Raising Awareness of the Economic Advantages of Universal
November 16, 2000
I want to thank everyone for coming this morning.
I am sure that some of you are wondering who I am, and what I am doing here…
Well let me give you a brief history of how I got interested in the
principles of Universal Design and how they apply to my everyday existence….
I work for AT&T WorldNet Service <http://www.worldnet.att.net
> I have as part of my job responsibility
for implementation of accessibility for electronic and information technology
within AT&T and
within WorldNet Service. I help support customers with disabilities and help to
make sure our services are accessible to the largest audience possible. I have
several disabilities so I am familiar with disability issues and accessibility
of products and services on a first hand basis.
I am also a systems analyst and former programmer with 20 years experience so
I am familiar with the processes involved with building and maintaining computer
I have been involved with the Internet Society
<http://www.isoc.org> for several years
helping to raise the awareness of issues involved with people with disabilities
accessing the Internet using Universal Design Principles as defined by the Seven
Principles set forth by the Center for Universal Design at NCSU. <http://www.design.ncsu.edu:8120/cud/univ_design/princ_overview.htm
My real interest in accessibility of computer products began when started to
investigate the way people with disabilities use the Internet in general and the
World Wide Web in particular. It is a fascinating journey that opened my eyes to
a new world. A world I had never considered before and I am sure many others
have not considered to this day.
I had barely begun this journey when I met Larry Trachtman of the Center for
Universal Design at North Carolina State University < http://www.design.ncsu.edu/
> and he gave
me my first taste of what Universal Design is, and what it can do. He took the
time to help me gain a better understanding of the Principles of Universal
Design and the way it could be used to make the Internet more accessible to the
largest audience possible.
Shortly thereafter I was present when the W3C announced the Web Accessibility
Initiative < http://www.w3.org?WAI
in San Jose, California, and I met a number of people who are
prominent in the field of Universal Design.
As the WAI progressed it became apparent to me that the
Principles of Universal Design were having a significant and positive influence
on the work being done at the W3C. As the work progressed, so did my interest in
It has also become apparent to me that the awareness of the Principles of
Universal Design, and the advantages they offer is quite low amongst both the
general public and the mainstream press. This is a state of affairs that all of
us must work to change.
What Has Been Done
It has been a number of years since the principles of Universal Design were
first articulated. There has been a huge amount of progress since then in every
area in which Universal Design has been used.
But the technical implementation is only part of the problem. There is
another area in which much remains to be done. This is the area of public
awareness of the advantages of Universal Design, in particular the economic
advantages to be gained from the use of Universal Design.
Let us first however talk about two well-known and topical design failures.
How many people in here can program their VCR?
A clear, clean, consistent voter interface implemented on a nationwide basis,
could have prevented the recent confusion in our national election.
The amount work done to implement Universal Design in the last 30 years has
been enormous. There is no question that there has been an impact on the design
of Electronic and Information Technology as well as every other field touched by
Universal Design. There have been many notable developments.
A. The articulation of the Principles of Universal Design By NCSU has
clearly been responsible for the helping to create the successes of the
Universal Design Principles wherever they are used. The seven principles
are listed below:
1. Equitable Use
2. Flexibility of Use
3. Simple and Intuitive
4. Perceptible Information
5. Tolerance for Error
6. Low Physical Effort
7. Size and Space for Approach
B. W3C WAI and the Guidelines Developed have had a
major impact on keeping many websites accessible to people with disabilities and
is perhaps the de facto standard for developing accessible web sites.
C. The ISOC/UNESCO Paper recently presented at the Info Ethics
conference in Paris, which highlights the use of Universal Design principles to
help erase the Digital Divide on a global basis. This is a case where the
Principles of Universal Design are being brought to the table early in order to
make sure they are incorporated into the process from the beginning. This is an
effort by the Internet to Society to see that Universal Design Principles are
used to help implement an “Internet for Everyone”.
These are all examples of how Universal Design has been used to improve
products or services or to influence design efforts.
However there is a huge problem that we have yet to solve. This problem has
become excruciatingly apparent to me in the last 12 months. There is a lack of
awareness of what Universal Design is, and what it costs to implement.
On four separate occasions that I have been involved in, the mistaken notion
that Universal Design is difficult and expensive to implement has been used to try to slow
down the implementation and deployment of accessible electronic and information
technology for people with disabilities.
1. House Hearings on Web Accessibility in February of this year. There was
a heavy emphasis on the myth that accessible web requires high bandwidth.
2. In the production of UN UNESCO paper presented on the Digital Divide, we
again saw the mistaken notion that accessible web would require high
3. Congressional Subsidies of Cable Deployment were going to be tied to
notion that accessibility requires high bandwidth.
4. There is a misunderstanding that accessibility applies only to people
with disabilities and not to alternate access devices or those in an
environment that has disabled one or more of their senses. Understanding
this, and applying the Principle of Universal Design to the design of
alternate access devices will ensure the most economically advantages
situation for both those who use them and those who produce and sell
them This is not yet understood by most manufacturers.
What Needs to Be Done
Let me define what I mean be economic advantages. It is apparent to me that
products designed to be used by the largest audience possible are going to be
the most cost effective products to design and produce. Designing separate
products for different audiences is expensive and time consuming and surely lead
to higher priced products with a smaller audience. Retrofitting products and
services after their deployment is prohibitively expensive and can be obviously
avoided by applying the principles of Universal Design to the original product
I doubt that there is anyone in the audience that does not know this better
than I do. The problem is that most of the general public does not know this and
further more has little or no knowledge of what the principles of Universal
Design are, and what their use can achieve.
The mainstream press is equally uniformed for the most part. However there
may be some hope of this. Occasional articles appear here and there but I see no
evidence of wide spread interest of knowledge in the application of Universal Design
Principles. This must change.
In addition to regular market forces there is going to be ripple effect from
of Section 508 on federal, state, and local governments as well as vendors to
those markets. A great deal more can be learned about this subject if you visit
the works of Cynthia Waddell < http://www.icdri.org/cynthia_waddell.htm
>to be found on the ICDRI < http://www.icdri.org
> web site.
Solutions for dispelling the low awareness of UD.
Follow-through on the commitment made last month by 25 U. S. Research
Universities < http://www.icdri.org/dd_universitystudy_letter_sen.htm
> to implement Universal Design coursework and expand research and education in the field of
Universal Design and to insure that these universities provide accessible online
Literature and emphasis on the ways Universal Design can produce easy to use
Human to computer interfaces
is desperately needed. It should be presented
in a way the non-technical public can understand it. The average member of the
public is a person who will use a computer but is not a power user, more likely
than not they will be somewhat intimidated by the computer and the software. One
of the challenges ahead is to make this interface easy to use and
non-intimidating. A good way to help accomplish this to make people aware of
Universal Design Principles and how they can make the interfaces that we all use
to access computer technology easier to use and easier to understand. If the
public understands this and there are genuine efforts by product manufacturers
to incorporate their input into product design, then great progress will be made
in this area.
Events to teach the public Universal Design is not expensive
and has great advantages,
such as the exhibit last year at the Cooper Hewitt Museum at
Press coverage to shine the spotlight on Universal Design
and Universal Design e fforts. The press
needs to be educated on the application and advantages of Universal Design Principles.
Hopefully the Digital Divide Supplement in the New York Times, which is to be
published on November 20, will help to give Universal Design a wider audience.
Efforts to relate Universal Design and the “real” world
to the public at large are
needed as well. If the public understands the advantages they will gain if
products and services are designed using Universal Design Principles, they can help increase
the acceptance of these principles by placing pressure on companies that produce
consumer goods and services to accept and use these principles.
Education of Decision Makers
is critical to widening the use of Universal
Design Principles in the design and deployment of accessible consumer products
and services, especially those based on electronic and information technology.
With their support there is a much better chance that Universal Design
Principles will be accepted and implemented. Even though there has been some
acceptance of these principles by some major corporations, there is still not
enough use of the principles in the designing of products and services. In a
letter to President Clinton < http://www.icdri.org/an_open_letter_on_accessibility_.htm
> the CEO’s
of 45 high tech companies have committed to providing more accessible products
and services; this is a prime market for the use of Universal Design.
Production of Papers on how to implement Universal Design
and accessible products and
services. While there are many people producing papers on the technical aspects
of Universal Design and Accessibility, there are few resources available to help
implement Universal Design and Accessibility. One such resource can be found in
Cynthia Waddell’s works at: http://www.icdri.org/SL508overview.html
. Many more papers and presentations are needed to help implement both
Universal Design and accessibility into organizations in such a way that it
becomes a normal part of the design and implementation process.
A program is needed for the education of legislators
as to the economic
advantages of Universal Design. It is important the legislators on all levels
understand the value of Universal Design. They need to understand what it is,
and how it can benefit everyone on both a technical level and an economic level.
If we can bring them to a better understanding of what Universal Design is, and
what it can do, then some of the myths surrounding Universal Design will no
longer be a barrier to its implementation. A good example of this would be the
Digital Signature Bill, which defined access in terms of hardware and software
and failed to recognize web sites must be coded for accessibility in order for
end users understand all the terms of the contracts into which they might be
entering. Anyone who is interested in further information on this should check
web site for the commentary on this law and the text of the Internet Society
press release referring to the issues involved with this law. In addition to
this when emailing legislators on this subject, it was found that the reply form
used by many federal legislators was in itself inaccessible.
Education of the Technical Community is sorely needed. I can tell you
that very few of the designers and programmers I talk to have ever heard of
Universal Design. We need to make more effort to change this state of affairs.
The greater the understanding that is existent in the technical community the
greater the will be the implementation of Universal Design Principles in everyday products.
How Universal Design can help in standards development. As standards are developed in
the field of electronic and information technology, it is important to develop
these standards along the lines dictated by Universal Design Principles. Just as was done recently with the HFES 200 Proposed standard for software
user interfaces and as is being done now with the NCITS V2 Committee.
Education on How Universal Design Principles can help erase the Digital Divide. The
Digital Divide is getting a good deal of press lately. This is a premier
opportunity to make the public aware of how Universal Design can help to solve
these problems in an economically feasible manner.
A comprehensive listing of products developed using
Universal Design Principles
not only be of great help to the public at large, but would be useful to other
A best practices collection for the Use and implementation of UD.
as far as I know there is no best practices collection for those who are
interested in implementing Universal Design Concepts. I would like to see a
collection of the best practices in the field, collected and maintained by a
board of recognized experts, and a tutorial that is available that gives a good
overview of the concepts so everyone could understand the general concepts of Universal Design
I would like to see more ways to encourage the public to participate in the
design process. From my experience the public has little input into the
design of many products. Considering that they are the purchasers and users of
these products this seems to me to be huge gap in the design process. I have
some experience in retail sales and I can tell you that many members of the
public are highly frustrated with the fact that they feel they have no input on
product design and as a result the products do little to meet their needs.
Whether or not this is true, is not important, what is important is that many
people feel this is the truth. This needs to change and methods need to be
developed that will allow more input by the public into product design. There
needs to be an understanding that design must meet the users needs, standards
are no good if they do not promote usable products. This is the role that
Universal Design can fill. It can insure that the products that are designed are
usable by the largest audience possible.
Acceptance and implementation of Universal Design
Principles by Government and Corporate
This will require more than top-level acceptance and lip service
to Universal Design Principles. For these principles to work they must be accepted and used in
organizations in a pervasive manner. There is movement in this area in the form
of the Section 508 rulemaking, various states across the country adopting
accessible IT architecture, and the letter to President Clinton from the 45
It is worth noting at this point, that as far as
web accessibility goes most of this started from a pioneer movement directed
by Cynthia Waddell in San Jose, California to make their websites accessible
according to Universal Design Principles. However much more needs to happen.
What is Needed to further Document the Economic Advantages of Universal
Case Studies on cost of implementation using Universal Design VS Cost of Retrofit.
I have been repeatedly challenged to provide this type of information. At
this point in time, if such a case study exists, I have been unable to locate
it. It would advance the cause of Universal Design implementation immensely if
such a case study were to exist.
Case Studies on cost of Implementation with Universal Design VS Cost of Implementation
In a similar vein I have been asked to provide this type of cost comparison
and have been unable to do so. This type of information is important to
convincing developers that Universal Design is the most cost effective method
for producing products.
Case Studies on how great the market is for products and services developed
This information is needed to help designers and marketing experts to
understand that products and services developed using the principles of
Universal Design are the most cost effective and best-designed products that can
If these types information exist or can be developed, it would be some of the
resources that could be collected and made available in a Universal Design Best
Practices Collection. It would be made available to any and all who needed this
sort of evidence and could serve to advance a wider understanding of Universal Design and its
Technical advances in the field of electronic and Information technology have
been enormous. These advances have increased the need for wider use of the
Principles of Universal Design to develop electronic and information technology
that can be used by the largest audience possible, regardless of disability,
language barriers or problems in the users immediate environment.
While the awareness of Universal Design and its use have increased in the
technical community, there are only a few people outside of the technical
community who are aware of Universal Design and how it can be used to improve
everyone’s experience with electronic and information technology.
One of the most important tasks facing us all is to raise the awareness of
advantages of Universal Design across the board to those who have the most to
gain. Lets make Universal Design an integral part of every design process and to
help build a world that is more accessible to everyone!