Universal Design – When one size does fit all

universal design when one size does fit all

What do you know about Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)?

Ireland signed the Convention in 2007 and ratified it in 2018.

Article 9 addresses Accessibility and obliges State Parties ‘…to take appropriate measures to ensure persons with disabilities has, on an equal basis with others, access to;

  • the physical environment, 
  • transportation, 
  • information and communications, including technologies and systems, 
  • facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and rural areas to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.’

What is your experience of accessibility in Ireland?

Do you think we are actively working toward a fully accessible society?  

The National Disability Authority (NDA) held their annual conference recently, focussing on Article 9 of the UNRCPD.  The conference took a holistic approach to presenting and examining the barriers facing persons with disabilities as a result of  

  • an inaccessible built environment, 
  • inaccessible public services and transport,
  • inaccessible information and communication, as well as 
  • attitudes and assumptions. 

The Conference was opened by Minister Anne Rabbitte who stated that Universal Design is good for everyone, benefiting young and old – regardless of ability.  How right she is!

The key areas of accessibility challenges for people with disabilities are

  • Access to employment
  • Access to information and services
  • Access to the built environment

Keeping these in mind, speakers presented solutions to these barriers by adhering to  Universal Design and presented some brilliant examples of best practice in the public and private sectors. 

I enjoyed hearing about the hugely successful Passenger Assistance Scheme launched by Bus Eireann in Cork.  A scheme through which staff support a person to access the best route for transport to wherever they need to go in Cork and travel with them until they are confident to take on the journey themselves.  What a valuable service – I hope it goes Nationwide!

Equally informative was Pamela Uwakwe from the Department of Justice on their use of the EDI Maturity model to increase awareness and development of an EDI strategy for the Department.  Working in such a large and diverse department, their EDI strategy seeks to improve access to all services, not only for staff but for all customers. 

Their outcome? An empowered workplace culture that supports and values contributions from all staff and customers and eliminates all forms of discrimination.

Caroline Casey of The Valuable 500 agreed with Minister Rabbitte saying inclusion is for all.  This  is what universal design is all about …. but, do you understand what Universal Design is?

The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) is dedicated to enabling the design of environments that can be Accessed,  Understood and Used regardless of a person’s age, size, ability or disability. The CEUD is part of the National Disability Authority.  For more information, click CEUD.

Caroline Casey of The Valuable 500Caroline is particularly passionate about workplaces developing universally designed employment. I have long admired Caroline’s work and even managed to get a picture with her and Ger Craddock, Chief Officer, CEUD.



In Summary, We can always do better!

Universal Design is about the intersectionality of life – how our lives and the way we live our lives  interact.  In an ideal world, services, transport and employment would all be freely accessible having been universally designed.

I believe we need to move from disability awareness to disability equality. 

So, when you next think about writing a job description, plan an office upgrade/move or any other change to your work environment, think about access first.  Applying principles of universal design will always ensure your workplace is accessible and inclusive to all.  Resulting in better engagement and retention of both  employees and customers.

To help you better understand universal design, the CEUD offers a free self-paced eLearning module accessible here: eLearning Module. The module, while aimed at professionals involved in the design and procurement of buildings, will get you thinking about accessibility even if you are not involved in design.

In my work, I always seek to apply principles of universal design.  I will consider how the support I suggest to be put in place for an employee returning to work after an absence improves the employee experience for all employees.

One size does not fit all – a saying many of you will be familiar with – and is true in many situations.  However, when Environments, Transport, Communications  and Employment are designed with accessibility and inclusion at the heart of their design, “One size” can actually fit all.