RLI 281
uNivErSaL DESiGN, iNcLuSivE DESiGN, accESSiBiLity, aND uSaBiLity
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DECEMBER 2012 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
challenges and significant expense is involved in the process of retrofitting an existing website for
accessibility.”50
Universal design in instruction or learning (UDI or UDL), which first surfaced in K–12 education
but has grown in post-secondary institutions, recognizes that designing the classroom for maximum
inclusion of diverse learning styles and physical abilities, without sacrificing either standards or
aesthetics, will bring unanticipated benefits to the entire population served. The information literacy
movement has long recognized that diverse learning styles were important considerations in delivering
effective library instruction to all students.
Experts in the field of universal design note many instances of accessible technologies leading true
innovation and widespread adoption, including “the typewriter, the telephone, email, the PDA, speech
synthesis and recognition. All these innovations were motivated by a need to address the needs of people
with disabilities.”51 IBM is an example of a successful corporate entity that has embraced accessibility by
design as a successful marketing strategy for one of its largest consumers—the federal government. By
corporate instruction, IBM trains its developers to “begin to focus on accessibility in the initial design
stages and conduct assessments at key checkpoints in the development process.”52 Academic leadership
has also recognized the value of universal design, noting that universities would work to “make
‘universal design’ and accessibility part of the education that we provide to computer scientists and
engineers at all levels—undergraduate, graduate and continuing education.”53
Unfortunately, as was the case with early website development, the opposite process can also prevail.54
“In the age of the Internet, the average time between the introduction of a new information technology
and the availability of a version that is accessible to persons with disabilities is three years.”55 To a student
working toward degree completion, that is an unacceptable and effectively discriminatory length of time.
I’ve been told every year, “Oh, we’re working on it,”…Well, you know, I’ve gotten to the
point that I doubt it. I’m angry that something was put in place that was not verified.56
—Blind senior at the University of Montana, September 2012
As Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, US Department of
Justice, recently stated in regard to a new report on accessibility of US federal government information
technology, “Technology and technological innovations can improve everyone’s lives. However, if
technology is not accessible, persons with disabilities can’t benefit from those improvements.”57 Perez also
remarked on the high cost of retrofitting: “It is not terribly difficult or expensive to ensure that technology
is accessible, but accessibility has often been an afterthought. Modifying existing technology to make it
accessible is much more expensive than designing technology in an accessible manner in the first place.”58
In the virtual environment, some use the term “inclusive design” to distinguish the approach
from the built environment, but make a similar claim that such design drives innovation for all users.
If a platform, interface, space, or facility is equally accessible to all, it has the capacity to improve the
experience and functionality for all. “Universal design focuses on eliminating barriers through initial
designs that consider the needs of diverse people, rather than overcoming barriers later through
individual adaptation. Because the intended users are whole communities, universally designed
environments are engineered for flexibility and designed to anticipate the need for alternatives, options
and adaptations to meet the challenge of diversity.”59
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