Accessibility Tip of the Week: Accessibility as Universal Design

Model of building under construction to correlate with article about universal design and how it applies to accessibility

Accessible design has the potential to positively impact everyone, regardless of whether or not we perceive ourselves as having a disability that directly impacts computer use. This is because accessible design doesn’t exist within a vacuum, but rather, is an implementation of universal design principals. By making our content more accessible for some, we inherently make it more accessible for all.

In the physical world, this is perhaps best demonstrated in the application of curb cuts. In the 60s and 70s students at Berkley with mobility issues strove for greater independence and advocated to get curb cuts installed across the city. As their adoption became more widespread, however, others began to reap the benefits of a more accessible environment. Bike riders, and people pushing a stroller or shopping cart, appreciated the more universal design. Now it would be almost inconceivable to build a sidewalk devoid of ramps. By improving conditions for one segment of the population, the students at Berkley improved them for everyone.

While the physical world may be predefined, we have a unique opportunity in the digital realm. The virtual world is one we are actively building, and by taking universal design principals into account, we not only enhance the independence of those with disabilities, but we also improve the experience for everyone else. Closed captions can be quite handy when viewing a video in a noisy, or quiet, environment. Similarly, alt tags can fill in the gaps left by images that fail to load on a slow internet connection.

In this, more accurate framework, the population that benefits from accessible design expands drastically. It expands universally. This can be helpful to keep in mind as we progress along the continuum of accessibility. Be selfish in your design decisions. In doing so, you’ll help everyone else.

The Website Accessibility Resources page has guides covering the steps involved in incorporating universal design into your digital presence. If you have questions regarding creating accessibkle content, please reach out to the Communications Department.