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December 21, 2017

Universal Design - What's in it for me??

By CIO Council Operations


This blog entry was originally published on December 20, 2017 on GSA’s Section 508 blog. This is the second part of a two-part series about Universal Design

Chief Information Officers

In private and public spaces, the role of the CIO is morphing in line with changing technologies and priorities. Today, CIOs now operate more as business managers or brokers, responsible for defining information technology (IT) strategy and administering and implementing digital services.

A recent survey conducted by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) highlighted that an overwhelming 78 percent of respondents said the CIO is responsible for leading or participating in policy setting when it comes to digital services. CIOs have the power to shape IT accessibility policy in the digital services conversation.

For the CIO, prioritizing accessibility and Universal Design will instill a process where tools are designed with the user experience at the forefront, enabling agencies to build economical, innovative and empowering solutions.

Chief Acquisition Officers

Communicating the business case for buying and implementing accessible workplace technology starts with procurement. Commit to buying technology that’s built with Universal Design principles, allowing CAOs to better serve your agency’s mission.

For the CAO, Universal Design is a best practice that reaches the maximum number of users or citizens who use a particular tool. Start with Universal Design up-front to avoid legal vulnerabilities, and save the time and money required to make inaccessible products accessible on the back-end. Buying products designed using Universal Design principles is easy and should be standard operating procedure for all federal procurement. PEAT has a one-stop-shop, Buy IT!, outlines eight steps to develop a procurement process that prioritizes accessibility and usability.

Chief Human Capital Officers

Adopting Universal Design for accessibility empowers HR teams and enables agencies to better serve customers and job candidates. Whether in the recruitment process, onboarding or using eLearning tools, Universal Design should play a key part in creating an inclusive agency.

Time and resources spent recruiting people with disabilities are wasted if the workplace isn’t designed for everyone. Accessible workplaces and tools promote greater diversity, better retention, and a more productive workforce. Looking toward the future, the millennial workforce expects accessibility and Universal Design to be part of their workplace, built into technologies in ways that foster an inclusive working environment.

IT Developers and Designers

Let’s link the conversation to the people who will actually implement universal design: IT developers and designers. As a recognized and leading practice in the technology industry, Universal Design is a concept that IT developers and designers need to be aware of. By aligning strategic priorities and technical skillsets, developers are granted a mandate to create innovative products that can be used by more people regardless of disability status. Solutions that are accessible from the beginning help your agency avoid redesign and development costs, since accurate requirements about the complete user experience are captured up front.

Section 508 Coordinators

Accessibility is a key benefit of Universal Design, which is a growing focus across government. Universal Design can help program managers see accessibility as a way to achieve their mission and benefit the most people, instead of as a burden.


For the user, whether they have a disability or not, using a universally designed product enables greater ease, convenience and efficiency.

In sum, Universal Design is an approach that should be more widely recognized and built into the federal procurement, design and implementation. Greater connection between accessibility and Universal Design can be achieved through better promotion and prioritization in digital services strategy and procurement, and advocacy from agency executives and leaders. In a post-508 Refresh world, CIOs should be empowered to promote Universal Design and build this approach into digital strategies across the federal space, to create accessible, convenient and inclusive environments for all.

To learn more about Universal Design, check out part one of the series: Universal Design: What is it?

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