6 Takeaways from TLDC’s Accessible & Inclusive Design Conference

#AIDC21. Dice that spell "exclusion," but a person is turning over the "e" and "x" to make the word "inclusion."
In this post, I’ll share my top six takeaways from AIDC21, along with many memorable quotes.

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Have you heard any of these excuses?

  • “Accessibility is out of scope. We don’t have the budget for it.”
  • “We don’t have time to make the course accessible.”
  • “We don’t have anyone with disabilities in our company.”
  • “You can’t do this job if you’re blind, so we don’t need to worry about accessibility.”

The speakers at TLDC’s first-ever Accessible & Inclusive Design Conference tackled these myths and more. They emphasized that accessibility is the right thing to do and an essential part of good design.

AIDC21 was an inspiring event with many, many pearls of wisdom that I couldn’t possibly capture in one post. Many thanks to Luis Malbas for creating the event and for everything he does at TLDC! In this post, I’ll share my top six takeaways, along with many memorable quotes.

Be sure to watch the recordings when they’re available at TLDC’s website, and check the end of this post for a long list of resources shared throughout the day.

“How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?” —Steve Krug

1. Are We Ignoring the Largest Minority Group in Existence?

As several of the presenters mentioned, disabled people represent a much larger percentage of the population than most people think. According to the CDC, about 26% of adults in the US have at least one disability. That’s 61 million people!

Disabled people make up 12% of the workforce. Considering how many go undiagnosed or do not report their disabilities, these numbers are likely much higher. When we factor in temporary and situational disabilities, it’s hard to believe so many organizations are still creating inaccessible learning experiences.

“1.3 billion disabled people worldwide is not a niche. It’s a demographic megatrend.” –Neil Milliken

2. Inclusive Design Helps Everyone

Did you know the invention of texting was for deaf people? I didn’t, until the presentation from Gwen Navarette Klapperich about going beyond accessibility to reach all learners. We all benefit from many innovations originally designed for disabled people, such as curb cuts, closed captions, and audiobooks.

Gwen compared universal design for learning (UDL) to dining in a restaurant. Each diner can ask for substitutions and order what they want. Everyone has an equitable experience, even though they have different plates. However, she pointed out that most training is like a fixed menu, made with the “average” learner in mind. On the other hand, UDL asks us to consider people who are on the margins.

“No matter the question, ‘make it accessible’ is always a right answer.” —Sheri Byrne-Haber

3. Build in Accessibility from the Start

If there was a theme for the day, it was that accessibility cannot be an afterthought or add-on. Almost every speaker emphasized that we must design for accessibility from the start. Trying to tack it on at the end takes more time and costs more money—which adds to the common objection (and misconception) that accessibility is cost-prohibitive. It’s really not, if it’s factored in from the beginning. As Amy Lomellini said, accessibility is “about making better decisions throughout the design process.”

4. Nothing About Us Without Us

The popular slogan used during the disability rights movement means that no one should make decisions that affect people with disabilities without consulting those people. Inclusive design means considering a wide range of perspectives. To do that, we need to include end users in the design and testing of our courses—including users with disabilities.

TLDC exemplified this advice by including people with disabilities on the Advisory Board that planned the conference. The schedule also included a panel of speakers with disabilities, which I had the pleasure of hosting. Each panelist shared the accessibility challenges they have faced in their own learning experiences. They also shared advice on how to design for various types of disabilities.

In the keynote presentation, Sheri Byrne-Haber discussed several popular screen readers and the importance of testing courses with those tools. She also pointed out the value of watching an assistive technology user go through our courses. She and Diane Elkins stressed the importance of including disabled people in design and testing.

Not sure where to find usability testers with disabilities? Start by asking learners in your organization. (However, do not require people to provide information about their disabilities.) There are also companies that specialize in accessibility testing. The resource list at the end of this post includes a few such companies. 

5. We Need to Reframe Our Thinking

If your organization is still thinking about accessibility in terms of “compliance,” are you really creating inclusive learning opportunities, where every learner is valued and belongs? We must look at accessibility through a lens of compassion rather than compliance. This idea was reiterated throughout the day at AIDC21.

While checklists might be helpful for ensuring that a course is accessible, a checklist cannot capture everything. And although the threat of a lawsuit might be a good financial motivator, it shouldn’t be the primary reason for creating accessible learning experiences. If it is, then you’re likely to design courses that satisfy the bare minimum requirements. They might meet the letter of the law without fulfilling the spirit of the accessibility guidelines—or being user-friendly.

For example, relying solely on autocaptions (or “autocraptions,” as Meryl Evans calls them) might satisfy an item on your accessibility checklist, but are they really benefiting the learner?

6. We're Out of Excuses

As Brian Dusablon emphasized, there’s no reason NOT to create accessible learning experiences. We should at least try our best to get it right. Plenty of resources exist to help us. 

Susi Miller shared a quote she’d seen on social media, pointing out the flimsiness of the excuse that accessibility is more work. If our courses aren’t accessible, they’re unfinished.

"Accessibility isn't more work, you were just cutting corners before. The work was incomplete." Tweet by @McgarrDana, April 29.
"Accessibility isn't more work, you were just cutting corners before. The work was incomplete." Tweet by @McgarrDana

Amy Lomellini shared ways to get buy-in for inclusive design, and Diane Elkins pointed out that changing our verbiage to “access” might eliminate the baggage that some decision makers associate with the word “accessibility.”

She urged us to ask, “Who deserves access to professional development opportunities?” The answer is, of course, everyone. How can a boss or a client say any different when we phrase the question that way?


If you couldn’t attend AIDC21, I hope you will watch the recordings when they’re available. It was a truly amazing event filled with expert speakers, practical advice, and the kind of motivation that’s a big ole kick in the seat of the pants to do better. 

Be sure to download the list of resources mentioned by the speakers and participants throughout the day. 


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