Accessible, universal, inclusive: which name to use?

Pictograms of people and access symbolsWhich name or label to use when talking accessible, universal and inclusive in design? Is it just semantics? Maybe. But they are intertwined and in the context of ICT and websites it might make a difference to some designers.

The question is addressed in an article on the Adobe Blog site. Matt May writes that “Accessibility is the goal to ensure that products support each individual user’s needs and preferences. Universal design is for everyone, literally, and inclusive design expands with your audience as new design ideas emerge. He cites the definition of inclusive design from the Inclusive Design Research Centre in Toronto:, “…design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference”. Isn’t this how universal design is explained? Better to accept that universal design is about diversity and therefore we can expect a diversity of explanations. As long as the aim is for social and economic inclusion for all then the meaning is in the doing and the outcomes.

It’s worth noting that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities uses the term “Universal Design” and interprets it as an iterative approach to achieving equity and inclusion. The Sustainable Development Goals have concepts of inclusion embedded and cite universal design.

How shall I say that?

A blackboard with words: learn, language, adjectives, nouns, verbs, adverbs written in chalkLanguage is more important than many people realise. As toddlers we start with nouns – naming things. Until we can name things, they cannot exist. For example, until we could say “policewoman” there could be no women in the police force. When it comes to language around disability naming is important. It is personal, which can mean there is no consensus. For example, in the UK the generic term is “disabled people”, in Australia it is “person with disability”. Each has their reason for their choice. Then there are particular disability groups that like to identify with a specific name, such as “I am autistic” or “we are autistic people”. Robin M Eames has written a thoughtful blog page on this topic and gives us plenty to think about. The bottom line is, check it out first and don’t assume about terms. As for Robin, she describes herself as “a queercrip writer/artist/activist living on Gadigal land (Sydney, Australia).” There are lots of good reference links at the end of the article.