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.

Fromer service designer at Scottish Enterprise.

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.