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Introduction to product development and Universal Design

Introduction to product development and Universal Design


Authors: Dr. Sam Waller, University of Cambridge, Engineering Design Centre and Prof. P John Clarkson, University of Cambridge, Engineering Design Centre. Edited by James Hubbard, Senior Design Advisor, Products and Services, Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, NDA; Dónal Rice, Senior Design Advisor, ICT, Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, NDA

This Toolkit section describes how policy and legislation that promotes and incentivises the Universal Design of products can help to fulfil a country's accessibility obligations within the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In the context of this Convention, accessibility refers to the extent to which people in a society can live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. Examples are used to show how policies for product design that attempt to improve accessibility should take account of business economics, technical standards and user uptake. The topics in this section of the Toolkit are:

Introduction
In the context of the UN CRPD, accessibility refers to the extent to which people in a society can live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) provide useful breakdowns of the kinds of activities that people need to be able to perform in order to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. ADLs include self-care activities, such as personal hygiene and eating; IADLs include additional activities that enable independent living, such as communication and shopping. 

Developing legislation for products that successfully improves accessibility first requires a holistic understanding of the interaction between accessibility, business economics, technical standards, and user uptake. Considering communication as an example, the ability to send text messages helps people with hearing loss to communicate, yet the free market economy has driven a comprehensive implementation of text messages throughout all mobile phones without any policy intervention. 

As an alternate example, induction loops in mobile phones would be particularly beneficial to help those with hearing aids communicate in noisy environments, yet such induction loops are typically only available as accessories. While these accessories are reasonably priced, the corresponding user experience is poor when compared to integrated induction loops. When considering product related legislation to further improve the extent to which people with hearing loss can communicate, one should consider and evaluate a variety of alternative options that cover different aspects of the interaction between accessibility, business economics, technical standards and user uptake. Examples of these options could potentially include:

  • Make induction loops a legal requirement for all phones

  • Provide tax incentives for phones that contain an integrated induction loop

  • Specify a legal standard to reduce the variability in induction loops (thereby increasing the profit available for including an integrated induction loop).

  • Specify that governmental organisations will only purchase phones with integrated induction loops, thereby ensuring that at least one such mass-market phone is available to the public

  • Provide phones with induction loops through healthcare services

Note that caution is needed when considering such legislation, as disrupting free market economics can lead to products that are expensive, undesirable, not fit for purpose and not used.

What is an accessible product?