Universal design, ethics and the workplace

The problem with trying to apply the classic seven principles of universal design everywhere is that they don’t apply universally. This becomes apparent in an article about ethics and the workplace where some of the principles cannot apply. The seven principles are to help people think about inclusion, not use them as a checklist.

  1. Equitable Use
  2. Flexibility in Use
  3. Simple and Intuitive to Use
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Tolerance for Error
  6. Low Physical Effort
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use
A bold red figure seven.

A paper published in Journal of Business Ethics explores the seven principles in relation to workplaces and people with disability. It soon becomes clear that it isn’t that useful especially if trying to apply all seven. Consequently, businesses will struggle to apply the seven principles and likely discouraged from taking action.

No matter how much universal design thinking goes into making workplaces inclusive, there will always be jobs that some people cannot do. The aim is to find or create jobs that suit people with different disabilities. That’s where ethics come into play.

In the article, the authors argue that inclusive and ethical workplaces involve both organisational and spatial choices. The key is cross-fertilization between organisation studies and universal design. This will improve understanding of the ethical issues when thinking about including people with disability in the workplace.

Cross-fertilising organisational and spatial studies with a universal design approach allows for more ethically sound and inclusive workplaces. This is useful for discovering what is possible and what is not. This also requires abandoning any notion of a perfect productive body. We are all collectively vulnerable and interdependent within workplaces.

Abandoning the Notion of a Perfect and Productive Body

Universal design invites organizations to rethink inclusion in the workplace, neither as a special accommodation nor as a recognition of the specialness of impairment. Disability is a natural and ubiquitous condition of being human.

A crowd of lots of different coloured heads.

Rethinking inclusion at work

Universal design also prompts a paradigm shift from deficit to diversity. The focus shifts to embracing the needs and abilities of all workers and ensuring equal opportunities for participation. The scope of universal design also encompasses all facets of organisational structure and power dynamics.

The title of the article is, Universal Design for the Workplace: Ethical Considerations Regarding the Inclusion of Workers with Disabilities and is open access.

From the abstract

This paper examines the ethical issues of the inclusion of workers with disabilities in the workplace. It takes a cross-fertilization approach between organization studies, the ethics of care, and universal design.

It explores how organizations can use universal design to develop more inclusive workplaces. First by applying universal design principles to workspaces. Second by showing how universal design takes understanding of inclusion from the workspace to the workplace.

The paper discusses the ethical challenges and complexities of applying universal design across diverse organisation and industries. Finally, inclusion requires abandoning any notion of a perfect, productive body. Therefore, we share vulnerability and interdependence in the workplace.

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