The over 7 billion individuals that live in our planet today are anything but uniform. Sex, gender, age, dis/ability, economic status, culture, ethnic origin etc. influence how individuals perceive and interact with their environment. At the same time, the contexts in which human beings – in all their diversity – live, are dynamic and diverse – determined by a variety of factors such as level of conflict, centrality/remoteness, physical geography, political system and degree of stability, natural resources, infrastructure, climate etc. The diversity of both human beings and their environments result in uncountable ways of how individuals perceive and interact with their context, in short – each of us works and lives differently, and our individual histories and development pathways are inherently different.
History teaches us that exclusion increases inequalities; therefore, it not only negatively affects the lives of individuals, but it is also a threat to global peace and security. As a consequence, for the world to have peace and meaningful sustainable development, inclusion, respect for diversity, participation, and accessibility for all must be at the centre of human activities and decision-making processes at all levels. The formation of the United Nations in 1945, as an institution that aims at promoting peace, security, Human Rights, equality, equity, inclusion, and diversity, the continuous evolvement of the Human Rights regime, and the development of the Sustainable Development Goals collectively form a framework that enables us to work towards a world where no one is left behind in sharing resources and power at all levels. Through this framework, governments and their agencies, private sector actors, and civil society are encouraged to base the design of strategies, policies, plans, programs, and activities on inclusion-considerations.
Inclusion-by-design is a progressive process that starts with the recognition that individuals that make up a population have different needs, abilities, and capabilities, that the contexts that they live in differ and that their environments are dynamic. Comprehensive assessments of individual needs, abilities, and capabilities as well as context and environments enable governments, businesses, NGOs, and other actors to develop strategies, plans and activities that are relevant and usable for as many diverse individuals as possible thereby enhancing access and participation. If inclusion is considered already at design level – and not at a later stage merely as an add-on – it can be accomplished in a cost-efficient way, thus increasing not only the effectiveness, but also the efficiency of any policy measure or program.
Inclusion for all and recognition of diversity in the social, economic, political, and cultural aspects of society benefits a wide variety of stakeholders.
Governments can benefit from inclusive policies and programs as they can help them fulfil their obligations with regards to meeting the needs of diverse populations in a more effective way. They can achieve more inclusive development by fostering and supporting an accessible environment for all and by applying inclusion as a standard principle in the design of public policies and programmes.
Inclusion-by-design also brings benefits for the private sector as it opens-up new markets for small, medium, and large enterprise, therefore increasing their profits. Companies that invest into making the design of their products and services inclusive, better meet the needs of diverse populations, therefore increasing their market outreach or entering specific market segments previously unattended. Private companies that embrace inclusive design will also be more successful in government procurement processes, as government entities increasingly adopt accessibility requirements in public procurement (e.g. EU standard 301.549 on accessibility requirements in public procurement of ICT services and goods, and similar provisions in section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act 1973).
Civil society actors have a social responsibility to promote participation and access to resources and services by all. Through adopting a deliberate inclusive-design approach, civil society actors can develop programs and activities that effectively reach-out to the most vulnerability citizens, while preventing negative effect on the communities that they work with.
Communities that embrace diversity are more likely to experience social peace, and benefit from development and innovation. When all members can participate in community activities, the development of activities and products will benefit from the input of individuals with different cultural background, skills, and ways of thinking. This promotes creativity and innovation in the design and production of goods and services, and, as a consequence, communities benefit from a wider range of goods and services that better serve their different needs. Wide participation in employment and consumption also results in higher tax contributions – a pre-condition for sustainable social services and protection.
Individual community members benefit from an inclusive environment as inclusively designed public policies and spaces allow better distribution of access to education and labour opportunities as well as access to family care duties, thereby giving all community members more space to participate in community life. Inclusively designed programs also reduce undue burden on families due to exclusion of family members from opportunities to participate in work, education or community life, and all family members can enjoy an adequate standard of living, because the program design responds better to individual needs.
Individuals also benefit from more opportunities to live independently and participate meaningfully in all aspects of life. Increased participation contributes to the overall development of communities, as previously marginalized, excluded community members start to purchase goods and services, pay taxes and participate in voluntary community activities.
However, inclusion-by-design does not only benefit governments, business, NGOs, communities and individuals – it also promotes global peace and security. Inclusion and accessibility are not matters of choices, but obligations and responsibilities that must be fulfilled by all relevant stakeholders for the good of societies and individuals alike.