness app might feature movements demonstrated by people of different races, genders, ages, body types, or physical capabilities, for example. People using your app or service are people, not users, so focus on them as humans with words like "you" and "yours."

Don’t generalize

What is a common experience for you may be uncommon to others. Even something as prosaic as the nature of the family unit inculcates a series of implications that may not hold true for everybody, and may offend or upset some of your users. The best approach, Apple says, is to avoid stereotypes and generalizations.  

This also extends to how accessibility features within apps and services are deployed. Focus on people, not on disability. Assume that whatever app or service you build will have potential users who may face a temporary or permanent disability, so ensure that accessibility is part of the plan from the start.

Meaning matters more than metalanguage

It’s easy in complex markets to use a kind of specialized “metalanguage” comprising terms most people may never have encountered before.  When building apps and services, it makes sense to define those terms in plain language.

It also makes sense to replace colloquial expressions with plain language, particularly as some commonly used terms may have hidden meanings that exclude some people. Apple raises the term “grandfathered in” as an example of a colloquial phrase that carries deeply exclusionary significance.

Use Apple's accessibility tools

VoiceOver, Display Accommodations, closed captioning, Switch Control, and Speak Screen are all available within Apple’s platforms, so it makes sense to deploy them within your app or service.

The company does note two important things about disability which must be considered when attempting to build inclusive experiences:

Disability is a spectrum: Visual disability ranges from low vision to complete blindness, with color blindness, blurred vision, and light sensitivity to consider.

Everyone can experience a disability: Have you ever suffered an ear or eye infection and temporarily lost an ability you usually rely on, or been unable to hear because you are in a noisy space? These illustrations show that disability can impact everyone at different times.

Empathy brings rewards

Thinking about the words you use, considering the nature of characters and personas used in your customer service experiences or game designs, and trying to identify how they may be seen by those who see the world through a different lens is a mark of respect for your customers — one that unlocks stronger relationships, enables stronger connections, and helps build a stronger business.

It also has the advantage of being the right thing to do.

Building inclusive apps, services, or businesses is an approach that enables whatever it is you have to offer to resonate with a far wider congregation of potential customers.

Put quite simply, inclusivity is good for business.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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