Design-for-all in ICT – Management and Networking

Christian Bühler

FTB (Research Inst. Technology and Disability), Evangelische Stiftung Volmarstein and Faculty for Rehabilitation Science, Technische Universität Dortmund, Grundschöttelerstr. 40, D 58300 Wetter, Germany


The concepts of Design-for-all and Universal Design provide a considerable overlap and are used often like synonyms. Although they seem to have a market potential and receive political support, the uptake in the markets is still limited. Universal Design and Design-for-all are accepted as a good idea on a general level, but often fail to step over into the strategies and design considerations leading to products and services. Obviously, a goal oriented management is required from the conceptualisation of Universal Design and Design-for-all to the implementation in products and services in different areas. Recent policy strategies combine different voluntary and mandatory actions. Networking between different stakeholders has become an important measure for further proliferation of the concepts. Companies have recognised the demographic shift and the public request for services for all citizens. They have started to react with strategies, creation of structures and implementations for accessibility. Universal Design-for-all widens the scope from disability orientation to better products and services for all. Keywords., Universal Design, Design-for-all, Inclusive Design, Design-for-all-process, Design-for-All Networking, variety of user requirements, management, education and training.

1. Introduction

overlap and are used often like synonyms. Both have been transferred to application areas in the built environment, general consumer products, ICT products, but also in the service area. Although it seems to have a market potential and receives political support, the market penetration is still limited. Recently The UN “Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities” (United Nations 2007) has introduced “universal design” as a requirement. Most policy strategies combine different voluntary and mandatory actions. Legislation, standardisation, support actions, award schemes, monitoring procedures, benchmarking and research are put in place to support Universal Design and Design-for-all. The regulation of public procurement with respect to accessibility requirements has been a measure e.g. in the USA (US Access Board 1998). In the EU a procurement toolkit (CEU 2005) is under development. The mandatory request for non-discrimination has pushed accessibility requirements in legislation around the globe. The UN “Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities” (United Nations 2007) spends a complete paragraph (Article 9) to accessibility which provides strong support to this concept. Actually, many accessibility measures have been recognised as beneficial for a broader population. This is a link to Design-for-all/ Universal Design. However, the idea of universal design is not to take measures for specific disabilities. The idea is to “provide products and services that can be easily used by as wide a range of people as possible“ (Kato 2005,p. 6). In so far it represents a market oriented thinking, rather than a social attitude. This seems to support a business perspective, but on a company level often design considerations remain being based on a conventional user and a traditional business concept targeting specific user groups. Design-for-all may generally be accepted as a good idea, but it often fails to step over into the strategies and concrete design considerations leading to products and services. Although Universal Design has a less social appeal the situation remains comparable to accessibility in the past. The accessibility concept is nowadays often supported by legislation, which is not the case for universal design. Obviously, a goal oriented management is required from the conceptualisation of Universal Design and Design-for-all to its implementation in products and services in different areas.

Another important aspect for the development of Universal Design and Design-for-All is networking. In the area of ICT the European Design for all eAccessibility Network – EDeAN ( ) has been set up by European Member States and European Commission in 2002. The Network consists more than 160 members in National Networks and National Contact Centres (NCCs) in the European Member States and a European Secretariat. Is has been supported by the Coordination Action “Design for All for eInclusion” (DfA@eInclusion –, in order to promote inclusion by advancing DfA practices in the Information Society. The creation and development of EDeAN as innovative Design for All community, allows to establish best practice and work on aspects to be refined or replaced for a better support of the EU's goals of eInclusion through DfA. The core of the Coordination Action DfA@eInclusion has been to support and enhance the networking and cooperation activities of the European Design for All community with a scope on ICT and eInclusion.

2. Management of DfA in companies

Most companies have not yet taken up the concepts of universal design or design for all. Mainly legislative background and purchase strategies of governments have led many companies to the creation of an accessibility strategy and programme. The demographic shift, expected profits, corporate social responsibility and the accessibility requirements build now a background for the development of universal design and design for all. However, the uptake remains fragmented (Dong 2004). Meanwhile, companies have joined in organisations as EICTA and support the idea of eInclusion (EICTA 2007). Several companies have already decided to adopt Design-for-all (or universal design including accessibility) as part of the company policy, e.g. (Pacific Bell 1996; Ito 2005). A top level decision like in the company mission statement, which outlines the basic company philosophy, can be a very strong support measure for Design-for-all. However, this can be only a start and there is a danger that it remains a lip-service. Too often we have seen good intentions expressed at high level, but failing the realisation in daily practise. It is the question of how the basic policy is enforced within the company structures and processes. Sometimes conflicts arise with other high level goals of the company or with the understanding of experts and decision makers, who mostly have received their basic training at a time where the focus of the professional education has not at all thought of ideas like user centred design and Design-for-all.

Of course the management of Design-for-all is to be embedded in the management concept of the respective company. Following a top down approach, after the basic decision, it needs systematic implementation in all relevant company entities. Even if different concepts can be followed it seems important to implement the concept in all structures and procedures. Design-for-all is not a mere addendum at the end of a product design, but connected to potential change particularly during the design process. User centred design processes and usability engineering build a good start (Kato 2005). A thorough review of all the company documentation needs to be done to find out necessary alterations or amendments.

The implementation can follow a procedural approach using the existing structures in a company or also create new structures where needed. Related to accessibility, many companies have installed central accessibility units and internal networks in order to comply with the regulations. This approach is one potential pathway, which also makes the effort visible to customers providing a communication platform. Problems might occur by the complete transfer of the responsibility solely to these instances, rather than putting the responsibility on the complete teams in the various units like development centres, profit centres or business units. Single Design-for-all networkers might become isolated specialists in their own unit.

Today quality control and quality assurance in quality management systems (QMS) are well established concepts in industry and beyond. Actually Design-for-all contains elements of process and product quality, which should be introduced in the overall QMS. In this respect quality aspects for product quality can include (Bühler 2009)

Process quality elements base very much on the methods of user centred design and usability engineering applied for a broad variety of users and situations of use.

Another important instrument for the management of processes is the overall documentation. It is very helpful to include here information and guidelines on Design-for-all, which can serve as reference material. The diversity of user needs in a rapidly changing technical environment is one of the core aspects. Lists of criteria for different disabilities and application domains can help to get an understanding of potential problems. It is mandatory to consider different abilities of the users as proposed in the “product design ideas browser” []. Particularly helpful are standards (Bühler 2010) relating to Design-for-all, provided by the Standardisation Organisations e.g.:

As pointed out in ETSI EG 202 it is important to include also services in this consideration not only products. One can even extrapolate the concept to the complete service sector as well public as private. Given the legal requirements for accessibility, acknowledging the changing market characteristics due to the demographic shift and techno-socialisation, the adoption of Design for All in the company strategy can support the economically viable innovation of business conduct. Both private and public entities need a clear management strategy for a successful implementation.

3. Networking activities

The development of methodologies, business concepts, strategies of public authorities etc. can be very much benefit from exchange of ideas, concepts, results and experience. International networks build valuable infrastructures for the development of these processes. The European Design for all eAccessibility Network - EDeAN with more than 160 institutional members has installed a number of activities to support networking (Emiliani 2009). The network meets one a year for a general assembly of the NCCs, every other year an EDeAN conference is organised and white papers are produced on relevant subjects. A quarterly newsletter is issued by the Secretariat providing information from the network. The day to day cooperation is organised in a virtual network based on an Internet community space, called HERMES, which is provided by the Greek NCC. Networking activities are organised along subjects in Special Interest Groups, SIGs. All members are free to sign up for a SIG (except for project related SIGs). Usually, in each SIG first an overview of the state-of-the-art in the area under investigation is elaborated. In the next steps the members identify issues, problems and questions which lead to recommendations for future work. In the following the current main topics and results are briefly summarised.

3.1 General SIG

In order to enable the exchange of the network members so far two general SIGs have been established: the “All Members’ SIG”, the “NCCs SIG”. In the “All Members’ SIG” all members of the network are registered and can communicate with the various options of the platform. The second one is for the cooperation between NCCs and is used for the reporting and exchange between NCCs. Both SIGs are moderated by the EDeAN secretariat.

3.2 Project related SIGs

For the support projects (D4ALLnet, dfa@eInclusion project) own SIGs have been established for project management and discussions, which are not open to the public. Working groups on different topics have been established e.g. on education and training, dissemination and outreach. Additionally other projects have used the platform for exchange, such as the USEM project ( ), for the exchange of user experts in standardisation. The project related SIGs are managed by the project coordinators or by the respective workpackage leader.

3.3 SIG Benchmarking

The “SIG Benchmarking” supports the exchange of information on the current status in the European Member States including best practise and has produced a report with an introduction to benchmarking and an overview of related national and European activities (Del 2.3).

3.4 SIG Policy and legislation

The “SIG Policy and Legislation” is devoted to discussions on policy measures, including strategies, programs, etc., and legislation at European, national and regional levels. How can policy measures and legislation promote equal opportunities through the application of Design-for-all principles? In the framework of the dfa@eInclusion project it has produced two reports: (i) An overview of the recent status and developments in policy and legislation with regard to Design-for-all, including a conceptual framework and guidance for the understanding of policy related activities in the field (Del 2.2b) ; (ii) Guiding principles for designers of equipment, services and systems, which identifies the main areas of concern on the basis of an analysis of technological developments and European data protection legislation (Del 2.5a).

3.5 SIG Standardisation

The “SIG Standardisation” contributes to pre-standardisation activities aiming to support groups active in European standards making (e.g., CEN/ISSS DfA Workshop on “DfA and Assistive Technologies in ICT"), as well as international standardisation bodies, in developing implementation strategies for DfA. Recent publications are two reports: (i) A general overview of the standardisation domain, and of ongoing standardisation activities - the formal, the ad hoc, the company driven and the informal standardisation activities in Universal Design and assistive technology in general (Del 2.2a), (ii) A report on EDeAN involvement in ongoing standardisation work (Del 2.4a).

3.6 SIG Technological development

The SIG is devoted to discussions of technological developments likely to take place in the future, with the intention to assess both the impact of these developments on certain user communities, and the validity of DfA as an instrument for proactively accounting for technological accessibility. It has produced two documents, reporting: (i) A discussion of the present situation and the possible impact of the ongoing technological developments in ICT for eInclusion (Del 2.1); (ii) A methodology for identifying gaps in the possibility of integration of groups of citizens in the Information Society, pointing out lines of research activities that may improve design for all methodologies and technical approaches necessary for mainstreaming eInclusion (Del. 2.6a).

Footnote: all mentioned deliverables are available online for download at

4. Education and training a key towards successful implementation of Design-for-al

Education in Design-for-all comprises a core element of successful Design-for-all management. Inside the companies the level of education on DfA is a central factor for successful implementation. Already following the QMS philosophy the availability of well educated and trained professional staff is an general requirement. Academic institutions start to include Design-for-all topics in their education (Whitney 2008), but up to now only few university courses have taken up Design-for-all in their curricula. A master course Design-for-all in ICT is currently under development (a report will be available under: Given the situation that most of the current professionals have received their basic professional training at a time where Design-for-all has not been on the agenda, further education schemes and training measures are of central importance. Designers, engineers, software developers, web designers, marketing specialists, business administrators etc. they all have a need to understand the meaning, approaches and methods of Design-for-all. Awareness raising, further education, training of existing staff and selection of educated employees are the main roads to follow. Of course the kind of education and training needs to be dedicated to the targeted group of players. It varies from short courses with aggregated knowledge to curricula on methodologies or to hands-on training.

The different professions and positions come up with different knowledge and skills requirements (9) with respect to Design-for-all. While decision makers need to know the demographic and market background, legal baselines and an overview of methods, other professionals need deeper understanding of the heterogeneity of the users, the variety of circumstances of use and the methods to design products an services for all. An overview of the different knowledge requirements has been elaborated in the dfa@eInclusion project (Mohammad 2008). The dfa@eInclusion project has initiated a CEN workshop agreement on a training curriculum with the support of the Irish NCC. The education and training on Design-for-all should be integrated in existing further education schemes inside the companies. Other options are co-operations with associations of professionals and with external educational experts in Design-for-all.

A number of resources on Design-for-all have been made available in printed but also online media including introductory information, benefits, demographic change and disability, principles, approaches, methods and tools, specific information related to technologies, applications and services, case studies of good practice, links to resources and to related fields (accessibility, standards, legislation)

The European project dfa@eInclusion project and EDeAN network provide the DfA resource center ARIADNE ( and the site Design-for-all Education and Training ( ARIADNE offers a broad range of information, such as recommended resources, case studies, information about national or international projects related to DfA, design tools, benchmarking tools and results, product assessment reports, and various publications. Users can choose different options to retrieve the information, and registered users are allowed to comment or add new information. “Universal Design Education Online” (, offers a choice to visit and use the site from the point of view of the teacher or the learner. It provides also the option to submit material for publication on the site. Inclusive design toolkit ( provides, among other subjects, a section on corporate implications and product strategies. Many company websites also often provide good public information relevant to Design-for-all mostly form a perspective of accessibility. More information can also be found on national level in many countries. A start for European countries build the homepages of the EDeAN National Contact Centres (

However, online resources are not enough. The immediate contact of company staff members with users with disabilities should be part of the education and also the design processes. It provides deeper insight and fruitful exchange. Statements of real users are also much more authentic than online material or the statements of experts.

5. Conclusion

Overall, the take up of the concepts of Universal Design and Design-for-all needs to be supported by targeted management activities on different levels. Legislation and regulation related to barrier free accessibility can be helpful. Public procurement rules seem to be an important means in this respect. However, it does not necessarily lead to Design-for-all. Other important public responsibilities lie in the information about the demographic change, future markets and Design-for-all education, networking and research activities. At the commercial and industrial level best practice includes the take up of Design-for-all in the company mission and a detailed planning and introduction of Design-for-all processes at the different levels of the company. Education in Design-for-all comprises a core element of successful Design-for-all management. The dfa@eInclusion project ( and EDeAN ( will continue to support these processes through networking, targeted studies, workshops, and information dissemination.

6. Acknowledgement

This paper is related to the author's involvement in the work of the dfa@eInclusion project (IST programme of the European Union, CA 0033838) and the European Design for all eAccessibility Network - EDeAN.