Making universal design a reality

Detail of a laptop with letters on a keyboard lit up by blue and red light from the screen.

Universal design is easy to describe but very difficult to put into practice. In the last two decades, scientists and engineers have produced innovative solutions aimed at ensuring that everyone, both persons with and without disabilities, can use the web.

However, globally, digital divides continue to separate those that can use the web from those that cannot.

A more usable web

Georg Anthony Giannoumis, assistant professor of universal design at OsloMet, defended his dissertation in June 2019 for the Dr.Philos. degree at the University of Bergen: "Implementing Web Accessibility Policy. Case Studies of the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States".

Giannoumis’ research has shown how we can achieve universal design of the web in practice. Data from hundreds of policy documents and interviews with 87 universal design experts have revealed that over time the relationships between governments, businesses and people have helped make the web more usable for persons with disabilities than ever before.

Ultimately, this comes down to three things:

First, people matter. That means people working within businesses, non-profit organisations and government agencies can use their positions to advocate for a universally designed web.

Second, relationships matter. The interdependencies among governments, businesses, and people provide a unique opportunity to change how the web is designed. These interdependencies provide opportunities to exchange new knowledge and practices that can make the web usable for everyone.

Third, time matters. Small, incremental changes can have a cumulative effect over time. If policymakers continue to promote universal design in laws, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Norwegian Equality and Discrimination Act, then over time technology developers will begin to design the web so that it is usable for a broad range of people, including those most affected by the digital divide: people with a physical, sensory or intellectual disability.

About Giannoumis

Georg Anthony Giannoumis’ research focuses on technology law, policy and practice. He is currently an assistant professor of universal design at the Department of Computer Science at OsloMet and an international research and teaching fellow at the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, the University of Eduardo Mondlane, and Roma Tre University.

He collaborates extensively with the United Nations International Telecommunications Union in technology accessibility and digital gender equality. He serves as the chair of the Global Universal Design Commission Europe and serves on the board of the Gender Equality in Technology student organisation at OsloMet.

He is the principal investigator for several research and innovation projects focused on universal design and sustainable development.

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This article was first published on 12/6/2019.

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Published: 03/09/2019
Last updated: 04/01/2021
Text: OsloMet
Photo: Andras Vas / Unsplash