Open Content

Inclusive Design

Where to Begin?

Inclusive design not only considers the full range of human diversity, but strives to optimize the unique differences that exist between us in a way that creates conditions that can lead to developing a diverse, but cohesive, global learning community. Rooted in the idea of removing barriers to education, inclusive design supports the full range of humanity and goes hand-in-hand with open education.

So far, this module has prompted you to create an OER vision and to begin searching for existing open resources that you can adopt and adapt for your course. You may also have identified some “gaps” that require the creation of new open content. This section will discuss the importance of adopting, adapting and creating open content with diversity and inclusion in mind — and will share practical strategies you can use to make your open content more inclusive for all learners. For more information about what diversity and inclusion mean, you can read BCcampus’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion statement.

The inclusivity benefits of working with OER:

  • you can adopt content from multiple sources to create a mash-up that represents multiple voices, perspectives and world views;
  • not all existing open resources have been created with accessibility or inclusivity in mind. Thankfully, the open licences associated with OER allow you to adapt this content too;
  • you can create new content with inclusive and accessible design principles right from the beginning(!);
  • … and because OER are perpetually evolving, you can continue to make them more and more inclusive over time — as students change and our world evolves!

What is Inclusive Design?

Please watch the following one-minute introduction to inclusive design. The transcript can be found below the video.

Watch “What is Inclusive Design” on YouTube

Transcript-What is Inclusive Design


The Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) provides this definition of inclusive design:

“Design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.”

In its guiding framework, the IDRC outlines the following three dimensions of inclusive design:

  • Recognize, respect and design with human uniqueness and variability.
  • Use inclusive, open and transparent processes and co-design with people who have a diversity of perspectives — including people who can’t use, or have difficulty using, the current designs.
  • Realize that you are designing in a complex adaptive system. Be aware of the context and broader impact of any design — and strive to effect a beneficial impact beyond the intended beneficiary of the design.

Dimensions of Diversity

The first dimension of inclusive design includes recognizing and respecting the human uniqueness and variability of the user. Think back to your OER vision. Who are your learners? For whom are you creating your OER? Let’s begin to identify the different dimensions of learner diversity now.

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Dimensions of Diversity Word Cloud

Using one word — two if necessary — please contribute a dimension of learner diversity to this Mentimeter poll [new tab]. You will then see the word cloud appear below. To view this word cloud in full-screen mode, simply click on the arrows in the top right corner of the activity.

As we begin to think about dimensions of diversity, it’s important that we remember that nobody is defined by a single dimension of diversity — rather our individual identity is represented by multiple, overlapping and interdependent dimensions. Intersectionality was originally defined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989​):


The palms of two hands with the words "Just Me" written across the palms with other colourful words surrounding
Image by lisa runnels from Pixabay

“Intersectionality promotes an understanding of human beings as shaped by the interaction of different social locations (i.e. race, gender, sexual orientation, geography, age, disability, migration status, religion).”

Look back at the incredible word cloud that we created above and think about how the identity of each of your learners represents a unique intersection of identities and experiences.

The Inclusive Design Process — The Virtuous Tornado

Rather than moving toward a single-design solution, inclusive design is an iterative process that expands a design to encompass more possibility, more means of access and more inclusive dimensions. The virtuous tornado, shown in the image below, describes an upward spiral into which needs, characteristics and perspectives are injected at each design iteration. As the design moves up the spiral it expands to encompass these needs — becoming more and more inclusive in the process.

A diagram showing a spiral in the centre which is getting wider and wider toward the top as it spirals outward. The spiral is split into five vertical and equal sections starting with “cycle 1” at the bottom and ending with “cycle 5” at the top. 5 corresponding injection points are indicated, showing the injection of needs and characteristics at each iteration point of the 5 cycles. At the base of the spiral the words co-design, develop, implement, evaluate and refine are shown forming a foundation. Three arrows move up through the centre of the spiral, from the foundation up and out to the following blocks of text: More resilient designs, more adaptable designs, more innovative designs, more inclusive designs, more accessible designs.
Image by The Inclusive Design Guide created by the community members of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

You can start small. Each time you circle around and move up the spiral you will be stretching the design to encompass more and more voices, perspectives and needs. This design process is exponentially enriched when you co-design and develop with people who have diverse perspectives and experiences — including people who can’t use, or have difficulty using, the current designs.

The overall goal is to create a design that does not compromise the experience of one person to make room for the requirements of another. If you are able to change your design to meet the needs of at least one additional person, you are moving in the right direction. And since OER can be continually updated and modified, this iterative process can be ongoing — as you work to make your content as inclusive as possible.


Diverse and Inclusive Representation in OER — Practical Approaches

The beautiful thing about OER is that we can continually work to make our content more inclusive. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind to ensure that the content of your OER is both diverse and inclusive. 


Citational Practices


Examples and Exercises


Illustrations and Photos


Key Figures in a Field






Terminology and Language


Additional Resources




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Share an Inclusive Design Strategy

In your experience as an educator or as a learner, share a strategy that has made content more inclusive. To contribute, simply double click anywhere on the Padlet below or click the plus (+) button in the bottom right corner of the Padlet. For a more accessible version of this activity, please visit the web version of this “Inclusive Design Strategies” Padlet [new tab].



Now that you’ve reviewed some guidelines — and had the opportunity to learn about inclusive design strategies used by others (in our collaborative Padlet) — it’s time to apply these inclusive design principles to your own OER course plan.


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Include Inclusive Design Elements in Your OER Course Plan

  1. Return to your vision and think again about the following:

    • For whom are you creating? What type of OER are you planning?

  2. Consider what you’ve learned about inclusive design.

  3. Complete Part 4 of your OER course planner. Examine the existing OER you have found and consider ways you can adapt that material to make it more inclusive. For the material that you need to create from scratch, make notes about the inclusive design elements that will be incorporated right from the beginning of the creation process.
  4. Lastly, reflect on who else might be able to join your OER development process to make the design and development a more collaborative and inclusive process.



Crenshaw, Kimberle (1989) “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989 , Article 8.
Available at:



This page adapts and builds upon the work of:

Getting Started: OER Publishing at BCcampus by BCcampus OER Production Team is licensed under a CC BY 4.0

Where to begin? by the Inclusive Design Research Centre is licensed under CC BY 2.5 CA

The Inclusive Design Guide created by the community members of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Three Dimensions of Inclusive Design by Inclusive Design Research Centre is licensed under CC BY 4.0

The Three Dimensions of Inclusive Design: Part One by Jutta Treviranus is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Extending Into the Open Copyright © 2022 by Paula Demacio; Alissa Bigelow; Tricia Bonner; and Shauna Roch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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