Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects

Abstract

Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in the digital age have become increasingly important over the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller extent in most projects that develop interactive systems. However, the concept varies among different professions, cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal access and inclusive design are all different names of approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts? This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used for accessibility, its methodological and historical development and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It can be concluded that there is little or no consensus regarding the definition and use of the concept, and consequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the target audience. Particularly in international standardization the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this discussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may have on measurability, conformance with standards and the overall usability for the widest possible range of target users.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term disability is perhaps not the best one to use here. The word seems to suggest that disability is a static quality that certain people possess throughout life in all situations. Such an interpretation does not fully recognize one of the core convictions of this paper, i.e. that all people’s abilities change over time and in different contexts. However, since the word disability has been so extensively used and accepted by international organizations, national legislation in a vast number of countries, civic organizations and the industry, the authors have chosen to accept that vocabulary in this article.

  2. 2.

    This indicates that accessibility is not an area for state intervention only. Instead, accessibility is an area with a broad variety of stakeholders, e.g. the individual with a disability, the designer, the person leading the procurement process and the state regulations. The roles and responsibilities of these different stakeholders are a complex issue that lies outside the scope of this article. However, the authors recognize the importance of this aspect and view it as a potential topic for future work.

  3. 3.

    In 2006, European Institute for Design and Disability (EIDD) changed its name to Design for All Europe.

  4. 4.

    http://www.inclusivedesigntoolkit.com/betterdesign2/.

  5. 5.

    The authors have chosen to focus on events from their own cultural heritage, aware of the risk of a western, European bias, however, arguing that similar ideas and a similar historical development can be found in other cultures as well. Aiming for an all-encompassing, global historical perspective would, however, unavoidably be too big a task to grasp within this article; therefore, this particular cultural perspective has been chosen.

  6. 6.

    ISO is the International Organization for Standardization.

  7. 7.

    IEC is the International Electrotechnical Commission.

  8. 8.

    ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies.

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Correspondence to Jan Gulliksen.

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Hans Persson passed away before the final publication of this paper. For questions and comments, please refer to Jan Gulliksen.

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Persson, H., Åhman, H., Yngling, A.A. et al. Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. Univ Access Inf Soc 14, 505–526 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10209-014-0358-z

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Keywords

  • Accessibility
  • Usability
  • Disability
  • Design for all
  • Universal access
  • Inclusive design