Accessibility and inclusion - similarities and differences

This article deals with the terms in German. The terms inclusion and accessibility are often used synonymously and often incorrectly. I noticed that recently during the debate about Apple's new emojis. These emojis have something to do with disability. They are therefore neither inclusive nor accessible and do not have to contribute to it.

I always roll my eyes inwardly when a potential client asks me how to check a website for inclusion, he probably means accessibility. However, since the terms are thrown around wildly even by the initiated, one cannot blame the uninitiated either. In the Anglo-American discussion, for example, the term inclusive design has recently been intensified again: what exactly this means remains open. Maybe accessible design just sounds too boring to you.

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What does inclusion mean?

Inclusion is essentially a term that refers to the living environment of people. What is meant is that disabled and non-disabled people live together and shape society together. However, disabled people have hijacked the term: In fact, it can refer to all minorities in a social sense, such as migrants, homosexuals or other disadvantaged groups.

Since some facilities have simply renamed themselves from integrative to inclusive, caution is definitely advisable. For them, inclusive means: "We do something with the disabled". For some of these institutions, even the title integrative would be daring. Someone once said: A little inclusive is like a little pregnant. Since the term inclusion is neither protected nor verifiable, anyone can attach this label. At least I don't know of any testing procedure for inclusion, maybe we should invent a certification for inclusion, there's sure to be a lot of money to be made there.

The complete exclusion should hopefully only exist in individual cases in Germany. In my opinion, there can be no such thing as complete inclusion either. This is because circumstances change dynamically. What is included today can be yesterday's tomorrow. Inclusion is a process like accessibility. That is what inclusion and accessibility have in common.

Inclusion is also essentially a social process. Accessibility, on the other hand, is an essentially technical process.

What does accessibility mean

As I have shown in my book, accessibility can only ever be one relate a fact or a group of people. We speak of accessibility as of inclusion as if it were an achievable condition. But it is a process. Ten years ago, for example, no one was talking about Plain Language or real-time Plain Language transmissions. Today, there is hardly a major event on the subject of disability without it. We don't know what will be possible and standard in five or ten years. What is fairly certain, however, is that standards will rise, as they have risen over the past few decades.

Accessibility therefore includes measures that enable or facilitate access for one or more groups of disabled people: be it ramps, sign language interpreters or documents that can be read aloud.

There are also standards for some areas of accessibility: These include the WCAG or DIN 18040. There are various inclusion indices that can serve as measuring instruments for the status of inclusion. However, you rarely hear about them, they don't seem to have caught on across the board.

So inclusion includes accessibility, but accessibility does not include inclusion. Accessibility is a prerequisite for inclusion.

Apple's emojis as a negative example

Admittedly, I haven't seen all of Apple's emojis. However, there is some criticism: An American columnist, for example, noted that the hearing aid emoji could also be used as an insult, as a short form of "Are you deaf" = stupid. An emoji depicting a single disabled person or assistive device does not represent inclusion or accessibility. Inclusion requires at least one disabled and one non-disabled person. Accessibility only makes sense in a specific context. Nobody can tell me how these emojis should contribute to inclusion or accessibility. At least I wasn't longingly waiting for any of these emojis. A better alternative is the Inklumoji app by Aktion Mensch. It remains the secret of the Unicode Consortium as to why Apple's emojis were included in the official emoji vocabulary, it certainly has nothing to do with Apple being one of the richest companies in the world.

Conclusion: A careful use of the terms is advisable

Anyone who speaks of inclusion or accessibility raises expectations in disabled people that they are generally unable to fulfil. It may be that inclusion or accessibility has been implemented in an exemplary manner for one or more groups, but not for other groups. And as shown above: As long as there is no standard, everyone can call themselves inclusive. I can call my website inclusive because I don't have anything else to do right now, the statement would be zero because not even I would know what I mean by inclusive website.

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