What is ICT Accessibility?
ICT accessibility is a term used to describe the degree to which ICT is accessible by as many people as possible.
Accessibility can be viewed as the "ability to access" the functionality, and possible benefit, of some system or entity. Accessibility is often used to focus on people with disabilities and their right of access to entities, often through use of assistive technology.
Impairments affect the user's ability to perceive, understand or physically manipulate things. They can occur for many different reasons, including medical conditions, injury, the environment or simply old age.
Accessibility barriers occur when the design of ICT fails to allow for the variation in users' abilities.
Accessibility is not to be confused with usability which is used to describe the extent to which a product (e.g. device, service, environment) can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
Accessibility is strongly related to universal design when the approach involves "direct access." This is about making things accessible to all people (whether they have a disability or not). However, products marketed as having benefited from a universal design process are often actually the same devices customized specifically for use by people with disabilities. An alternative is to provide "indirect access" by having the entity support the use of a person's assistive technology to achieve access (e.g. screen reader).
Universal design is a term originating in the USA and underpinned by 7 principles set out by architect and designer Ron Mace. It extends the concepts of Barrier-Free Design (original focus of disability campaigners and architects was on barrier-free access to buildings and public environments) and Universal Access (Universal Access/Access for All to ICT. Also used in assistive technology to refer to specialist interfaces and control devices to make ICT products accessible to people with high levels of impairment) to include access to products and services.
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University states that universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.
In Europe, the term Design for All has a similar meaning to universal design. However, the term inclusive design also includes the concept of reasonable in the definition.
Design for All
The term Design for All is a process whereby designers, manufacturers and service providers ensure that their products and environments address users irrespective of their age or ability. It aims to include the needs of people who are currently excluded or marginalised by mainstream design practices and links directly to the concept of an inclusive society. A key feature of design for all is the emphasis placed on working with user groups representing the true diversity of users as a route to innovation and new product development.
The major drivers of design for all are population ageing and the trend to bring disabled people and cultural minorities into the mainstream of society; an increasing recognition that design for all can be a tool for commercial growth; and growing anti-discrimination legislation. New technologies are also a driving change - the challenge is that they are implemented in ways that include rather than exclude people.
The British Standards Institute (British Standard 7000-6:2005. Design management systems - Managing inclusive design - Guide) defines inclusive design as "The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible ... without the need for special adaptation or specialised design."
By meeting the needs of those who are excluded from product use, inclusive design improves product experience across a broad range of users. Put simply inclusive design is better design.
Inclusive design should be embedded within the design and development process, resulting in better designed mainstream products that are desirable to own and satisfying to use.
There are several educational and training courses in the UK on or that encompass Inclusive Design, for further information see Inclusive Design Courses.
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Last updated: 20.11.2009 © Copyright reserved Website design: Digital Accessibility Team