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Avoiding creating accessibility barriers using universal design principles

Avoiding creating accessibility barriers in future products; queuing management; health monitoring , stigma
VOICEOVER: Enabling everyone everyday– the object of this lesson is to be aware and not unthinkingly create barriers in future products and systems.
Now, we would like to project your thoughts into the near future. Many products are in development at the moment, and we hope that now you will be able to understand if these will be easy to access, use, and understand. Or whether they will be erecting new barriers to use, or even if they will be completely inaccessible to some groups of people.
Even as we look around, we can see examples of everyday technologies that are gaining ground and becoming widely available. But they are not accessible to everyone and are excluding some people from their use. Let us look at two examples again– one outside the home, and one inside the home.
The first example that we will look at are queuing management systems. The use of queuing management systems is so simple and innocuous that most people do not think twice about them. They usually consist of those little machines that issue you with a piece of paper with a number on it. This means that you can queue for a service without actually standing in a queue or a line. Above the desks or workstations of service personnel you can often see an electronic display board or screen where the number of the person currently being served is displayed. This is to help you to understand when it is going to be your turn.
The tickets, themselves, also sometimes give you other information besides the number of your turn, like for example a message that gives you the average time it takes to be served and other information like what the time of day is and also the date. These are often a lot of extra numbers.
So what is wrong with these systems? Why are they so difficult for some people to use? Here are some of the problems. Yet again, we see that these machines violate the principle of perceptible information, which is the fourth principle of universal design. Thus, they mostly use one mode of presentation only– the visual one. So for a person who is blind or vision impaired, they need to locate the machine and then the button to use, or in the case of a touch screen– which part to touch, as well as to follow the progress of the cue on the display board. Also people with dyslexia and those with dexterity problems can find these systems difficult very often.
Additionally, lately some machines offer more than one alternative, as they can offer different types of queues. For example, in the pharmacies of Norway, there may be one queue for prescription medicines and another one for non-prescription items. While in the Netherlands in the central railway station, there is one queue for international tickets and one for national tickets.
Some of the problems can be classified using the categories we discussed earlier on– for instance, environmental barriers. In the photograph here, the black waste bin has been pushed in front of the touch screen that is set at a lower level for use by people in wheelchairs and people of low height.
Again, in this example, the need for extra explanation is evident. The self-service terminal is offering tickets, but it cannot print them by itself, as it is just touch screen. In order to get a ticket, a printer has been attached to the side of the device, and extra information on how to use it has been drawn on front of the screen. For some people, it is difficult to understand the numbers, especially when there are two sets or more of numbers and the runs are very similar. Other people may confuse 232 on the ticket with 223 on the indicator board. The number on the ticket may also be printed too small for people to see.
Additionally, some people confuse the number of their turn with the number of the desk that they need to go to to be served.
The instructions of the issuing machine can be hard to understand. For example, in the post office, the machine was marked queue A for parcels, queue B for pensions. Thus, people did not know what to press if they wanted to buy a postage stamp.
There is also the human element. Some service personnel can be very strict in the policing of the service. So if someone misses their turn, they may decide not to accept a ticket that has passed, but instead instruct the customer to get another ticket, and, therefore, have to queue again. Service personnel, unless they have received special training, may not be able to distinguish whether a person has a real problem or if they’re just trying to cheat the system.
Their increasing ubiquity means that, on the one hand, people learn to use them or find workarounds. But on the other, more places will exclude people with vision or print disabilities, which also includes dyslexics and those with some types of dexterity problems.
Inside many homes today, one may find devices for health monitoring. Many of these are recently classed as smart wearables. Worn mostly on the wrist, these monitor various body activities such as heart rate, blood pressure, et cetera. According to the statistics, the market for these is growing. In the US, 8 in 10 adults have at least heard of wearables. And nearly 1 in 5 plans to buy one in the near future, whether a smartwatch, a health device, a fitness tracker, or a pair of smart glasses. As of 2013, the worldwide wearables market is expected to grow steadily up to some $12.6 million in 2018. Projections show health and fitness devices sales alone to double in 2015 compared to the previous year.
Market research also shows that many of these are bought by younger people for their older family members as good ideas or by older people themselves, known as the boomer consumers. People are living longer and are anxious to preserve their health and fitness levels.
But are these wearables being used? Unfortunately, many of these devices are not very well designed for use by older people or people with disabilities who, very often, are the very people who would benefit the most from using them. Some problems that have been reported include controls being pressed by accident or the display as being too small to read and having a bad contrast. Often, the information that the display shows is very confusing. And finally, information is only available on screen, which excludes certain people.
You might like to take a look at the exclusion calculator that has been produced by the Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Using this exclusion calculator, you can check to see how many people in the United Kingdom would be excluded by a particular design.
A further problem is that when the device looks like a monitoring device, some people do not want to wear it because it is stigmatising.
We hope that as you read and begin to experience new ideas for technology uses you will now feel confident about what is needed to make these products and services usable by a wide range of users and how to refrain from repeating the same mistakes over and over again. This can lead to more creativity in design for new products.
In this video we give two examples of everyday technologies, one outside the home and one inside the home, that are excluding some people from their use.
You might like to take a look at the exclusion calculator that has been produced by the Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge UK.
Using this exclusion calculator you can check to see how many people in the United Kingdom would be excluded by a particular design.

Universal design principles

There are universal design principles that should be used to ensure accessibility in new products, systems and services:
  • Standards
  • Principles
  • Guidelines
  • Best Practices


Standards serve to give guidance to organisations that manufacture or purchase goods and services, they also give backing to the legislation. They are the references that the legislation depends upon.
Formal standards are produced by organisations like the International Organization for Standardization, better known as ISO, as well as standards developed by groups of stakeholders such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). We covered the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) in detail in week 4.
Standards also serve as valuable resources of condensed knowledge.
For instance, ISO/IEC Guide 71:2014 is an ISO document ‘addressing accessibility in standards’ produced as a guide for standardisers, but it also gives a very good overview of how to go about making products and services accessible. The ISO news item provides an overview and the European standards organisation CENELEC provide the document itself. (Note: Guide 71 and CEN guide 6 are the same documents)


Principles such as the 7 principles of Universal Design act as a memory aid to cover both product, ICT and environmental aspects of accessibility.
They can be used as a practical check list to evaluate products and services. You can download a printable poster of them or read a text version of the universal design principles as they were developed in 1997.
Looking at these 7 principles, you will see that already we have seen several of them in action. For instance:
  • we have found that it is important to build in flexibility to designs so that they can accommodate people’s needs and preferences, (2nd principle);
  • we have seen that information must be perceivable (4th principle) – if blind people cannot see the information displayed, they could hear it, similarly deaf people can be warned by a visual signal, such as a flashing light.
  • we also saw in our discussion on the positioning of self-service terminals, so that they require minimum physical effort (6th principle) and take into account size and space for approach and use (7th principle).
A further set of high level principles is to be found in the most recent version of the WCAG guidelines. This set of guidelines has been adopted by ISO as a standard ISO/IEC 40500:2012


There are ‘Guidelines on Public Access Terminals’ (another term for SSTs). These were carefully crafted so that they would follow a similar structure to WCAG with the guideline followed by the success criteria – how to achieve it.
Despite the amount of information available there is still the need for people to
  • know about its existence
  • to consult it
  • be motivated to work on accessibility that can make a difference not just to people who really need, but to all of us.

Best Practice

Finally we can look at examples of good accessible design. For domestic appliances, these exist in lists of recommendations from support organisations. Take a look at the booklet: ‘Choosing cookers, ovens, hobs and microwaves: A guide to choosing cooking appliances for the home for people who are sight impaired’.
The booklet lists features to look for on appliances: such as Tactile feedback of controls (with ‘raised bumps’ on controls or on buttons that push in or out) or Audio feedback such as ‘talking microwaves’, as well as beeps and buzzes (called earcons) to alert you to some state of the machine.
Which of these elements do you think should be added to expand the checklist for SSTs and develop it into a checklist for everyday technologies?

© This video is created by The University of the Aegean and licensed under CC-BY BY 4.0 International Licence. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.
© This text is a derivative of a work created by The University of the Aegean, and licensed under CC-BY BY 4.0 International Licence adapted and used by the University of Southampton. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.
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