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Welcome to episode 12 of Skip to Content!  This week, we stayed slightly closer to home as we were lucky enough to catch up with a neighbour of ours in Brighton, England –   Irina Rusakova.  Irina runs from “Inclusive by design” and is an independent inclusive design and research consultant based near us in Brighton, England. 

Irina is well known in the field of inclusive design and you may bump into her at conferences and events such as UX London and PUSH UX.  She has created some really helpful articles and case studies across her social channels and on her medium blog, make sure you check those out at

This is such an insightful interview and Irina gives us a really solid and concise overview of the kind of considerations we should be making as people who care about creating a more inclusive and accessible web.

Make sure you hook up with Irina on Twitter and LinkedIn



Who are you and what do you care about?

My background is in user experience design, service design and user research. I’ve been in this field for over 14 years now and seven years ago, I was leading a website redesign for a large retailer and I observed people experiencing barriers with my designs. Since then, accessibility and inclusive design became my big passion. I started researching it and discovered many new sides to the diversity of humankind and how differently people interact with digital products. As a result, I started a project called ‘Inclusive by Design‘ and in this project, I share firsthand feedback with historically marginalised communities. Also case studies, interviews with industry leaders and research around diversity and inclusion.

Whilst working on this project, I noticed that first iterations of the web content accessibility guidelines and all other official guidelines about flexibility didn’t really include any guidance about designing for the neuro-diverse community. So I conducted research to understand the requirements of this community and what the creators of digital products need to be mindful of to welcome this community to their digital experience. The outcomes of this research are publicly available on video. Two years ago, I founded ‘Inclusive Mind Design’ a consultancy that helps product research and design teams on the journey towards inclusive practices. I help these teams to clarify inclusive process and methodologies and to embed them into everyday work.

How do you, personally, go about explaining the importance of online accessibility to someone who never even considered it?

If this person has a role in creating a digital product, I probably start from a business case and explain that by not considering disability, you are excluding large populations from using your product and therefore missing out on both engagement and revenues. For example, in the UK, the community of people with disabilities has a spending power of £16 billion per year online alone and £274 billion per year in general for the UK businesses.

If I talk about inclusive design practices; where we include feedback from historically marginalised communities right from the start of the conceptual and design phase, inclusive approach is also a great opportunity to fuel innovation. There’s also a hugely important element to stability which is social responsibility; that we as designers, product creators, but also companies and brands need to be very mindful of. Like with any physical space, it’s a human right for any person to be able to get around and perform the actions that they entered the space to do.

This experience also contributes to the reputation of your brand as people who experience barriers with your products will, no doubt, share their feedback with people around them and, potentially, on social media. We see that, on the other hand, people who are used to experiencing barriers for digital products, immediately notice when a product actually was created with consideration to their requirements and to highlight the positive feedback and reward inclusive brands.

How do you think the Internet, or the Web, will change over the next 10 years? And what specific features or habits that exist now do you hope will be seen as from their time?

I think one of the biggest trends that they see at the moment, and that has definitely already started, is ‘splinternet’ or division of once open and wide space between countries, sometimes states or territories. I can imagine that we will see more division in the next few years. With accessibility, I’m confident that the movement towards accessible digital products will continue and accessibility will become a standard for product managers, designers and engineers. But also based on this ‘splinternet’ trend, we might face variations of accessibility policies, for example, between different territories.

I think we will also see the expansion of accessible considerations and hopefully more awareness, for example, around neurodiversity because these requirements are essential for this community and also benefit much wider populations. I also see a continuing trend for online experiences being accessed through mediums other than screens and keyboards, for example speech recognition or image reality or virtual reality. But also as as these are emerging technologies, we have the opportunity to design them with accessibility and inclusion in mind, right from the start.


If you’re with someone who who needs to check how accessible their website is but only has five minutes, or it might be someone that wants to understand it more, talk us through how you go about showing them?

I can think of two very quick ways. The first one is to try and navigate the website only with a keyboard. Because keyboard accessibility is critical to ensure that users have access to information without requiring a mouse in case they don’t have it or they can’t use it for one reason or another. Obviously, there’s a little bit more complexity to that keyboard interaction. For example, keyboard accessible pages need to include the visible focus stage and have a logical tab order and avoid keyboard traps and holes. Keyboard accessibility is also a good foundation for using assistive technology like screen readers for people who are blind or have low vision or just prefer audio when they go through content.

There is another relatively easy way to test the cognitive accessibility of your website where you can test it by navigating the website when you are stressed or feeling unwell or didn’t have enough sleep. These two ways are really quick and simple and they will work well to raise awareness about accessibility for a website of a person who hasn’t really considered it before or hasn’t really tested it before. But obviously to have a more accurate assessment, I would strongly recommend to engage with primary users of assistive technologies.

In terms of the adoption of accessible digital products, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing us?

Something I noticed was that for a long time product creation or the procreation processes relied on their bell curve approach. This approach was focused on designing for the ‘average person’ and promoted that by doing that we could serve the majority or 80% of the market. We also thought that we need to focus on this average case and avoid edge cases just to be efficient and to do it for scale as well.

As we know now, this approach led us towards creating gaps in digital experiences and also building sub-optimal products for some diverse communities and also fully excluding other diverse communities from participating and using digital products. After focusing on the middle of the bell curve for so long, this market also became over-populated and the majority of web standards are also built for this group.

However, when we start looking at the edges (again) of the bell curve, not only do we discover that the audience of so-called ‘edges’ is actually much more than 20% of the market but we also notice that there are huge opportunities for improving, evolving and growing our digital products. By improving products for these historically marginalised communities, we actually improve them for everyone else.

What is the one thing that every single person can do, or learn, to play a part in a progression towards a more accessible web??

That’s a great question because there are actually so many things everyone can do. I can sometimes see, for example, designers feeling maybe not necessarily empowered if they are not given an accessibility project but, actually, there’s something absolutely anyone can do, if they are high in hierarchy or low in hierarchy, absolutely anyone.

One simple thing is actually raising your awareness. Also coming back to the maturity model and working along. This is the first phase on that journey towards inclusive practices, accessible practices is: awareness. It’s a foundation for other information and methodologies so once you build that awareness, all other methodologies techniques are very easy to understand and implement.

Awareness of this topic opens our minds, as well, to diverse perspectives, and also their value towards creating digital physical products. Thankfully, today, there are more and more resources to build your awareness, including books that describe first-hand experiences from diverse communities and there are also books from our colleagues in the digital product industry talking about accessibility and inclusive design. There are also lots of free toolkits, articles, interviews and even films.

One way that is probably the easiest and most powerful way to raise awareness is to start listening to firsthand feedback from diverse communities. You can do it by following, for example, hashtags on social media and different platforms and following influential voices and just trying to understand how these communities experience the world.

From my side, I also publish free content on the topic of inclusive design on social media channels, including Medium, Instagram and YouTube. I also participate in meet-ups and conferences to raise awareness of this topic. Mainly, I really hope that people will remember to look at accessibility not only as the formal compliance they have to meet and a set of rules to follow but also from the perspective of people who need it, and have these people always in mind and, ideally, at the centre of design process as well. Raising your awareness can really help with this.




Make sure to Follow Irina Rusakova on Twitter, Medium and LinkedIn.