Universal Media Design Overview


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 it's the law. Universal Design takes it a step further by moving beyond separate experiences for persons with disabilities. It attempts to provide what everyone deserves; which is to be an equal participant in society. Universal Design is a philosophy that provides the opportunity for the abled and disabled to experience 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."

Responsive versus Adaptive Design

Responsive design allows for the abled and disabled to experience media together. Adaptive design offers multiple modes of access to media to accommodate special needs and is used when a universal, shared, experience is not viable due to technology, costs or other reasons.

Multiple Modes of Access

The concept of multiple modes of access involves creating multiple means for engagement that can be accessed by persons with multiple means of sensory abilities. It is a judgement call as to how different modes can provide a qualitatively equal experience. Comparing a VR app to a website or an instructional video to a text document or an interactive game to one on one tutoring is like comparing apples to oranges. What we must do is apply our best creative and production processes within the capabilities of each medium in which we are producing.

Universal Design advocate Jean Hanks likes to use the Harry Potter franchise as an example. When fans are asked which they prefer; the books or the films, the most typical response is that they are different but qualitatively equal experiences.