People with disabilities often lack access to crucial information about health, rights, laws, and more. How can development projects be more inclusive in their communication? Shauna Caria offers principles and examples on using the Universal Design approach to build in inclusion from the start.
Put yourself in her shoes.
Imagine you are a woman living in Vietnam and sign language is your first language. You are entitled to inherit land that was owned by your parents before they passed, but when you visit your local Legal Aid Center to inquire about the process, the officials do not know sign language nor are there any sign language interpreters available. There also is not any written guidance that easily explains your rights and how the process works in practice. What would you do?
Lack of access to information is a common barrier for many people with disabilities around the world. According to WHO and World Bank 2011 Report on Disability, more than 1 billion people live with some form of disability; eighty percent of them live in developing countries. What can we do to connect people to the information they need about their rights and resources, so they can make fully informed decisions? The Universal Design approach is one model that can be used in many different global contexts to provide persons with disabilities greater access to information, so they can be more informed of their rights.
What is Universal Design?
The Seven Principles of Universal Design were developed as a guide to help in the initial design of environments, products, and communications to be as inclusive as possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design later down the road. The goal is that a product or environment can be easily adapted based on a person’s needs or preferences, and widely accessible by all. Among these guidelines are principles such as being equitable, flexible, simple, and intuitive in use regardless of the user’s ability, knowledge, experience, and language skills.
The Universal Design model is simple to use:
- Identify: Think about your target population and ask who are the social groups you should consider; who participates and benefits from the current design or program; and who is excluded.
- Consult: Consult with these target social groups who are often excluded (e.g., persons with disabilities, LGBTI, women’s groups, ethnic minorities) and ask them what their needs and preferences are.
- Design: Think about the programs and products you are currently designing; use what you learned from consultations in the design to make it more inclusive to different social groups.
- Assess/Reflect: During and post-implementation, ask the various social groups if the product or program is achieving/achieved what you set out to do, and ask if the information is easily accessible. Learn from this feedback and adapt as needed.
If the Universal Design is so intuitive and easy to use, why is it not utilized more frequently? This is in part because there are some common misconceptions about the purpose and use of Universal Design.