Inclusion as a design principle

By the Researcher Development Team

a welcome banner

The University of Glasgow’s Strategy 2025 asks us to lead with our values and put people first in recognition that ideas flow more freely when our staff and students feel valued and supported.

As such, and as inclusive educators, the Researcher Development Team is keenly committed to ensuring that all our events and learning spaces are accessible, supportive, inclusive spaces where all participants can be at their best.

We recognise thought, that it can be difficult to know where to start, or what to prioritise, even when encouraged by the benefits inclusivity brings, inspired by gold-standard inclusive events designs and guided by the legal requirements for accessibility and inclusion (The Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations, 2018)

Having gone on this journey ourselves over the last few years, we wanted to help you to examine how the events and learning environments you are responsible for can be more inclusive, and to make a change by addressing one small thing at a time. This list is not exhaustive. It represents our minimum standard. Our learning about, and commitment to, inclusivity and accessibility is a work in progress. You can tell us in the comments what we have missed.

A. Basic principles

As a first step, why not make sure that your institutional Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training is up to date. This will remind you of the big picture issues and your role and legal obligations in creating inclusive working and learning environments.

Making events inclusive and accessible by design means that we anticipate and mitigate direct and indirect discrimination, and cater for a range of participant needs as part of the design process, rather than simply reacting to requests or complaints. This means that all colleagues feel like they belong in your (online) classroom or at your event, from the outset, and don’t have to do extra unpaid work to advise or complain, or disclose personal information to you, to ensure they can take part. However, we still want to encourage dialogue where needed, and learn from our colleagues, so a simple ‘how can we make this event more inclusive and accessible to you?’ question on the booking form, reminder email, or evaluation form, allows this to take place.

Co-design. And co-lead. If you are engaging a group of people in learning, or professional development, get them involved. Your design will be better, more relevant, more tailored, and more credible. Co-designers and co-leads can help you with recognising…

(1) Privilege and Bias. These aren’t just EDI buzz words; they are incredibly useful professional tools for reflection that will help you to examine your practice and make good decisions about the design of your programme or event. They are useful because they help us locate the assumptions we make about what people need, what they can do, and how they interact.

(2) The right language. Run your pre, during, and post materials past others to ensure that it is inclusive to everyone including those joining from different educational cultures and those for whom English is not a first language: check your inclusion terminology is up to date, expand acronyms, avoid jargon and try to minimise metaphors and aphorisms.

(3) Microaggressions. Microaggression is a term used for commonplace daily verbal, behavioural or environmental slights, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups. Take care to recognise and eradicate these form your work.

(4) A range of different perspectives. When you bring together a teaching team, seminar series, panel members, competition judges, or conference speakers, consciously include a range of people. Consider for example ethnicity, disability, gender, socioeconomic background, nationality and age, as well as specialisms, career stage, and location. Get organised in advance so you can consult your networks if you find you don’t personally have all the contacts needed to pull together a diverse team, panel or event.

(5) Where work is needed on your online or presentation images. Communicate that your programme or event is welcoming to all through your choice of photo images. As well as the usual free photo repositories, see:

B. Set expectations with your facilitators, Chairs, presenters and participants.

Aims and methods. Let people know what the session aims to achieve, and how the different activities included will support this aim. Make sure that participants know if they will need to prepare something in advance, that they will need microphones or cameras, or if they will be asked to speak publicly.

Offer a session summary and/or content warnings for any topics, content, or images that could be considered sensitive or upsetting. If in doubt, signal it. Fair warning allows participants to manage their own engagement with the materials.

Avoid last minute changes to the format, schedule, times or venue and communicate all of the details well in advance to set expectations and to allow your participants to plan in advance.

Your considered design can be undermined if no one knows about the reasons behind your choices. Consider developing a Code of Conduct/Practice that makes it clear that it’s everyone’s responsibility to be inclusive, what that means in practice, and what will happen if someone does something that contravenes the Code. Beginning with an accessibility statement and an inclusivity statement (an example is in this template for a conference code of conduct), your Code should establish the tone of the event, clearly, from the outset. You may also want to mention, as appropriate: Physical and Digital Accessibility; Confidentiality or disclosure of any sensitive information; Use of personal pronouns and professional titles, and expectations that participants will learn and pronounce names correctly; Use of respectful language when discussing difference; How to make a request for support.

C. Physical Accessibility

Timing and scheduling. Scheduling outside of core hours (10am–4pm at UofG) may mean that colleagues are excluded from attending all or part of your event. Remember to try to avoid school holidays, religious holidays (see this handy and helpful calendar!) and Fridays (many people with flexible working patterns don’t work on Fridays). Could you offer a choice of repeat sessions? Or vary a series of regular sessions over different days and times? Consider those on short, fixed term contracts who may be excluded by a programme that requires a year’s sign up (a common length for a mentoring programme for example).

Provide accurate information on accessibility in advance of your session or event, to enable planning ahead. For example, outline whether there are steps to the venue or speaker platform, hearing loops, the locations of toilets (including gender neutral facilities, and cubicles containing sinks), lifts, ramps, disabled parking, if a quiet area will be available or if water is freely available. Make use of your University’s Accessibility information and maps.

Physical comfort. Consider that participants may feel uncomfortable if asked to pay attention, stay seated, remain standing, work outside, walk, or sit on the floor for any length of time. Provide options, enable choice, schedule regular breaks and be explicit about it being acceptable to choose to be present in a way that is most enabling for each individual. Take into consideration that, if a networking (or lunch) session is envisaged as a standing event, it will not be at eye level for wheelchair users, and it may be challenging for someone with a mobility device to eat while holding a plate.

Try and be ok with people needing to move around, multitask or use devices, or to leave the room for a while. Don’t assume they are disinterested.

D. Digital Accessibility

All digital content (before, during and after your event, course or workshop) should comply with the Digital Accessibility Regulations (2018). Here’s a breakdown of how to do this on the UofG web pages. And here are some ideas and handy guides to digital accessibility, to support you to create digital experiences and materials that everyone can make the most of:

Make presentations and handouts available in advance, or at least at the start of the session, so that participants can set up screen readers, take time to process complex concepts or instructions, or alert you to any inaccessible language or images that need your attention. Avoid situations where long or complex reading takes place during the session. Make required reading available well in advance.

Using the Microsoft Accessibility Checker (Tools > Check Accessibility) is an absolute must. And run your content through a screen reader (e.g. in Word, Review > Read Aloud) before the event.

Live captioning on zoom is a must. Consider those events where a skilled live captioner, or British Sign Language interpreters would provide an even better translation experience.

Adjusting subtitles on YouTube. Videos should always be subtitled. Check and adjust auto-generated captions for accuracy, especially when it comes to names, technical terms or professional jargon.

Writing good Alt Text. Ensure there is ‘Alt’ (alternate) text for all images, including in images used on all social media, and don’t use non-standard fonts, symbols and emojis in the text as these are read out by screen readers as long strings of frustrating code.

Consider using facilitated methods for generating discussion at your event, such as mentimeter, slido, or padlet, which can anonymise the participants, generate valuable interactivity amongst attendees, capture the discussion for those who’d like to refer back to it, and allow more equitable use of Question and Answer time. Allow for pre/post engagement with these aspects, as participants joining on mobile devices will often not have access to the chat function, or the privilege of two screens or multiple windows.

Try and be ok with people needing to be camera off, or mic off during online sessions. We don’t always have a work-space to ourselves, and we don’t always have full control of our home-working environment.

Creative Commons licensing or other open access publishing will help others to reuse your materials, and also to share back with you.

E. What more can we do?

Pricing. Is your event affordable? Who might the price band exclude? Are there pre-requisites or requirements that add costs? Can you offer subsidised places?

Childcare. Make a statement acknowledging the complexity of balancing home working lives and welcome any children or cared for people who make an appearance. For in person events, consider providing a crèche for the duration of the conference, or making other adjustments (e.g. allowing partners to attend, or provision of breastfeeding facilities). Avoid school holidays and school run times where you can.

Assistants. Some participants may work best if enabled by an assistant, and the assistant’s place(s) at the event should always be free of charge.

Dietary requirements. Gather dietary requirements in advance of your event to ensure that the refreshments served are suitable for a variety of dietary requirements, and are clearly labelled. Make sure that networking time includes non-alcoholic alternatives. If some participants are fasting (e.g. for Ramadan), you may wish to offer them access to food at a later point in the day, a quiet room at lunchtime away from the food, or a discount on their ticket price.

Time out, and religious facilities. Identify the nearest quiet space, reflection, or prayer facilities and highlight these.

So, what have we missed? Let us know in the comments or complete our open, anonymous feedback form.

One response to “Inclusion as a design principle”

  1. […] alignment of timing, communication, and messaging. There’s bound to be more we can do to promote inclusion, accessibility, flexibility and choice too, we are striving to create an engaging, complete, and navigable self-paced version of the […]

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