Breaking Down Barriers: Universal Design Principles Are Shaping Inclusive Technology

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A 2023 research from the World Health Organization found that around 1.3 billion people, which is 16% of the world’s population or 1 in 6 people, experience significant disabilities.

Living with a disability can throw up all sorts of barriers, especially when it comes to essential needs for daily living, like using the internet and modern technology.

Although these numbers are upsetting, there is the good news!

Universal design

Companies and organizations are increasingly stepping up their game by using inclusive design for their online users, making sure everyone can get in on the action.

Understanding universal design and its principles.

Think of it like this: universal design is about making things that everyone can use without pulling their hair out. It’s not about finding a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather, creating designs that include as many people as possible without compromising the quality of the product.

The first attempts at creating a universal design framework started in 1997, when a dynamic team of architects, designers, engineers, and researchers, led by Ronald Lawrence Mace at North Carolina State University, created the 7 principles of universal design:

  1. Equitable use: Make sure everyone can use it without feeling left out.
  2. Flexibility in use: Let people choose how they use it, and make it work for different preferences.
  3. Simple and intuitive use: Keep it easy so everyone can understand, no matter their experience or skills.
  4. Perceptible information: Share information clearly, so everyone gets it, no matter their senses.
  5. Tolerance for error: Make it forgiving, so if someone messes up, they can easily fix it.
  6. Low physical effort: Keep it easy on the body, so everyone can use it comfortably.
  7. Size and space for approach and use: Make sure it works for different bodies and movements.

These principles aren’t just words on paper, they’re tools to assess what’s already out there, guide design choices, and help both designers and regular people find things that are easy to use. Take door handles, for example. A lever handle is better than a doorknob because you can open the door with your elbow or a closed fist. It’s not just good for people with bags but also for those with weaker hands. It’s about making life simpler for everyone, one door at a time.

Tech application of the universal design principles.

The universal design principle covers both the real and digital worlds. In the physical world, the influence of universal design is evident everywhere: from obvious examples like ramps to inseparable components of our daily lives such as elevators and armrests on chairs.

When we explore the digital world, it gets even better. Inclusive digital features grow with the world’s digitalization trends. Have you ever thought, that such simple things as high-contrast text, video captions, text-to-speech technology, and the use of diverse images and media are actually measures to make technology accessible to everyone? Websites and apps with easy-to-use interfaces, such as mobile-friendly and human-centered design and readable text with larger screens, make our digital experience not only seamless but also easy for diverse groups of people, regardless of their age, sex, nation, or other factors.

Speaking about some practical examples, rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft apply universal design principles, prioritizing user-friendliness for people with disabilities and minorities, and fostering an online experience that is welcoming for all. They achieve this through features such as easy navigation interfaces, options for different modes of transportation, and inclusive driver training programs.

Other big players such as Apple and Microsoft, both major companies with millions of users globally, show a strong commitment to inclusivity through their products.

Apple products have various inclusive features, including VoiceOver, made for people with visual impairments, and a user interface that can be adapted to various preferences.

Similarly, Microsoft incorporates accessibility features like screen readers and keyboard shortcuts in its Windows operating system and Office applications. Both companies set an exemplary standard in the industry by prioritizing user-friendliness and accessibility through the incorporation of universal design principles into their products.

Breaking barriers: Benefits of universal design in technology.

Technology can sometimes be like a tricky puzzle, especially for groups of people with disabilities and certain age groups who are new to the ever-evolving digital world. Small screens, complicated buttons, or fast-paced apps can make it hard for some to join the digital fun. However, universal design principles are not only beneficial for the end-users, but they are also very important for those creating this accessible design. Let’s discuss some key reasons why businesses benefit from applying universal design principles to their products:

Positive impact on society.

Inclusive design in tech positively impacts society. By creating more accessible and universal products, you leave a footprint in history, giving valuable opportunities to thousands of people.

Boosted brand recognition.

Users prefer businesses prioritizing inclusivity in designs, positively influencing a company’s reputation, and showing care for all customers.

Increased business opportunities.

Inclusive tech design enables innovation, taps into untapped markets, fosters customer loyalty, and positively impacts people’s lives, leading to increased profits and broader markets.

Better Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Inclusive websites may receive higher search engine rankings, improving readability, navigation, and overall accessibility.

Practicing inclusive design goes beyond business benefits, it is a fundamental aspect of doing what is right for society and people all around the world.

Conclusion.

Prioritizing inclusivity and universal design principles isn’t just about meeting regulations, it’s about creating digital experiences that cultivate a sense of belonging, driving innovation, and expanding the audience. To make inclusive design a guiding principle, organizations must go beyond the regulatory checklist. It’s a journey of breaking down societal barriers, where designers and leaders, free from biases, challenge norms to shape a future where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered in their digital interactions.

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