Inclusion, Accessibility, Assisted digital needs - what’s the difference?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A short post to help define these terms

drawing with very diverse people, age, race, religion, body shape, disability
Image by vector_s


Usually, when they hear “Accessibility” most people think: screen readers, wheelchairs, and more recently they might even think of dyslexia for example. But there is much more to it:

showing temporary permanent situational impairment for speak, hear and more
Do and Don’t posters from the Home Office

In the UK, 1 in 5 people are disabled

The concept of accessibility doesn’t just apply to disabled people  — all users will have different needs at different times and in different circumstances.

The World Health Organization defines disability as:

“a mismatch in interaction between the features of a person’s body and the features of the environment in which they live.

The impairment can be permanent, temporary or situational, but in the end, it’s the same requirements:

showing temporary permanent situational impairment for speak, hear and more
From the Inclusive toolkit Microsoft Design

Assisted Digital – Digital exclusion

Sometimes people need help to use services online. This is known as assisted digital support.

Any user may need assisted digital support, if they lack:

  • trust in your service or the internet
  • confidence to use an online service themselves
  • access to the internet
  • digital skills
  • motivation to overcome these barriers on their own

A recent study shows that almost one-fifth of Britons ‘do not use internet’.

In this article, from the BBC, you get a better idea of the various reasons why people don’t use internet:

  • 10% do not use the net because of privacy worries
  • 40% of those earning less than £12,500 do not go online
  • 70% of all respondents “uncomfortable” with targeted advertising and data tracking
  • 12% have been hit by computer viruses
  • 11% got abusive emails

Just like for accessibility, users will have different needs at different times and in different circumstances

For example:

  • you might be comfortable doing online shopping but struggle for a specific task like uploading a document or taking a photo with your phone
  • you’re visiting an area where there is nearly no signal or simply travelling on a train
  • you have hardly any data left on your account, no or slow internet access
  • you are applying online to get some support because you have been assaulted, or just lost someone, or about to lose your home

In Scotland – Digital exclusion

About 1 in 7 people in Scotland can’t get online. This is about 800,000 people.

There are various reasons:

  • money: can’t afford a device, to pay for broadband/data, or to get the assistive devices they need
  • lives in an area with poor infrastructure
  • lack confidence to use an online service themselves
  • lack digital skills

We usually don’t realise how many are affected:

  • 2 in 10 adults in Scotland lack basic digital skills
  • 1 in 10 have no digital skills (find info, order shopping online or fill in a form)
  • 13% of households have no internet access at home (17% for the lowest income households)
  • 1 in 8 adults do not use the internet at all

SourcesScottish household survey 2018: annual report and UK Consumer Digital Index 2019 from the Lloyds Bank

More on this


This is a broader term: Inclusive design is about designing for a diverse range of people. Whatever their gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity, social class, communications abilities or culture.

  • if your service is not accessible, then you are not inclusive of people with accessibility needs
  • if your service online is accessible, but you don’t offer an alternative for assisted digital users, then you are not inclusive either
diagram showing diversity: gender and sexuality, age, diets, religion, income, culture, size and shape, education, language

Common inclusion issues in services

For example asking for:

  • your gender when it might not even be needed or in a way that doesn’t allow you to identify yourself correctly
  • your title or marital status
  • parents information in terms which exclude same-sex-parenting

Bakken & Bæck, a digital studio based in Oslo, Bonn and Amsterdam, have a very good Diversity and Inclusion guide if you want to learn more.

You can also check their A to Z Inclusion and diversity glossary.

This post was written to become part of the resources we will share on the Global Accessibility Awareness Day on Thursday 21 May 2020.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.