No person left behind: Identity and inclusion in practice

inclusion and digital identity

The potential for digital identity to enable access to essential services in the digital space cannot be understated. From finance to government services to healthcare, digital verification and authentication offers a diverse range of industries the potential to reduce on-boarding friction and enhance the user journey.

Yet, barriers to inclusion are holding back digital identity systems from offering a universal experience for all users. Even a seemingly minor accessibility barrier can exclude significant numbers of people who are left unable to operate a solution effectively.

Ensuring that biometric and document verification technologies work for users of all skin colours, genders, ages and accessibility needs is essential. It is also vital to review whether a specific device or internet connectivity is required to use a solution effectively. Otherwise, businesses risk excluding any customers who don’t meet these requirements.

Designing for inclusion

Research shows that UK retailers lose out on online sales of £17.1 billion a year by not meeting the accessibility needs of disabled shoppers. People with disabilities, such as visual impairment or visible facial differences, have often had difficulties in using biometric verification solutions that are at the core of many identity systems. While some of these issues have been addressed, challenges still remain.

And there are other barriers that can prevent some people from being able to use digital identity. If an ID solution only works on the latest smartphone model, or operating system, or requires a certain camera spec, then many users will be forced to rely on inconvenient manual verification methods, or be left unable to access a service altogether.

Accessibility must also be considered throughout the development process, especially in the algorithms used to power identity solutions. It has been well documented that AI bias, can result in a poor experience with biometric recognition for women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Comprehensive checks should be done on the exact breakdown of training data sets, including gender and ethnicity percentages, to ensure that these sets are truly representative of the people using the resulting solutions.

Treating inclusion as an afterthought rather than embedding inclusive features holistically throughout an entire solution, will reduce the end-effectiveness of the digital ID. More staff will need to be employed to manage cases the solution cannot process and address complaints from those customers who have been excluded.

A human approach

Of course, even with the best intentions and resources dedicated to ensuring inclusion, there may be a small number of cases where accessibility challenges arise that can’t be quickly or easily resolved. In edge cases such as these, where a unique combination of factors require additional support to identify a person, human assistance could be used to ensure no-one if left behind.

We also have to consider those individuals who don’t have the mental capacity to manage their own digital identity, such as the 50 million individuals worldwide living with dementia.

Can digital identity systems be designed to incorporate a concept of ‘guardianship‘ where a dependent can entrust another individual or organization to manage their digital identity on their behalf, ensuring they can still have access to the services they need.

The real-world incentives to building inclusive digital identity systems are significant. Individuals unable to use digital ID to verify their identity, will be prevented from accessing the benefits afforded by digital credit, savings, healthcare and many more services. Prioritising inclusion benefits businesses, individuals and society.


The conversation continues at Future Identity Finance on 29th March, at Convene at 22 Bishopsgate, London. Join our panel discussions on, ‘The truths about identity and inclusion,’ and ‘The digital identity trifecta: Usability, Accessibility, Experience,’ for more on the important topic.