Part 2: Equitable Use, the first principle of Universal Design

by Antonia Levy & Christopher Leydon

Last month we defined Universal Design (UD) as a concept for including accessibility in everything we do. There are seven principles of UD, all of which seek to promote access and consideration of diversity as integral parts of what we make and do, rather than an afterthought. This month we introduce the first UD principle, equitable use.

Equitable Use seeks to make “design useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.” More concretely, this means:

  • Providing the same means of use for all users—identical whenever possible, equivalent when not;
  • Avoiding segregating or stigmatizing any users;
  • Offering provisions for privacy, security, and safety equally to all users;
  • Making the design appealing to all users.

For example, curb cuts: designed to accommodate wheelchair users, they also benefit anyone pushing a stroller or shopping cart and kids on skates or scooters. The point of UD is not just to build in access for people with disabilities, but to improve the user experience for the widest possible range of people.

Accessible Staircase Robson Square

Image Source

As discussed previously, UD has also been applied to many educational products, such as computers, websites, software, and textbooks, and to environments such as classrooms, libraries, and online education. In practice, Universal Design in Education (UDE) can benefit all students, while reducing or even eliminating the need for students with disabilities to request individual accommodations.

For instance, captioning of videos used in class provides equitable use of those instructional materials for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. But captions are also useful to English language learners (ELL), students with certain learning disabilities, and anyone who searches the time-stamped transcript of the video to review a particular topic.

Want to find accessible videos online? Here is how to using Google Search: On the page displaying your search results, select “Video,” then click on “Search Tools” and change “All videos” to “Closed Captioned.” See screenshot below.

 

Screenshot illustrating google search for accessible videos

How else might implementation of “equitable use” apply to our work at the University? Depending on your role as faculty or staff, this may entail:

  • Providing multiple options for completing an assignment for your course;
  • Ensuring that all school information available online is accessible to screen-reading software, including websites and the learning management system (LMS); or
  • Posting job listings in formats accessible to people with a broad range of abilities and disabilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and ages.

This article is part of an ongoing series introducing Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each month we will cover one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next month!

Questions or feedback? Email antonia.levy@cuny.edu or christopher.leydon@cuny.edu.

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