How to create inclusive personas, without creating inclusive personas

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I watched a webinar earlier today about creating inclusive personas to encourage accessible, human-centred design. The instructors talked about the disabilities people have, the assistive technologies they use, and how to create inclusive personas that describe those needs.

A young man with brown skin and dark, cropped hair. He is wearing glasses, and a navy blue jacket over a grey t-shirt. His hands are held in front of his body in a pose that suggest he is in the middle of explaining something.
A portrait we used in one of our personas. This is a real person, who we’ve supported. No AI, no stock images.

And that’s all great, and laudable. But, with all my experience, I am not convinced it’s always the right approach.

Let me explain.

Disabled people are not defined by their disability

When we talk to disabled people, their disability is rarely what defines them.

We’re an economic development agency. We support businesses which are likely to contribute to enhancing Scotland’s economic performance.

Some people who run, or are in senior positions in, those businesses, have a disability. That’s just statistically inevitable; around 1 in 5 people in the UK are disabled at any one time.

Almost all of us will be disabled at some point in our lives through infirmity, accident, situational or temporary disability such as carpal tunnel syndrome, a fractured shoulder, an ear infection …

What defines the people we talk to is not their disabilities, but their ambition. A disability is just a facet of who they are. It’s rarely the central focus of their sense of self.

They find a way round it

Sure, they might need a wheelchair sometimes, or be D/deaf, or dyslexic, neurodivergent, or colour blind or whatever. It’s just a thing people have lived with, inhabited, and dealt with, for years. If not their entire life.

They find a way to overcome the barriers they face. People are inventive.

That’s why I think it can be a little misleading to create personas that focus wholly or mostly on a person’s disability, and the assistive tech they use.

(All of this is, of course, completely irrelevant if you work with or provide a service to profoundly disabled people. But the people we talk to are, by definition, running a high-performing business.

And yes, I accept, that means there are necessarily selection biases at play. There always are.)

A different approach to inclusive personas

So instead of creating personas that focus on the disability, I tried creating research-based personas that focus on who they are, what they’re trying to achieve, and add on something that alludes to an accessibility need.

Sam is dyslexic, so finds long, complex text daunting and very tiring.

Charlie has had poor eyesight since childhood. Even with glasses on, small or faint text is hard to read, so they’ll sometimes use their browser’s zoom facility to make things easier.

Adding these traits reminds us to keep our UI copy clear, both visually and lexicographically, without adding any baggage.

It doesn’t even need to be a trait that is specifically about disability or accessibility needs. So long as we get the same outcome, who cares?

Jay is super-proficient with computers, and has built their own websites in the past. As a power user they rarely use a mouse. The keyboard is much quicker and easier.

So we have a persona who reminds us that it’s important to ensure our designs are fully keyboard-operable, without even mentioning screenreaders.

Which is important, because it’s not credible that all your personas have a disability, and not all accessibility considerations only affect disabled people.

So, should you stop creating accessibility-focused personas?


If they work for you – and they seem to work for the UK’s Government Digital Service – by all means, go ahead and do so.

But these personas worked for this project. They were printed at A0 and on the wall all around us. Casual, constant reminders that:

  • Sam needs simple, clear language
  • Charlie needs text to resize and reflow
  • Jay needs us to make sure everything is keyboard-operable

There were other personas, of course. Their needs were centred around themes we uncovered in our research:

  • People who don’t know their business is eligible for support
  • People who think they might be eligible, but don’t know where to go
  • People who have no idea there’s even anything out there
  • People who have tried and tried to get support, but just gone round in circles
  • People whose business is doing just fine, and are not interested

We just added a little seasoning to some of them.

What do you think?

I’d love to get your thoughts. Leave a comment here, or get me on Mastodon or LinkedIn.

I'm a service designer in Scottish Enterprise's unsurprisingly-named service design team. I've been a content designer, editor, UX designer and giant haystacks developer on the web for (gulp) over 25 years.

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