About Universal Design


[Author: Bill Fischer]

Why It Matters

In this current era, to be a media creator in any capacity requires a working knowledge of design for accessibility. It is simply the right thing to do... and, minimally, it's the law. Universal Design takes it a step further by moving beyond providing separate experiences for persons with disabilities. It instead attempts to provide what everyone deserves; which is to be an equal participant in society. Universal Design is a philosophy that creates the opportunity for the abled and disabled to experience quality media together, at the same time, in the same place, on the same channel.

[ From the World Health Organization ]

"Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives. Overcoming the difficulties faced by people with disabilities requires interventions to remove environmental and social barriers."

Let's create media that maximizes the experiential quality for persons with disabilities and the world at large. That means going beyond compliance with ADA and other regulations which focus on minimal, technical requirements.

Four Pillars Of Universal Design

Enhance Progressively

  • Create the content in a visual narrative form that can be navigated and understood as text alone which can be read or heard. This is sometimes referred to as 'Semantic Design'.
  • Then Enhance the experience with graphics, illustration, motion and additional audio.
  • This enhancement will engage more parts of the brain for those that can receive it through their available senses and physical abilities. This is sometime called multiple modes of access.
  • A fair question to ask might be; if all of the information is in the text, what are the audio-visual components bringing to the experience? There is a research that has shown that different brains process information more or less effectively depending on the type of sensory input that the delivery system is leveraging. Much work has been done in this area, which is called Universal Design for Learning.

Responsive Design

  • Responsive design maximizes the user experience for multiple modes of access. The media can respond to the user no matter what their permanent or temporary disability may be.
  • This approach inevitably leads to a better experience for abled persons as well.
  • Universal design allows disabled persons to participate in society as full members alongside their abled counterparts.

Adapted Design

  • Adapted design provides one or more alternative and separate versions of media that are specifically targeted for persons with specific disabilities.
  • Though this separates the disabled from simultaneous media consumption with their abled counterparts, it is sometimes the only method available due to technology, distribution or budget constraints.

Attainable Design

  • The attainability of information has been supercharged by digital hardware and networks that can deliver searchable media containing text, audio, animation, video, and interactivity in a singular product.
  • The cell phone is the lowest common denominator. If a household owns only one digital device, it is probably a cell phone. Video can deliver text, audio and visual media, and that allows simultaneous multiple modes of access.