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Universal Design - What is it?

December 20, 2017 - Posted by: CIO Council Operations

This blog entry by Jeyapriya Suruliyandi, was originally published on December 13, 2017 on GSA’s Section 508 blog.

The year is 2017. The advancement of technology, led by key players in the private sector, has introduced innovations that have made applications more accessible for people with disabilities.

Companies have pledged to implement accessible technology, pushing the technology industry to prioritize accessibility. Examples of this commitment include: Creating design toolkits and activities checklists to help businesses shift their design thinking toward more universal solutions and applications. For individuals with color vision impairment and color blindness, using Color Universal Design (CUD) to help users edit images and ensure graphical information is conveyed accurately. Launching accessibility initiatives so that customers can learn about accessible products through whitepapers and demos, understand how to configure products to achieve an accessible output, and view Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs) to reinforce how products meet Section 508 and WCAG 1.0 and WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

With nearly 1 in 8 people in the U.S. known to have a disability, there is a huge incentive for businesses, and the government, to invest in accessible technology to ensure that working environments are inclusive and available to all user groups. However, organizations often overlook key design areas related to accessibility when implementing these new technologies, which leads to overspending in the long term to rectify early design decisions.

The solution? Universal Design! This approach ensures that the complete user experience is captured at every stage of the implementation process, and it’s gaining widespread popularity in the private sector. The result is a solution designed with all users in mind.

Universal Design is: “The design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.”

While Universal Design can be applied to any product, whether that be a building, service or tool, solutions designed using this approach serve not only the needs of a single minority group, but create an environment that is accessible and convenient for all. All in all, Universal Design is a good design.

Universal Design is based on these 7 Principles:

1) Equitable Use – The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. 2) Flexibility in Use – The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. 3) Simple and Intuitive Use – Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level. 4) Perceptible Information – The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. 5) Tolerance for Error – The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. 6) Low Physical Effort – The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue. 7) Size and Space for Approach and Use – Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

The Revised 508 standards, in line with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, offer an opportunity for agencies to define and revamp approaches towards accessible technology using Universal Design principles. Key players, such as federal Chief Information Officers (CIO), can help to prioritize and shape this strategy within agencies, and push existing practices beyond compliance.

To learn more about Universal Design and how executives and agencies can benefit from incorporating Universal Design into their digital accessibility strategy, check out part two of the series: Universal Design: What’s in it for me?