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Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects



Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in the digital age have become increasingly important over the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller extent in most projects that develop interactive systems. However, the concept varies among different professions, cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal access and inclusive design are all different names of approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts? This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used for accessibility, its methodological and historical development and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It can be concluded that there is little or no consensus regarding the definition and use of the concept, and consequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the target audience. Particularly in international standardization the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this discussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may have on measurability, conformance with standards and the overall usability for the widest possible range of target users.
Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all:
different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—
historical, methodological and philosophical aspects
Hans Persson Henrik A
Alexander Arvei Yngling Jan Gulliksen
Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014
Abstract Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in
the digital age have become increasingly important over
the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of
accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller
extent in most projects that develop interactive systems.
However, the concept varies among different professions,
cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal
access and inclusive design are all different names of
approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessi-
bility of the interactive system for the widest possible range
of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and
what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts?
This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used
for accessibility, its methodological and historical devel-
opment and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It
can be concluded that there is little or no consensus
regarding the definition and use of the concept, and con-
sequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the
target audience. Particularly in international standardiza-
tion the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this dis-
cussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough
definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may
have on measurability, conformance with standards and the
overall usability for the widest possible range of target
Keywords Accessibility Usability Disability
Design for all Universal access Inclusive design
1 Introduction
Currently, there is no consensus on formulating the concept
of accessibility in different areas, not even within the ISO
standardization community. Accessibility is a quality
concept that is interpreted differently depending on the
design approach used for the development. The authors’
experience is that this lack of consensus on the definition of
the concept may hinder the adoption of accessibility on a
wider scale, thus possibly limiting the potential benefits.
These benefits could manifest themselves on many levels,
such as individual, business and society levels. Economic
benefits, as an example, may be found on an individual
level as increased income for someone who otherwise
would not be able to work, had it not been for an adequate
level of accessibility at the workplace. On a business level,
companies offering products or services developed to meet
the highest levels of accessibility may find an opportunity
to offer this product to an even broader market, and
probably also see new forms of use of their product.
Society, on the other hand, will see economic benefits
through having a larger percentage of the population work
and a corresponding decrease in people being dependent on
social security. This will therefore also have a positive
impact on social sustainability and promote quality of life
for the target audience. The quality of life may be increased
Hans Persson passed away before the final publication of this paper.
For questions and comments, please refer to Jan Gulliksen.
H. Persson
Institute for Humane Technology (IHT), Bollna
¨s, Sweden
H. Persson H. A
˚hman A. A. Yngling J. Gulliksen (&)
KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Lindstedtsva
¨gen 3, Floor 4,
10044 Stockholm, Sweden
H. A
A. A. Yngling
Univ Access Inf Soc
DOI 10.1007/s10209-014-0358-z
for individuals who otherwise would not have been able to
enter the workforce simply because of the lacking acces-
sibility. The quality of the work environment and product
quality even on the system development processes may be
improved by making use of processes considering
increased accessibility. Society itself can see its ethical
ideals better upheld by catering for a broader variation of
characteristics and capabilities in the design of techno-
logical support.
As an example, the region of Va
¨stra Go
¨taland in Sweden
has expressed a mantra: ‘What is essential for some spe-
cific users for them to be able to use a product, often makes
it more efficient to use for most people’’, a claim that has
also been made by recent accessibility research [1]. In the
light of this, they have taken a policy decision to invest in
identifying and acting for increased accessibility relating to
activities in their public domain, something that also
includes their websites. This is in line with the results from
the Forrester report commissioned by Microsoft in 2003;
60 % of the adult workforce is likely or very likely to
benefit from the use of accessible technology [2]. One
example of this was that, when a commercial website was
re-launched in a new version taking accessibility issues
into consideration by applying WCAG 1.0, not only was it
easier to use for individuals with disabilities, but also, as a
side effect, the maintenance costs were reduced by 66 %
and the load time of the page was reduced by 75 %. There
was also a 30 % increase in the natural search engine traffic
[3]. Making accessible ICT products and services is thus of
a much wider importance than only for individuals with a
The benefits can be experienced by most
The following sections will outline the purpose and
justification for analysing the concept of accessibility.
After that, the paper will go through the various concepts
used in different design approaches, followed by a dis-
cussion on some historical traces of the notion of accessi-
bility, sediments from long before the concept was ever
used in practice and long before the invention of ICT.
Moreover, different policies and international agreements
developed to promote accessibility and an overview of how
different ISO standards define accessibility are presented.
Then, a philosophical analysis of accessibility from a post-
structuralist perspective, a theoretical standpoint that
considered valuable for a deeper understanding of acces-
sibility, is made. Finally, all of these positions are put
together, and conclusions that can be drawn with respect to
defining accessibility and what consequences an agreed
upon definition could potentially have, are presented.
2 Purpose and justification
A political stance on this subject has already been made
by important entities such as the United Nations, the
European Commission, USA, Japan, China and many
more. In many countries, non-discrimination laws that
require a certain level of accessibility are actually in place.
Therefore, the question is not so much about whether it is
necessary to achieve accessibility, but more about how to
achieve it.
A major challenge, however, is that the term accessi-
bility is used in so many different contexts where it may
mean different things. Even in the same context, the term
may be ambiguous. Various schools of thought (e.g. design
for all, universal design, inclusive design and universal
access), standardization bodies (e.g. ISO, ETSI) and com-
panies or organizations (e.g. Panasonic) either use the term
accessibility without thoroughly defining it or use other
concepts to cover more or less the same area. Different
schools of thought may take the term accessibility to have a
slightly different meaning explicitly or in a more subtle
way, or give different weight to certain aspects of the
concept. The strategies of reaching more accessible end
products are also slightly different between the different
schools of thought, and therefore, one of the aims of the
present work is to analyse what can be learned from the
different schools of thought, based on their methodologies,
attitudes or from their philosophical and ethical
Considering this conceptual plurality and ambiguity,
one might question whether such a concept is at all
useful. Perhaps, it only contributes to linguistic and the-
oretical debates without ever helping to improve the lives
of individual people. However, since the concept has
become well established in a broad variety of political
and societal bodies, it is argued that it is still valid as a
focal point for addressing issues concerning people’s
access to technology and society. By facilitating a better
understanding of how the term is used in different con-
texts as well as a more widespread awareness of the
historical, ethical and philosophical aspects of accessi-
bility, an attempt will be made to deconstruct the area. It
is also argued that a clearer definition will promote
awareness, facilitate discussion, enable implementation
and promote the development of better methods for
increasing accessibility.
The term disability is perhaps not the best one to use here. The
word seems to suggest that disability is a static quality that certain
people possess throughout life in all situations. Such an interpretation
does not fully recognize one of the core convictions of this paper, i.e.
that all people’s abilities change over time and in different contexts.
However, since the word disability has been so extensively used and
accepted by international organizations, national legislation in a vast
number of countries, civic organizations and the industry, the authors
have chosen to accept that vocabulary in this article.
Univ Access Inf Soc
3 Approaches and design thinking
The population in the industrialized world is ageing, and as
the population gets older, the number of people with
functional difficulties is consequently also growing [4].
The needs of these growing groups are large, and this is
particularly relevant to consider in the ICT area, where the
support potential that ICT may have is enormous, but also
the quality requirements are high [5]. In the last decade,
meeting these needs has become an important goal on the
political agenda and there is a growing recognition of the
needs of better integrating elderly people and people with
disabilities in society. The increasing awareness of these
groups and their needs have attracted the interest of
developers and designers to enable them to obtain an
increased independence in terms of societal help and sup-
port for performing everyday tasks.
Even if the interest for
designing for people with some form of disability was there
already, the shifting of basic values in society has been
very important, as the following will show.
The following chapter provides a short description of
some design approaches or groups of design thinking that,
according to the authors’ point of view, have played an
important role and inspired many in the area of designing
for accessibility.
3.1 Barrier-free design
In the 1950s, a process of change in public policies and
design practices started in the US. Due to a number of
people returning to the US with injuries after the Vietnam
War, the US President’s Committee on Employment of the
Handicapped, the Veterans Administration and others
worked on national standards for ‘‘barrier-free’ buildings,
targeted at making buildings accessible by handicapped
soldiers and others with similar conditions. The goal was to
offer education and employment opportunities, as an
alternative to institutionalized health care. In 1961, the
American National Standard Institute published its first
version of ‘ANSI A117.1—Making Buildings Accessible
to and Usable by the Physically Handicapped’’ [6].
One of the effects of this was the tremendous develop-
ment of assistive technologies with the purpose of
increasing disabled individuals’ possibility to participate in
everyday life. Examples are most frequent in the area of
building and home equipment, such as the one hand
blender, remote controls, and wider doors in trains.
3.2 Design for all
Today, the concept of design for all is much more applied
and related to than other concepts. The main goal of the
design for all movement was that products are designed for
an all-encompassing customer base and that a product is
made to be usable by the widest possible range of people.
This does not, however, automatically imply that there is
such a thing as a single solution that suits all [7].
There are several definitions of the term design for all.
The European Institute for Design and Disability (EIDD)
has defined design for all as ‘design for human diversity,
social inclusion and equality’ [8], which probably is the
most widely spread definition. EIDD is a European plat-
form for design for all. Members of this organization are
national organizations, corporate and individual members
now in sixteen European countries. During the annual
general meeting of 2004 in Stockholm, a declaration was
adopted, namely ‘The Stockholm Declaration’. Parts of
this declaration are cited below.
Across Europe, human diversity in age, culture and
ability is greater than ever. We now survive illness
and injury and live with disability as never before.
Although today’s world is a complex place, it is one
of our own making, one in which we therefore have
the possibility and the responsibility to base our
designs on the principle of inclusion.
Design for all is design for human diversity, social
inclusion and equality. This holistic and innovative
approach constitutes a creative and ethical challenge
for all planners, designers, entrepreneurs, adminis-
trators and political leaders.
Design for all aims to enable all people to have equal
opportunities to participate in every aspect of society. To
achieve this, the built environment, everyday objects,
services, culture and information in short, everything
must be accessible, convenient for everyone in society
to use and responsive to evolving human diversity.
The practice of design for all makes conscious use of
the analysis of human needs and aspirations and
requires the involvement of end users at every stage
in the design process.
The European Institute for Design and Disability
therefore calls on the European institutions, national,
regional and local governments and professionals,
This indicates that accessibility is not an area for state intervention
only. Instead, accessibility is an area with a broad variety of
stakeholders, e.g. the individual with a disability, the designer, the
person leading the procurement process and the state regulations. The
roles and responsibilities of these different stakeholders are a complex
issue that lies outside the scope of this article. However, the authors
recognize the importance of this aspect and view it as a potential topic
for future work.
In 2006, European Institute for Design and Disability (EIDD)
changed its name to Design for All Europe.
Univ Access Inf Soc
businesses and social actors to take all appropriate
measures to implement design for all in their policies
and actions [8].
EIDD also situates the design for all vision within a
discourse on sustainability, using Jon Hawkes’ four-pillar
definition [9], in which sustainability is defined as a
composite concept entailing cultural as well as ecological,
economical and social aspects.
Another definition was suggested by the European
Commission Information Society in their original call in
2001, but unfortunately no longer available, which defines
accessibility on the basis of its outcome. ‘‘This will only
come as a result of designing mainstream products and
services to be accessible by as broad a range of users as
possible. This approach is termed design for all and con-
sists of three principal strategies:
Design of IST products, services and applications
which are demonstrably suitable for most of the
potential users without any modifications.
Design of products which are easily adaptable to
different users (e.g. by incorporating adaptable or
customisable user interfaces).
Design of products which have standardized interfaces,
capable of being accessed by specialized user interac-
tion devices’’.
The concept design for all hasalso attracted some attention
on a national level. For example, theSwedish government set
the goal that all of Sweden should be accessible for all people
in the year 2010 [10]. In this goal, the focus was on using the
term design for all, which means that no one should be
excluded because of their disabilities or functional difficul-
ties. This goal is argued to be a part of the government’s vision
of a democratic society, thus situating the concept within a
discourse on democracy in which not only rational, political
argumentation, but also the multitude and variety of people’s
practical participation in society is seen as important aspects
of a democratic system. Furthermore, the government’s
proposition contextualizes this goal as part of a broad vision
of developing a sustainable society, described in Hawkes’
terms as a four-pillar concept [9]. By relating accessibility to
sustainability, the proposition taps into the vision of the
United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities, which emphasizes the importance of the inclu-
sion of people with disabilities into society, not only for the
individuals concerned, but also for society at large [11]. Thus,
design for all is seen as core to sustainable development.
3.3 Universal design
Universal design is a design term which was coined by
Ronald L. Mace, a highly influential architect, product
designer and educator. He stated the term universal design
as a concept of designing products and environments for
the needs of people, regardless of their age, ability or status
in life [12].
Universal design has its roots in the Barrier-free design
and accessible design approaches, and according to more
recent research, the term Universal design can be used
interchangeable with the term design for all [7]. Mace
argues that what can be barrier free for one person can be a
barrier for someone else. Even specialists have problems
with the design issue because of its complexity. To just
remove the barrier is not enough, the designer must address
the issue from a broader angle.
The universal design definition is The design of pro-
ducts and environments to be usable by all people, to the
greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or
specialized design’’ [ 13].
One of the most frequently cited explanations of the
concept of universal design is the seven principles that are
used to further elaborate on the concept [13];
Equitable Use The design is useful and marketable to
people with diverse abilities.
Flexibility in Use The design accommodates a wide
range of individual preferences and abilities.
Simple and Intuitive Use Use of the design is easy to
understand, regardless of the user’s experience,
knowledge, language skills or current concentration
Perceptible Information The design communicates
necessary information effectively to the user, regardless
of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
Tolerance for Error The design minimizes hazards and
the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended
Low Physical Effort The design can be used efficiently
and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
Size and Space for Approach and Use Appropriate size
and space are provided for approach, reach, manipula-
tion and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture
or mobility.
One example of the attempts to design according to
these principles is Toyota that has applied the concept of
universal design, to make their cars ready for adaptation
already from the start. If the buyer would like to make
some changes in the driving environment, such as changing
the accelerator from using it with the foot to using it with
the hand, a standard gizmo can be bought and easily
installed. They have made most of the controls in the car
replaceable. This means that if a user wishes to change the
steering, it is easy to replace the steering wheel with
something else as long it is following the Toyota standard.
This way the increased accessibility potential comes with a
Univ Access Inf Soc
minimum of extra costs, something that makes the design
more equitable.
3.4 Inclusive design
This term is mostly used in the UK where it is also
described in the British Standard on Managing Inclusive
Design [14]. There are a couple of different definitions of
inclusive design. One of them has sprung from the nor-
malization thinking that the design of buildings should be
as inclusive as possible for as many as possible.
Inclusive design bears similarities to universal design
and design for all, but with the requirement to also include
the concept of ‘reasonable’ in the definition. One of the
definitions of inclusive design reads:
The design of mainstream products and/or services
that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people
as reasonably possible on a global basis, in a wide
variety of situations and to the greatest extent possi-
ble without the need for special adaptation or spe-
cialized design. [14].
The phrase ‘reasonably possible’ expresses one of the
main differences from other approaches, since ‘‘reason-
ably’ seems to suggest that the inclusion of people with
disabilities can be disregarded if considered too difficult to
achieve or too costly, whereas, for example, the United
Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities claims these rights to be absolute and uncon-
ditional [12].
Another definition of inclusive design has been adopted
in the area of design education:
Principally, it should be acknowledged that ‘inclu-
sive design’ is not a fixed set of design criteria, but a
constantly evolving philosophy. The goal of creating
beautiful and functional environments that can be
used equally by everyone, irrespective of age, gender
or disability requires that the design process must be
constantly expanding to accommodate a diverse
range of users, as we develop greater understanding
of their requirements, desires and expectations. [15]
This is a more pragmatic definition that was developed
during a round table discussion at the Disability Rights
Commission’s Discussion on Inclusive Design in Novem-
ber 2001 [15].
One of the leading design research groups in the UK at
the University of Cambridge and its design group has had a
focus on designing mainstream products instead of pro-
ducts for marginalized groups. They have also made an
effort to make tools that companies can easily use in
product development. One of these tools is the ‘‘Inclusive
design toolkit’’.
3.5 User-sensitive inclusive design/design for dynamic
Another suggestion of a methodological approach to
User-Centred Design (UCD) was made by a research
group in Dundee based on their view of the nature of the
design for all and inclusive design approaches. They
claim that the goals argued for in these approaches are not
realistic goals for all products and could actually even be
If UCD is to be used in a situation where people with
disabilities are included in the user group, this must mean
changes in the methodology. The suggestion is User-Sen-
sitive Inclusive Design (USID) as an extension of UCD.
The word ‘centred’ is replaced by ‘sensitive’ because of
the wide variety of functionality and characteristics of user
groups (including users with disabilities and especially
users with communication difficulties), which makes it
very hard to get a small representative sample in the user
group but also to design products that are accessible for all
potential users. The use of ‘inclusive’ indicates an attempt
for a more realistic view on which groups can be included
in the user group [16].
The Design for Dynamic Diversity is discussed in the
context of designing accessible interfaces for older people,
in general taking into account the fact that as people
become older their abilities change. Elderly people are in a
process of reduction in their cognitive, physical and sen-
sory functions in an individualized way, which means that
when designing for this group, the designers have to take
the dynamic diversity into account [16].
3.6 Accessible design
Accessible design is defined in ISO’s guide 71 as ‘‘design
focused on principles of extending standard design to
persons with some type of performance limitation to
maximize the number of potential customers who can
readily use a product, building or service, which may be
achieved by
designing products, services and environments that are
readily usable by most users without any modification,
making products or services adaptable to different users
(adapting user interfaces) and
having standardized interfaces to be compatible with
special products for persons with disabilities’’ [17].
Therefore, it ‘widens the scope of users as far as pos-
sible’ and ‘‘is not limited to the 5th to 95th percentiles of
working populations’. Accessible design provides ergo-
nomic data on the limited abilities of elderly and persons
Univ Access Inf Soc
with sensory, physical or cognitive disabilities, aiming at
including the widest possible range of user abilities.
The term accessible design was derived from the ADA
(American Disability Act) standard for accessible design,
which was first published in 1991 with its latest revision
dating to September 2010. Its general message is that ‘‘No
individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of
disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods,
services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommo-
dations of any place of public accommodation by any
private entity who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a
place of public accommodation’’ [ [ 18]: Sect 12182].
3.7 Universal access
Universal access sometimes refers to a broader perspective
of the possibilities for everyone to use the product or ser-
vice even with assistive technologies, if necessary. This
thought has had a strong position in the area of design in
Asia, especially in Japan.
Another interpretation of universal access is that it is a
social shaping approach in terms of the philosophy of
technology [16].
In the area of human–computer interaction (HCI), uni-
versal access has been defined in a slightly different way,
not only as the result of a design process but also as a way
of thinking. It is described as a conscious and systematic
effort to proactively apply principles, methods, and tools of
universal design, in order to develop information society
technologies that are accessible and usable by all citizens,
including the very young and the elderly, as well as people
with different types of disabilities, thus avoiding the need
for a posteriori adaptations or specialized design’’ [ 19].
Thus, within the tradition of universal access, accessibility
does not concern people with physical or cognitive dis-
abilities only, but is an aspect of increasing importance for
society at large [20].
3.8 Cooperative design
In the Scandinavian culture, collaboration and participation
on equal terms are inherent characteristics. There is a tra-
dition of making agreements with workers on changing
modes of operation or changing work routines. This way of
working has spread as collaborative or participative design
approaches. Particularly, when it comes to the involvement
of users with special requirements, such an approach may
be very fruitful and give completely new insights into the
process, thus contributing to increased accessibility.
Cooperative Design [21], or as known by many, par-
ticipatory design [22], is a design process involving much
more than just the active involvement of users in the pro-
cess. It entails full cooperation between the users and the
development team, who share their respective knowledge
and experiences by designing together. In UTOPIA,
graphical workers participated actively in the design pro-
cess with their knowledge and experiences on the same
terms as the development team [23]. This can be described
as using a democratic approach as a facilitator—‘‘One man
one voice’’. This so-called Scandinavian tradition was
probably inspired by a tradition of a strong labour union. In
the above project, the graphical workers were deeply
involved in the labour union.
In the project ‘KidStory’, the challenge was to inves-
tigate how to get hold of the children’s points of view in
the design [24]. It is very hard for children to get hold of
adults’ world of thinking and vice versa but using practical
methods where all have the opportunity to visualize their
ideas, an understanding between individuals from different
contexts can evolve [23].
A further development of this method was to addition-
ally involve users with some form of disability in the Co-
operative Design workshop resulting in short video proto-
types of the solutions, offering valuable information to be
used in the process of further developing a product. In this
way, accessibility issues were automatically included
within the method by inviting participants from the widest
range possible from all stakeholders in the area [20].
3.9 Summarizing approaches and design thinking
The different approaches of designing for accessibility are
merging and becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish
from each other. For example, in a note in the recom-
mendation from the EU Ministers’ meeting of 2009, the
terms ‘design for all’’, ‘integral accessibility’’, ‘accessible
design’’, ‘‘inclusive design’’, ‘‘barrier-free design’’, ‘trans-
generational design’ and ‘accessibility for all’ are regar-
ded as converging towards the term ‘‘universal design’ as
it is used and defined in this text. These approaches all take
the needs of a broader spectrum of people into account in
the design process to ensure that mainstream equipment
and services can be used by a wide range of users,
including older people and those with disabilities. Aware-
ness of the development of these different approaches that
have been presented helps illuminate the challenges and the
basic values underlying the general approach towards
increased accessibility.
4 Chronological traces
In order to further illustrate the complexity of the concept
of accessibility and its changing character, the following
section will discuss some chronological traces of how
accessibility has been understood historically. The focus in
Univ Access Inf Soc
this section is on events that have resulted in extensions of
the rights for an increasing part of the population in order
to further include them in society as equals. This section
describes a change in focus over time, from a perspective
where individual characteristics and capabilities deter-
mined what the individual could (and should) do, to a
perspective where everyone is supposed to be able to do
everything by adapting the tools used.
4.1 From hunters to Vikings
From an historical perspective, accessibility and even
human rights have only just recently become an issue.
When humans were hunters, the individuals’ ability to
contribute to the group was essential. Individuals who were
born with a disability or who became injured had diffi-
culties being a full member of the group.
Moving on to ancient Greece, a similar emphasis on
relating people’s roles and tasks to their characteristics and
capabilities is noted. Society was built upon the perception
that some people are born to lead (master) and others are
born to work (slaves), which meant that every individual
had his/her specific, congenital role in society [25]. Facil-
itating for individuals to be able to perform tasks beyond
their hereditary capacity was therefore not on the agenda in
ancient Greece. Instead, the congenital, individual charac-
teristics and capabilities determined a person’s scope of
activity. Within the political arena, this meant that a
majority of people living in, e.g., Athens were excluded
from political influence, despite of the democratic ambi-
tions of the society. One of the most famous representatives
of this line of thought was Plato, who argued that ruling the
state should only be possible for those who had superior
natural capacity and a comprehensive education, thereby
arguing for a societal structure built upon different people
having different tasks [26]. This was to some extent based
on congenital characteristics and capacities.
In another of the Greek city states, Lycurgus introduced
the Spartan constitution, and each citizen was given a plot,
or estate, called a ‘kleros’ [27]. The Spartans then called
themselves equals, not only because they were equal in
rights, but because they were also equal in wealth. This is
the first known constitution that gave supreme power to an
assembly composed of all citizens. This equality did not
extend to everyone, but only to a select group of adult
males who had successfully completed the Spartan
education system. Nonetheless, public education was pro-
vided for women as well as men. This then is an early
example of rights being given to a group that previously
did not enjoy them (e.g. the rights of citizens to participate
in the assembly, the right to receive public education).
Interestingly enough, despite the emphasis on congenital
capabilities, other, more flexible perspectives on people’s
place in society can also be found in ancient Greece. For
example, the word ‘idiot’ referred to someone who avoi-
ded contributing to the state’s affairs rather than someone
with less intellectual capacity [28]. This is an early
example of congenital capacity not being viewed upon as
the only defining characteristic in terms of the role that an
individual can play in society, and suggests that one’s
position and role in society is renegotiable and re-definable
depending on the individuals’ own aspirations.
In Scandinavia, the Vikings had a very practical view of
humanity and abilities, which is shown in the poem of
‘Havamal’’. In this poem, verse 71 reads:
The lame can ride horse, the handless drive cattle,
the deaf one can fight and prevail,
it is happier for the blind than for him on the bale fire,
but no man hath care for a corpse. [29]
This illustrates a very strong connection between the
diverse personal capability and the role that an individual
has to play in society.
4.2 The rise of human rights
The Magna Charta in (1215) was the first document
imposed on a monarch in order to constrain his authority
and ensure certain rights to all citizens. One such right,
which is still in existence today, is that ‘‘free men’ can be
punished only through the law of the land. This document
is regarded to be the foundation for the British people’s
freedom and rights.
During the enlightenment, the idea of natural rights, an
idea that can be traced back to the Stoics and that has been
an important part of such diverse ideological traditions as
for example Catholic Scholastics and early Protestantism,
was further developed in an individual direction by theo-
rists such as John Locke. According to this view, every
human being possesses certain innate rights independent of
the person’s social or financial status, cultural background,
education, etc. This idea constitutes the foundation for
what later came to be known as the Universal Declaration
of human rights.
The United States Declaration of Independence of 1776
is another example of rights being bestowed upon citizens.
The first ten amendments, collectively known as the Bill of
Rights, guarantee certain freedoms to its citizens [30]. This
was followed by the French Declaration of Human Rights
The authors have chosen to focus on events from their own cultural
heritage, aware of the risk of a western, European bias, however,
arguing that similar ideas and a similar historical development can be
found in other cultures as well. Aiming for an all-encompassing,
global historical perspective would, however, unavoidably be too big
a task to grasp within this article; therefore, this particular cultural
perspective has been chosen.
Univ Access Inf Soc
which states that all men are born equal and have equal
rights, a statement that has political consequences in terms
of the idea that all power emanates from the people,
thereby promoting a participatory aspect of civic
In 1945, the United Nations was constituted, and in
1948, the General Assembly adopted the Universal Dec-
laration of Human Rights [31], which emphasizes the
equality of all mankind.
4.3 Accessibility thinking starts
As has been shown in the section discussing Barrier-Free
Design, something happened in the 1950s that started a
process of change in public policies and design practices. It
began with the US military involvement in Vietnam, which
unfortunately led to a number of people returning to the US
with disabilities due to inflicted injuries [32]. The US
President’s Committee on Employment of the Handi-
capped, the Veterans Administration and others worked on
national standards for barrier-free buildings, in a move
towards making buildings accessible by the handicapped
soldiers and others with the same conditions. The goal was
to offer opportunities in education and employment rather
than institutionalized health care. Thus, the term Barrier-
Free Design was introduced to describe the act of creating
barrier-free buildings. During the following years in the
1960s, the American national accessibility standard pub-
lished the report ‘Making Buildings Accessible to and
Usable by the Physically Handicapped’’ and in 1968 the
Architectural Barriers Act with the principles around bar-
rier-free design in the area of buildings was adopted as
American law [6,33]. The accessibility discourse during
this period is therefore still mostly focused on physical
In the 1970s, the term User-Centric Design evolved
from Cooperative Design (Scandinavian tradition of ICT
design) [23].
The Trace R&D Center at the College of Engineering,
University of Wisconsin-Madison, was formed in 1971 to
address the communication needs of people who are non-
speaking and have severe disabilities. This centre played an
important role in the developing of accessibility technol-
ogies for people with disabilities.
4.4 Accessibility established in national legislation
In USA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was adopted which
prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability [32].
Then, in 1986, the original section 508 was added as an
amendment directed at electronic and information tech-
nologies. Twelve years later, the Congress amended the
Rehabilitation Act to require the Federal agencies to make
their electronics and information technologies accessible to
people with disabilities. According to Section 508, barriers
need to be eliminated in order to make these new tech-
nologies available for people with disabilities.
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) (PL101-336) was
passed in 1990 (revised 2008 in PL 110-325) with the
intention to protect people from discrimination due to
disability [18]. Equal opportunities for participation in
programs, services and activities were addressed from a
Federal perspective.
In 1991, an action research group, which initiated the
Inclusive Design research program at the Royal College of
Art in London, UK, was founded. They played an impor-
tant role in combining design with groups that previously
were excluded from using products, services and
The official start of the Web accessibility Initiative of
W3C was in 1997. Their director Tim Berners-Lee said in
conjunction with the discussion in favour for the new
direction that ‘Worldwide, there are more than 750 million
people with disabilities. As we move towards a highly
connected world, it is critical that the Web be usable by
anyone, regardless of individual capabilities and disabili-
ties’ [34]. The initiative aimed at creating a set of guide-
lines, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
explaining how to make Web content more accessible to
people with disabilities.
In Sweden, a national action plan entitled ‘From patient
to citizen: A National Action Plan for Disability Policy’’
was adopted in 2000. The central theme is that society
should be designed so that all citizens have equal oppor-
tunities [10]. The focus is on identifying and removing
obstacles to full participation in society for people with
disabilities in order to prevent discrimination against peo-
ple with disabilities and making it possible for children,
young people and adults with disabilities to live indepen-
dent lives based on their own choices.
The first publication of the Universal Access Handbook
in 2001, entitled ‘User Interfaces for all: Concepts,
Methods and Tools’, was dedicated to design for all in
human–computer interaction [35]. The same year the ISO
Guide 71 was introduced, formulating guidelines for
developers to address the needs of older persons and per-
sons with disabilities [17].
In their Stockholm Declaration from 2004, EIDD
(EIDD—Design for All Europe) defined design for all as
design for human diversity, social inclusion and equality
[8]. This holistic and innovative approach constitutes a
creative and ethical challenge for planners, designers and
entrepreneurs as well as for administrators and political
In 2005, the Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General
of the European Commission presented phase one of a
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mandated work to the European standardization bodies
CEN, CENELEC and ETIS: MANDATE 376 [36]. The
first phase of MANDATE 376, which is about E-accessi-
bility in public procurement of ICT products and services,
ended in 2010, and the reports from CEN/CENELEC and
ETIS are publicly available. The second phase of MAN-
DATE 376 started early in 2011, and the results are to be
presented in the form of an ETSI, CEN/CENELEC stan-
dard and a toolkit to make it easier to promote accessibility
needs in public procurement.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities was adopted in 2006, and the possibility to
ratification opened in 2007 [11]. As of March 2013, 169
member states have ratified the declaration [37]. As a
result of this convention, many countries have adopted
anti-discrimination acts targeting discrimination due to
In Sweden, governmental authorities have created a
public framework for contract procurement in which
principles and priorities regarding usability, ergonomics
and especially accessibility for people with disabilities are
defined. The same year, Handisam, the Swedish Agency
for Disability Policy Coordination, published guidelines to
help all public authorities in Sweden to become more
accessible for people with disabilities [38]. The guidelines
focus mostly on buildings and the environment but also
discuss ICT in terms of how authorities should plan and
conduct their work in order to become more accessible.
In December 2008, W3C published the WCAG 2.0,
stating four principles to provide better Web accessibility:
perceivable, operable, understandable and robust [1].
In CEN, the technical specification for ‘‘Packaging—
Ease of opening—Criteria and test methods for evaluating
consumer packaging’ (CEN TS 15945, 2011) was adopted
in 2011 [39]. This is the first CEN document where a
usability method is using a stratified test group of elderly to
make a statement about overall use. A focus on what is
necessary for some has proven to make it easier for a larger
4.5 Summarizing the chronological traces
This chapter has briefly described a shift in focus, from a
perspective where the individual is seen as an asset that
should contribute to society by performing work that is
suitable for the individual’s physical characteristics, to a
perspective where the individual is seen as someone who
should have the right to participate in all parts of society
irrespectively of his/her physical abilities. The design
approaches developed over the last 50–60 years can be
seen as reflecting this development and increasingly
adopting the vision of accessibility as a broad inclusive
concept not limited to discussions on functional disability,
but also concerning diversity and cultural and contextual
5 Collaborations, conventions and standards to achieve
increased accessibility
Having described how differently accessibility has been
interpreted, historically as well as in current/more recent
design approaches, the following section focuses on the
political arena. How has accessibility been understood in
international collaborations, such as the UN, the WHO, the
EU and the international standardization organizations?
5.1 United Nations’ declaration of human rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted
1948 by the United Nations General Assembly to become
the foundation of international human rights laws [31].
This declaration has become the starting point for a rich
body of legally binding international human rights treaties
and human rights development work worldwide.
Throughout its 30 articles, the declaration stipulates a
number of rights that should be granted to all people
regardless of distinguishing characteristics such as nation-
ality, gender, age and religion, thus establishing the core
values of the declaration as universal. According to the
declaration, all people are born free and equal in dignity
and rights and should therefore be protected against dis-
crimination and granted the right to work, participate in
societal activities, enjoy culture and arts and engage in
political debate, to name but a few of the rights mentioned
in the declaration.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a polit-
ical document rather than a legal one and has been fol-
lowed by conventions that are legally binding for the
countries that have ratified them. Some of the conventions
that followed upon the declaration are listed below:
Genocide Convention (1948).
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination (1965).
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966).
Convention against All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (1979).
Convention about the Rights of the Child (1989).
Convention for Protection of All Migrant Workers and
their Families (1990).
Convention about the Rights of Persons with Disabil-
ities (2006).
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For accessibility issues, the Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities has become the one most referred
to, although many of the other conventions mentioned
contribute important additional requirements and rights.
5.2 United Nations’ convention on the rights of persons
with disabilities
Although preexisting human rights conventions offer con-
siderable potential to promote and protect the rights of
persons with disabilities, this potential was not being tap-
ped. The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities was created as a response to this
fact. Persons with disabilities continued being denied their
human rights and were kept on the margins of society in all
parts of the world—in developing countries as well as in
countries such as Sweden, Denmark, England and USA.
The convention articulates the legal obligations of states
‘‘ to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoy-
ment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all
persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their
inherent dignity’’ [ [ 11]: Article 1].
The convention constitutes a paradigm shift in attitude
and approach to people with disabilities. People with dis-
abilities should not be viewed as passive objects, receivers
of charity, medical treatment and social protection, but as
active subjects with the right to decide for themselves and to
actively participate as members of society. These hereditary
rights of people with disabilities are argued for, not only
from the perspective of individuals currently being exclu-
ded from society, but also from the perspective of society at
large, i.e. including people with disabilities is an important
step towards developing a sustainable society. The concept
of sustainability is not clearly defined in the convention.
However, it implicitly relates to Hawkes’ broad four-pillar
understanding of the concept sustainability, by discussing
‘‘ accessibility to the physical, social, economic and cultural
environment’’ [ 11: Preamble]. Furthermore, the convention
emphasizes that accessibility to these societal environments
should not be conditioned by the individual’s proximity to
urban areas with high concentration of, e.g. cultural insti-
tutions, but should also be available in rural areas.
This convention gives universal recognition to the dig-
nity of persons with disabilities, and the General principles
The respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy
including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and
independence of persons.
Full and effective participation and inclusion in society.
Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with
disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity.
Equality of opportunity.
Equality between men and women.
Respect for the evolving capacities of children with
disabilities and respect for the right of children with
disabilities to preserve their identities.
According to the convention, fundamental principles of
international human rights laws apply to all people, whe-
ther or not they are disabled. It also includes a discussion
about direct and indirect discrimination.
According to the convention, reasonable accommoda-
tion must be made for persons with disability in order to
ensure equal accessibility. Reasonable accommodation of
the convention means necessary and appropriate modi-
fication and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate
or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to
ensure persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise
on an equal basis with others of all human rights and
fundamental freedoms’’ [ 11: Article 2].
Accessibility is not defined in the convention document,
and neither is the term disability. What is described in this
convention is more or less the obligation of universal
access for all people, including individuals with
5.3 WHO’s international classification of functioning
The International Classification of Functioning, Disability
and Health (ICF) is a taxonomy that describes aspects of
human health and some health-relevant components of
well-being [40]. This is a classification system of func-
tionality, disability and health in a broad perspective and
can be used as a communication platform to describe
individuals’ health state in a quality of life perspective for
all people, not only for those with disabilities. This model
has had a strong impact on the discussion on how to sup-
port disabled people in the best possible way in general
life, but not always of benefit when it comes to improving
ICT use.
The framework is around the body (function and struc-
ture), activity, participation and context. The contextual
factors are divided into environmental and personal. The
personal factors are not included in the ICF, but the clas-
sification relates to these factors (Fig. 1).
Based on ICF, one can distinguish a social model of
disability in contrast to the prevailing medical disability
model. The medical disability model is built on a diagnosis
of the individual. The social disability model views the
individual in relation to the social environment, and the
following will describe the essence of it.
A lack of body function or a mental disturbance can for
an individual make things difficult in certain contexts. An
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individual may in that context be disabled. If the envi-
ronments, services and products are well thought-out, on
the basis of a design for all perspective, it increases the
possible use for people with functional difficulties. A dis-
ability always occurs in relation to something or somebody
and in a specific context. Thus, disability is an umbrella
term stemming from functional reductions, structural dis-
crepancies, activity restrictions or limitations to participate
in a certain context.
When analysing ICF, it is interesting to observe the use
of disability as a multidimensional concept where the
limitation in the interaction between people and their
physical and social environment is not defined simply as
results of the disabilities. In a design context, this
description fits very well with User-Centred Design where
contextual factors such as environment, users (and their
ability, knowledge, culture, etc.) and organizations are
considered in relation to the activity that should be
occurring, in relation to the goals.
5.4 European Union
The aim to include everyone in the use of new ICT based
technology is a major area of political striving in Europe.
In 2006, a thematic EU-ministerial meeting, ‘‘ICT for an
inclusive society’ in Riga, resulted in the Ministerial
Declaration on eInclusion [41]. In paragraph four of this
Riga Declaration, eInclusion is defined:
eInclusion means both inclusive ICT and the use of
ICT to achieve wider inclusion objectives. It focuses
on participation of all individuals and communities in
all aspects of the information society. eInclusion
policy, therefore, aims at reducing gaps in ICT usage
and promoting the use of ICT to overcome exclusion
and improve economic performance, employment
opportunities, quality of life, social participation and
cohesion. [41]
The term eInclusion is widely used in the political context
in the EU. Some texts use the term Digital Inclusion to
refer to basically the same area, though eInclusion is used
when referring to specific policies. Within the European
Union, the term is used to describe activities relating to the
achievement of a sustainable, inclusive information soci-
ety. eInclusion means to create a sustainable and digital
social cohesion and to bring the possibilities of the Internet
and other communication technologies to all people, which
includes those individuals who are disadvantaged due to
such things as education, age, gender, disabilities, ethnic-
ity, living in remote rural regions, etc. The policies around
eInclusion address issues in the field of active ageing,
geographical digital divide, accessibility, digital literacy
and competences, cultural diversity and inclusive e-Gov-
ernment. One of the three pillars of the 2010 policy
initiative at the EU level is managed by the Directorate-
General for Information Society and Media of the Euro-
pean Commission. In the work of developing policies,
knowledge base, research & technology development and
deployment, and best practices, dissemination of eInclu-
sion is a very important issue.
In the EU, the term design for all is also used, though it
is mainly used the same way that universal design or
inclusive design is used in other forums and is mostly
described as availability of adequate assistive technology.
On EU level, there has been an initiative to make Europe
more accessible, not only in the area of information tech-
nology but also in other areas. The strategy is to involve
European standardization bodies in this work by putting
out Mandates. Mandate 376 is aimed at accessibility in
European public procurement of products and services in
the domain of ICT [36]. The work begun in 2011, and one
of the aims is to harmonize with other similar efforts in the
world, e.g. there is a close relation to the USA work to
update section 508 in the Rehabilitation Act [42].
The aim of the working groups is to make one CEN
standard for the conformity assessment and an ETSI
Technical Report (TR) that will be the basis for an online
toolkit for public procurement. It is aiming to help pro-
curers to identify the requirements for their purchase but
also to help manufacturers interested in offering products
or services to public entities to meet the demands from the
5.5 Example of implementing conventions
on a national level
Most of the countries that have ratified the convention on
Rights of Persons with Disabilities have also implemented
some form of legislation of non-discrimination. As an
illustration of how these ratifications can effect national
legislation and public policies, some examples from
Fig. 1 The WHO ICF classification of functioning, overall structure
Univ Access Inf Soc
Sweden will be given. The Swedish government has set the
goal that all of Sweden should be accessible for all people
in the year 2010 [10]. This goal is focusing on the term
design for all, meaning that no one should be excluded on
the basis of their disabilities or functional difficulties. This
goal is argued to be a part of the government’s vision of a
democratic society, thus situating the text within a dis-
course on democracy in which not only rational, political
argumentation, but also the multitude and variety of peo-
ple’s practical participation in society are seen as important
aspects of a democratic system. Furthermore, by contex-
tualizing this goal as part of a broad vision of developing a
sustainable society, the proposition also taps into the vision
of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities, which emphasizes the importance of the
inclusion of people with disabilities into society, not only
for the individuals concerned, but for society at large [6].
Thus, design for all is seen as core to sustainable
Swedish legislation has a special law that prohibits
discrimination in any form or situation [43]. This law aims
generally to strengthen the individuals’ legal rights and at
the same time give individuals that have been violated/
offended a possibility to get redress and economic com-
pensation for the damage suffered.
The Swedish governmental focus on design for all has
made the market take steps in this direction. Public policies
are more important than legislation as a driving force for
accessibility in Sweden [66]. The Swedish Administrative
Development Agency (Verva) has developed guidelines for
procurement in the direction of usability [8]. Kammarkol-
legiet has also made a framework for contract procurement
where usability issues are prioritized, especially usability
issues relating to accessibility for people with disabilities.
Verva states: Increased attention will be given to
usability, ergonomics, and accessibility for the disabled’’
This is an example of how international conventions
have been implemented at a national level, thereby not only
achieving an increased focus on accessibility, but also
linking this topic to the need for sustainable development
and a thriving democracy.
5.6 Use of the term ‘accessibility’’ in standards
The three big international standardization organizations
and ITU
issued a statement during a workshop
in Geneva in 2010 of an intent to cooperate around
accessibility issues with the aim of making it easier for
standard developers to include accessibility in their work
processes [45]. These three standardization organizations
have different focuses: IEC is about electronics, ITU is
about broadcast in general, and ISO is more general.
In IEC, standardization efforts concern such things as
telephone and communication protocols, whereas in ITU,
the efforts cover, for example, digital TV boxes and their
protocols. ISO has a broader view and in the ICT area more
of an ergonomic perspective. ISO provides definitions both
of accessibility and the related term usability.
Already in 2001 ISO adopted Guide 71 [17], guidelines
intended to help standards developers to integrate acces-
sibility considerations in every applicable standard. The
same document was also adapted by CEN as a European
standard. In 2011, Guide 71 opened for revision. To back
up the guide with deeper knowledge, there is a technical
report on the impact that human limitation may have [59].
5.6.1 Accessibility in ISO standards
In ISO’s 18 000 standards, technical reports and technical
specifications, the term accessibility occurs in over 3,000
instances in over 400 documents. In the majority of doc-
uments, there is no definition or link to a definition of the
term accessibility. In the following diagram, the areas
where the term accessibility was most frequently used
(those with more than 2 different standards) are presented
(Fig. 2).
In the area ‘information and documentation’’, there are
several different interpretations of accessibility. The most
common is the accessibility of file headers or headers in the
FAT system. Other standards in the group are about pro-
gramming language and the accessibility of certain func-
tions or even hardware. There are a numerous standards
that are using the term accessibility in the context of human
Fig. 2 Standardization areas where the term ‘accessibility’’ is used
ISO is the International Organization for Standardization.
IEC is the International Electrotechnical Commission.
ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and
communication technologies.
Univ Access Inf Soc
Another way of analysing the ISO standards was to use
their concept and definitions database from which a basic
categorizing was conducted. When searching for the word
accessibility in that database, there were 23 posts. The 7
main groups of definitions elaborated based on these posts
were as follows:
(A) availability of and ease of access
(B) measure of the ease to approach
(C) successful access to information and use of infor-
mation technology by people who have disabilities
(D) ease of reaching and using a service or facility
(E) biometric possibility for everyone, regardless of
physical capability or technological readiness, such
as people with disabilities, to access and use
biometric technologies and services
(F) usability of a product, service, environment or
facility by people with the widest range of
(G) ability of a space to be entered with ease
Of the posts in the concept, database category F was
most frequently used (12 out of 23 posts). These occur-
rences were within the area of ergonomics and human–
system interaction. However, the frequent occurrence of
the term ‘accessibility’ does not necessarily mean that
there is a common understanding of the term. In the area of
‘information documents’’, accessibility occurs 112 times,
and in most cases, the term is used without any definition.
It is thus up to the reader to define the term.
The most frequently used definition of accessibility is
found in ISO 26 800 (ergonomics—general approach,
principles and concepts) and before that in the ISO 9241
series, described below. This definition was officially used
in 13 other standards, mainly in the area of ergonomics and
extent to which products, systems, services, envi-
ronments and facilities are able to be used by people
from a population with the widest range of charac-
teristics and capabilities to achieve specified goals in
a specified context of use [46].
This definition relies on the definition of usability from ISO
extent to which a product can be used by specified
users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness,
efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of
use [47].
In general, this definition can be interpreted as usability
being about product quality in relation to users and
accessibility being about how wide the user group is
allowed to be in terms of characteristics and capabilities. It
is interesting to notice that in the context of ISO
definitions, there is no direct reference to people with
disabilities; instead, the definition of accessibility is
formulated in a design for all manner.
5.6.2 W3C and the WAI
W3C is a consortium with a mission to lead the World Wide
Web to its full potential. They work with developing pro-
tocols and guidelines to ensure a long time growth of the
Web. One of their leading principles is Web for All which is
described as a social value which enables human commu-
nication, commerce and the opportunity to share knowledge
through the Web. To make the benefits of the Web available
to all people is one of W3C’s primary goals. Explicitly, it is
not only people with a disability that is the target group for
Web accessibility but also groups such as elderly, people in
rural areas and people in developing countries [48].
According to W3C, it is essential to provide equal access
and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities.
To do so, they have started the Web Accessibility Ini-
tiative (WAI) in which workgroups developed a framework
to guide Web developers in the creation of an accessible
Web. This group developed the Web Content Accessibility
Guideline (WCAG), which currently exists in version 2.0
[49]. These guidelines are widely adopted as a standard,
against which the accessibility of a webpage can be
5.7 Summarizing collaborations, conventions
and standards
On a political level, the term accessibility has become
something that is not only of importance for people with
disabilities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
has clearly stated that all people should have the same right
to participate in society, regardless of their human char-
acteristics, thus widening the scope for the question of
accessibility. ISO, in the area of ergonomics, has also
stated a definition of accessibility where there is no refer-
ence to disability. The World Health Organization is
moving in a similar direction by including contextual
aspects and a quality of life perspective when considering
assistive technologies to help the individual. From this
perspective, one can argue that accessibility is a funda-
mental human right that concerns us all, regardless of
physical ability or disability.
6 A philosophical perspective: post-structuralist
challenges to the work on accessibility
At the core of the work on accessibility lies the question of
the relation between uniformity and diversity, between
Univ Access Inf Soc
standards and exceptions. Few other philosophical schools
have emphasized otherness, diversity and pluralism as
much as post-structuralism. It is therefore interesting to
investigate whether and how this theoretical tradition can
contribute to the work on accessibility.
Post-structuralism as such is a heterogeneous philo-
sophical tradition consisting of a variety of thinkers and
theories, with applications in a broad range of academic
disciplines, such as psychology [50], marketing [51],
sociology [52], literature [53] and HCI [54,55]. It is by no
means an easy task to define post-structuralism, though for
our purpose in this paper, a full definition is not necessary.
Instead, it is important to focus on a few post-structuralist
theories that are considered valuable for the discussion on
accessibility. For this purpose, theories formulated by two
of the most cited post-structuralists, namely Michel Fou-
cault and Jacques Derrida, have been selected.
The following section will first summarize Michel
Foucault’s theory of the construction of the concept of
normality and its consequences for the debate on accessi-
bility. Jacques Derrida’s theory of diffe
´rance and its
potential to constitute a theoretical foundation for an
alternative perspective on accessibility will then be
6.1 Michel Foucault’s theory on the construction
of the concept of normality
6.1.1 Discourse and control procedures
According to Michel Foucault, every society is character-
ized by a fear of the discourse [56]. This fear (logofobia) is
based on the experience of randomness and materiality
found in discourse, which contradicts the traditional quest
for eternal, unified, transcendental truths characterizing
thinking in western societies. Discourse and discourse
production therefore threatens parts of the society, and in
order to protect society against these threats, society cre-
ates a number of procedures to control discourse
One such procedure is the prohibition, by which societal
institutions (e.g. the king, the police or the church) exclude
certain discourses and decide what is allowed to be uttered.
These prohibitions are clearly visible in codes of conduct
relating, for example, to sexuality and politics, and func-
tions by preventing a certain discourse from being pro-
duced in the first place.
Another control procedure used to repress a threatening
discourse is to make sure that not just anybody is allowed
to participate in discourse production. Using rituals
describing how someone should act within a certain dis-
course, people are being excluded from the possibility of
formulating and actively participating in discourse
production. These ritual filters are most clearly visible in
religious, legal, therapeutic and political discourse.
When a number of such control procedures create a
pattern at a specific point in history, a discursive praxis has
appeared, and this praxis fundamentally influences human
beings creating text, speech or other discursive objects
An important point that Foucault makes is, however,
that control procedures used to repress discourse produc-
tion are not the only kind of control procedures [58]. Some
control procedures are, on the contrary, actually used to
increase discourse production, which Foucault illustrates
by describing the development of the penal system in
6.1.2 The penal system and the concept of normality
In his book ‘Discipline And Punish—The Birth of the
Prison’’, Foucault describes how the French monarchs up
until the eighteenth century maintained societal order by
laws that sanctioned harsh bodily punishment [58]. By
arranging public executions by torture, something Foucault
calls ‘spectacle of the scaffold’’, the monarchs discouraged
people from committing similar crimes, thereby maintain-
ing power. During the late eighteenth century and early
nineteenth century, these public executions started being
questioned by philosophers, lawyers and members of the
parliament, who argued that these kinds of cruel punish-
ments, resulting in excessive physical agony for the con-
demned, ‘revolt humanity’ and that they should therefore
be subjected to reform. However, according to Foucault,
this is not the only reason for the questioning of public
torture and execution in France during this period. He
argues that another reason is a general re-disposition of
structural power where the goal is not to punish less or to
punish more humanely, but to punish in a way that more
efficiently brings positive results to society. The method
used to reach this goal is to prevent people from relapsing
into criminal activity by changing the person’s character
rather than by punishing him/her physically. Thus, there is
a change in focus from frightening people to changing
people, from silencing people to urging them to speak (but
speak in a certain way), from punishing the body to edu-
cating the mind/soul.
In order to succeed in correcting people’s attitude by the
expansion of discursive control procedures, there is an
increased need for knowledge about humans in general and
criminals in particular, which results in prisons and other
institutions (e.g. industry, schools, religious organizations)
being organized with the aim of observing people and
collecting information on human behaviour. This surveil-
lance results in a rapidly growing amount of information on
human character and action, which is then used in order to
Univ Access Inf Soc
identify, categorize and classify human characteristics in a
Linnaean fashion, thus constructing the image of what a
normal human being should be like. According to Foucault,
the notion of normality is not something that is ‘out there’’
to observe or find, but instead a constructive result of the
massive amount of information collected during this per-
iod, a construction mainly achieved by defining its oppo-
sites, that which deviates from it. Thus, normality as such
is always dependent on its opposite (i.e. abnormality). By
defining and classifying that which is abnormal, society
constitutes and maintains a notion of the normal citizen.
This concept of normality is then used as measurement for
deciding when a crime has been committed and what a
criminal is. Thus, criminals are no longer viewed as having
committed a moral transgression, but rather as having
deviated from normality.
The notion of normality is, however, not only used within
the penal system, but many other societal institutions during
this period adopt, develop and organize their business
according to this concept. For example, in schools, control
procedures not only limit what a student should not do, but
also prescribe what the student should do in order to pass the
exams. Within industry, control procedures not only limit the
time an employee is allowed to spend on having his lunch,
but also prescribe how the employee should behave and
perform throughout the day in order to be a good employee.
Society at large comes to use normality/‘‘the good example’
as means to control and organize operations.
This illustrates Foucault’s point that the discursive
control procedures are not only repressive, but also pro-
ductive. They function, not only to limit people’s access to
discourse, but to encourage people to participate in dis-
course production, as long as it is performed within the
boundaries of society’s discursive formations (in this case,
the concept of normality). Thus, there is an ongoing pro-
cess in which society expands its discursive control by
allowing people access to discourse production, since dis-
course changes and shapes the person producing it.
Foucault’s description of the development of the penal
system during the late eighteenth century and early nine-
teenth century raises two questions in relation to the debate
on accessibility. First, given Foucault’s suggestion that
society organizes and stabilizes itself through the expan-
sion of discursive control by allowing access to discourse
production, can the call for accessibility be understood as a
way of including more people into this productive, disci-
plinary discursive power? Second, given Foucault’s sug-
gestion that the notion of normality is constructed by
defining that which deviates from it, is the call for acces-
sibility a way of constructing the notion of a normal ICT
user and to secure its dominant position in society by
defining that which deviates from it? These questions will
be revisited later in the paper.
6.2 Jacques Derrida’s theory on diffe
By summarizing some of Michel Foucault’s theories, some
challenges related to the concept of accessibility have been
identified. It is now time to turn to Jacques Derrida to see
whether his theory of diffe
´rance can offer some suggestions
as to how to work with the concept of accessibility going
forward, taking into account the challenges found in Fou-
cault’s description.
6.2.1 The metaphysics of presence
According to Jacques Derrida, the western philosophical
tradition has always been characterized by an emphasis on
full, unmediated presence as a supreme value back to
which everything else can be traced [59,60]. Since this
presence is described as unmediated, it is assumed to exist
in and by itself alone, i.e. an essence independent on other
entities, beings or ideas. In other words, the essence is
considered original in the sense that it exists prior to the
sensorial observations of human beings, and furthermore,
prior to any constructive or descriptive process performed
by any entity external to the original essence. According
to Derrida, the metaphysics of presence is structured
according to a binary logic, i.e. it is structure in opposite
pairs where one term is identified as relating to the ori-
ginal essence, whereas the other term is described as
deviating from this essence [61]. For example, he men-
tions binary pairs such as soul–body, presence–absence,
immediacy–mediation and singularity–pluralism where the
first term is described as desirable because it is being
identified with the essence constituting the foundation for
everything, whereas the other term is considered threat-
ening to philosophy, morality and society since it deviates
from the essence.
The theory of the original essence has taken different
shapes during history [62]. For example, one can see it in
Plato’s theory of forms, where he describes how the con-
cepts constitute the utter reality, the ontological foundation
and that which is desirable as opposed to the material
world, which is a deviation from the original identity/
essence. Within the Christian church, this theory was later
reshaped and related to the Christian God. During the
Middle Ages, the scholastics argued for an understanding
of God as origin of all things (causa sui), the essence by
which all things have been created and which exists inde-
pendently of all other entities [59]. Later, during the sev-
enteenth century, when the enlightenment emphasized
human reason, the western tradition is once more reshaped
into the theory about the strong subject being the founda-
tion of the metaphysical essence. It is in the free, unme-
diated and experiencing subject that we can find the
original essence.
Univ Access Inf Soc
6.2.2 Derrida’s critique of the metaphysics of presence
According to Derrida, however, there are flaws in the
metaphysics of presence [52,59]. He argues that linguistics
of the late twentieth century has brought new insights into
the functionality of signs and that these insights contradict
the theory of an original essence. In the structuralism of the
1960s, the constructive dynamics of language was inves-
tigated, and linguists argued that language is not just a tool
describing an external reality, but rather is a tool for
actively constructing the reality we experience. It was
argued that language has an organizing function that shapes
the chaotic sensory impressions into an understandable
structure, which means that language is not only descrip-
tive but also creative, which in turn has consequences for
the thought of an independent essence. If language creates
reality, the thought of an essence existing independently of
language (and therefore people using the language) is,
according to Derrida, difficult to maintain.
The findings of the linguistics of the late twentieth
century are, however, not the only reason for Derrida’s
questioning of the metaphysics of presence. He also argues
that there are contradictions in the actual argumentation
found in the theories of philosophers of western meta-
physics. In his book ‘Of Grammatology’’, he analyses texts
by thinkers he claims to be representatives of the meta-
physics of presence, for example Ferdinand de Saussure,
Claude Le
´vi-Strauss and Jean-Jacques Rousseau [59]. The
latter is, according to Derrida, the most important repre-
sentative of the metaphysics of presence, and it is therefore
appropriate to focus this part of the study at Derrida’s
analysis of Rousseau.
6.2.3 Jean-Jacques Rousseau as a representative
of the metaphysics of presence
According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, before civilization,
there was an original condition where people lived in
harmony with nature [63]. This natural state was charac-
terized by equality, purity and truth. People lived in
physical vicinity and communicated authentically through
the spoken word, which, according to the logocentric tra-
dition that Rousseau subscribes to, means that there is
nothing mediating between the signs and the essence. The
spoken word is a sign that is a direct representation of the
object to which it refers, which is an idea that can be traced
back to Aristotle [59].
As civilization began to take shape, this original state of
harmony with nature began to change, and in this change,
the written word plays a crucial part. According to the
logocentric tradition, writing introduces a distance between
the sign and the object [59,61]. It is argued that a spoken
word is a sign referring to an object, whereas the written
word is a sign referring to the spoken word that, in turn,
refers to an object. Thus, the written word is always one
step further away from the original essence, i.e. not in an
unmediated relation to original presence. As writing
introduced this distance in the relation between objects and
signs, a distance was also established in society itself, and
in the relationship between people. According to Rousseau,
political conflict, oppression, inequality and violence are
consequences of the appearance of writing. The written
word makes it possible for a ruler to send his decrees
throughout his country, thereby controlling and exploiting
his fellow human beings. Through the development of
writing, society is structured hierarchically, which leads to
an organization of people in different social layers, thus
introducing inequality. The change from a society orga-
nized through the spoken word to a society organized
through writing is therefore a change towards decay.
Writing does not contribute to developing society,
improving it and raising it to a higher level, but actually
corrupts the original good society existing before writing
was established.
Rousseau’s negative view of the possibilities of writing
to formulate the metaphysical essence is, however, not
unambiguous [59]. In his autobiography ‘‘Confessions’’,
Rousseau explains that he chooses to write about his life
because the distance brought to him by the technology of
writing gives him an opportunity to describe himself in a
manner that would be impossible, should he have described
himself verbally in the presence of his audience. According
to Derrida, this reveals a contradiction in the logocentrism
of the metaphysics of presence. Instead of writing being
something that corrupts reality, which Rousseau has
claimed in the description of the decay of original society,
writing is now argued to be a technique that enables a more
correct description of the metaphysical presence.
6.2.4 The supplement
When Derrida analyses the different positions held in these
texts, he argues that they are not incompatible opposites
excluding each other so that one has to choose between
them. Instead, they supplement each other. It is not until
the spoken word is supplemented by writing that the
metaphysical essence can be described and made present,
which shakes the entire logocentric theory of the binary
relationship between the spoken word and writing. Writing
is thus not corrupting the essence, but rather enabling it
through a process of supplementation. This has several
important implications, one of which is that the essence is
not present independently of other entities, but is actually
in need of a mediating supplementation in order to be
present. This is what Derrida calls the logic of the
Univ Access Inf Soc
Derrida shows that this logic can be found in several of
Rousseau’s texts. For example, he describes how Rousseau
first argues that people should be striving for an original
authenticity and views civilized society as a corruption of
an original state, and then in the book ‘E
´mile’ argues that
children should be instructed in the art of becoming good
people. Education, being a part of civilized society and
therefore part of what corrupts nature, is thus paradoxically
needed in order to re-establish this very nature, and once
again, it is made clear that the very thing that metaphysical
philosophy suggests is independent upon other entities, is
in fact dependent on a supplement of its binary opposite.
As the spoken word in the previous example is in need of
supplementation by writing, it is now evident that nature is
in need of supplementation by civilization.
According to Derrida, these contradictions found in
Rousseau’s texts reveal the fundamental problem charac-
terizing the entire western metaphysical tradition. If one
continues down the path of this tradition’s quest for a causa
sui, nothing more than a supplementary play, based on
relational differences between binary opposites, can be
found. This relates to one of Derrida’s core themes, the
core theme relating to accessibility, i.e. diffe´rance.
6.2.5 Diffe´rance
Diffe´rance is a concept that Derrida has created to signify
the play between binary opposites that is found when one
searches for a causa sui. The concept is ambiguous and has
both a spatial (differ) and a temporal (defer) connotation
[64,65]. The spatial aspect of diffe´rance means that a sign
receives its meaning through that which separates it from
other signs. For example, the word ‘presence’’ does not
mean anything unless understood in relation to the word
‘absence’’; the word ‘good’’ does not mean anything
unless understood in relation to the word ‘evil’’, etc. This
thought is not new, but can actually be traced back to the
structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure. The tem-
poral aspect then adds a chronological perspective to the
differential play of signs, which means that the sign does
not only receive its meaning from other signs existing at
the same time, but also from the differences to the signs
that have existed before and signs that will exist later in the
linguistic system.
The consequence of Derrida’s deconstruction of the
writings of Rousseau, that he formulates in the theory of
diffe´rance, is that the meaning of a sign never exists in
itself as a present entity independent of other entities, but
only as a never-ending process of supplementation where
the sign is constantly waiting to be re-defined by the next
sign in a future relationality. Thus, diffe´rance means a
definite closure of the thought of a present essence towards
which a sign can point [6466].
To many post-structuralist thinkers, this resistance to the
metaphysics of presence is not only in line with the theo-
retical argumentation, but also an admirable ethical stance,
since the quest for one reality, one worldview, one single
truth implies a reduction in the differences in life. Through
history, this longing for uniformity, be it ontological, cul-
tural, religious or political, has resulted in a number of
structures of dominance, such as colonialism, inequality
between men and women, and racism [52]. Accepting and
protecting differences and diversity is therefore, by many,
argued to be a vital aspect of democracy [67,68]. Thus,
resistance to essentiality can be argued to be ethical and
political, not just philosophical.
6.2.6 Diffe´rance and accessibility
Given Derrida’s suggestion that any meaning needs to be
looked for in diffe´rance instead of in identity or essence,
the question faced in trying to sort out the notion of
accessibility is: should the concept of accessibility be
defined by investigating the constantly changing gap
between an individual human being and whatever that
individual wants to achieve rather than in defining the
physical or cognitive characteristics of individuals?
6.3 Summarizing the philosophical challenges
As seen in the overview of the different methods and
approaches to accessibility, much of the work that has been
done so far in this area has focused on defining groups with
different types of disabilities and treating them as entities
separate from society in general.
Based on Foucault’s analysis of the construction of the
concept of normality, it can be argued that much of this
work can be understood as part of a process of constructing
and consolidating the concept of normality within ICT,
thereby creating the notion of a normal ICT user as well as
a normative understanding of what ICT should look like
and the role it should play in society. Normality is not a
neutral concept, but one that is inseparable from societal,
structural power. Thus, Foucault’s analysis of the penal
system can provide tools with which some of the altruistic
claims surrounding the current debate on accessibility can
be questioned, thereby opening up for alternative inter-
pretations of the actual forces at work in this debate. From
this discursive perspective, one could argue that policy
building around accessibility is as much a question of
consolidating a societal structure, as it is a question of
including groups previously excluded from parts of society.
Furthermore, building on Derrida’s theory of diffe´rance,
one can argue that, as a consequence of this quest for
definitions, accessibility has in the current debate become a
question of identity and being rather than of function and
Univ Access Inf Soc
activity, thereby positioning it firmly within the tradition of
the metaphysics of presence. The work has focused on the
question ‘what am I’ rather than the question ‘what role
do my different, constantly changing levels of ability play
in this context’’?
7 Discussion
The notion of accessibility is not old. It has evolved much
since the 1950s. It has been shown that there are many
views and understandings of what accessibility is or should
be. From a historical perspective, western society has
evolved from the individual as an asset that should con-
tribute, until today when democracy aspects empower the
individual to participate on equal terms irrespectively of
their specific abilities. The world of politics and interna-
tional cooperation is moving to a view of every individ-
ual’s rights to live and be part of society. The construction
of the concept of normality is essential. From a philo-
sophical point of view, accessibility should move from
‘what am I’’ to the question ‘what role does my different,
constantly changing levels of ability play in this context’’?
On an overall user group perspective, this is moving the
accessibility to something that is valid for most people at
some point in time, in some situations, in some places. The
approaches and design thinking discussed in the previous
chapter are pointing at the need of taking a broader spec-
trum of people into account (accessibility) in the design
process. This is to ensure that a wide range of users,
including older people and those with disabilities, can use
mainstream equipment and services.
The authors’ view of accessibility has from the input of
history, philosophy, design thinking, national and interna-
tional politics and cooperation led to two main directions in
the discussion. First, the consequence of having none, one
or multiple definitions of accessibility and secondly, the
central role of measurability when it comes to promoting
7.1 Consequences of
7.1.1 No definition
If there is no definition at all, there will be major diffi-
culties in several areas. For example, it will be difficult for
consumers to know whether or not a product meets their
needs. Also, for manufacturers and designers, a lack of
definition would lead to considerably higher development
costs due to the research needed in every design process in
order to establish and meet the needs of undefined edge
user groups. In public procurement, the process to formu-
late the product demands would potentially become more
complex. However, a positive consequence of this would
be that, since accessibility would have to be defined in each
particular product development, it would bring an active
accessibility analysis into the very core of each design
From a juridical point of view, a lack of definition
makes it difficult to set legal boundaries for when acces-
sibility limitations lead to discrimination. This of course
also means that from an individual perspective, as well as
from a company perspective, it becomes equally difficult to
decide when sufficient accessibility has been reached in the
eyes of the law.
Maybe the most serious challenge to deal with as a
consequence of not defining accessibility is related to the
very foundations of our society, i.e. the inclusive vision of
democracy. How are we to guarantee every citizen’s right
to participate in societal activities and exercise influence
over the governing structures of our society without some
sort of agreed upon understanding of what access to these
fundamental civic rights means?
7.1.2 Many definitions
From a consumer perspective, having many definitions
could lead to difficulties for individuals to know whether or
not a product meets their needs. A variety of definitions
would also make it difficult to compare products, and the
risk of misunderstanding would be high. On a positive
note, there is also the possibility for a particular individual
to choose the definition or definitions most suitable for
him/her. The manufacturer and designer would need to
decide which definition or definitions to be used in a spe-
cific development process, and they would also need to
relate this definition or definitions to the targeted user
groups. The same sort of decisions would need to be made
by stakeholders in public procurement, which would also
render the evaluation process of the respective companies’
bids more difficult.
From a juridical perspective, determining which defini-
tion is applicable in a specific situation would pose a
considerable challenge, especially if the definitions are not
From a democratic and political point of view, there
would be a need to be very specific about which definition
or definitions to be used in a specific area and which group
of individuals is considered.
7.1.3 A single definition
Having one single definition of accessibility would make it
easier for consumers to set demands on products or ser-
vices; however, there is a risk that the definition would be
too wide to be effective.
Univ Access Inf Soc
A challenge when trying to formulate one single defi-
nition is how to do this without falling prey to the meta-
physical quest for essence and identity. Drawing on
Derrida’s previous argumentation, accessibility defined in
terms of identity would mean disregarding the pluralistic
consequences of accessibility being context dependent.
Any single definition would have to be construed so that
both the dynamics of the ever-changing contexts and the
ever-changing capacities of the individual are taken into
Another challenge in formulating one single definition is
that it is necessary to be aware of the perspective from
which accessibility is defined and the potential role the
definition will play in relation to structural power. As seen
in Foucault’s description of the construction of the concept
of normality, all definitions run the risk of being used as
tools for constituting and maintaining structural power.
This is a constantly present societal dynamic of which one
needs to be aware.
7.2 Measurability
Based on the previous sections, it is necessary to discuss
what consequences a revised definition of accessibility
would have for the possibility of measuring the level of
It is suggested that any model trying to capture and
measure the dynamic aspects of accessibility described in
the previous sections needs to be formulated in a way that
avoids too strong a focus on identity, essence and human
characteristics and instead focuses on the functional gap
between what an individual would like to achieve in a
specific situation and what the individual actually can
achieve in a specific situation. It is in the difference
between user intention and outcome that one can construct
an accessibility measurement that can take into account the
dynamic aspects of accessibility as a fully context-depen-
dent endeavour. Measurability from this perspective is
highly complex, involving not only descriptions of physical
characteristics and technical specifications, but also anal-
yses of intentions, desires and habitus. Based on this,
developing methods for measuring accessibility would
have to draw on a broad variety of scientific disciplines.
Not only would thorough analyses from a technological
and medical perspective be necessary, but also input from
social science and the humanities would be needed in order
to describe the complex area of accessibility.
When it comes to defining tools that can measure this
kind of complex, dynamic accessibility, there are, in fact,
already steps being taken in this direction that can be fur-
ther developed. For example, the working group for the
revision of the ISO 20282-3 standard is looking into having
the methods currently used for measuring usability to also
be used for accessibility statements. One of the key diffi-
culties in such an effort is to select appropriate test panel
participants that are representative of the user group for
that specific product. The suggestion is instead to use
stratified user groups that are most sensitive in certain area
of the use of the product. The intention of this is broad-
ening the scope of accessibility measurability and by this
reach all that are less sensitive in the specific area.
It is important to have an ongoing development of
accessibility, especially within the context of public pro-
curement. In this view, a dynamic value rather than a static
value is preferable, though there has to be a limit value to
start from as a lowest acceptable level. One could argue
that indirectly, the rigidity of a static value could in fact
inhibit producers and prevent them from exceeding the
demands defined by the public procurement process.
Especially within the context of public procurement, it is
crucial to have easily determinable values that make it
possible to apply them in the procurement process and to
make the producers compete with these values.
There are at least two ways of conforming the accessi-
bility demands, as described in the report of phase one of
the MANDATE 376 [69]. One is to show the accessibility
level and another is to use a design standardization process
such as ISO 9241-210, which should be complemented to
include particular attention of accessibility issues such as
description of targeted users with special attention to user
diversity [70]. This makes it possible for the companies to
compete in actual percentage of conformance with the
standard or commercial competition. In both cases, it is
preferable to have standardized ways of describing how
accessibility is addressed. When carrying out user tests to
validate accessibility, the CIF (Common Industry Format)-
styled report, which is used for reports on user tests of
usability, is a good format to start with, which also includes
a part where the participants in the test should be described
7.3 Proposing a definition of accessibility
Considering these challenges, it is suggested that a dis-
course on accessibility should focus on the flexible, ever-
changing gaps between a person’s ability and a potential
activity in a changing environment. All persons have dif-
ferent abilities and disabilities, making it impossible to
decide who is and who is not disabled, which taps into the
ethical stance of equality formulated in the UN Human
Rights convention. Adding to the complexity of the situa-
tion, these abilities and disabilities change over time and in
different contexts. In ICF, disability is the gap between an
individual’s body function–structure, the environment and
prior personal experiences and knowledge, viewed in
relation to limitations in activity and participation, which
Univ Access Inf Soc
can be interpreted as a practical application of the onto-
logically fundamental role of diffe´rance and diversity
described by Derrida. Thus, accessibility problems occur at
the constantly changing intersection between the product,
the context and the user.
How then should accessibility limitations that are not
related to the individual’s body function and structure, as
mentioned by ICF, but nevertheless give similar effects
during the use of a product be handled? It seems difficult to
have different definitions for the same usage problems.
Here, it would be wise to tap into the ISO definition, such
as the extended accessibility definition in ISO 9241-171,
which is not focusing only on individuals with a defined
physical or cognitive disability, but on a wider group that
experiences difficulties in using a specific product [72].
Based on this, a new, widened accessibility definition is
suggested, that defines accessibility as ‘‘the extent to which
products, systems, services, environments and facilities are
able to be used by a population with the widest range of
characteristics and capabilities (e.g. physical, cognitive,
financial, social and cultural, etc.), to achieve a specified
goal in a specified context.’
As argued, a single definition provides a common
framework for discussion, development, assessment and
standardization. It relates back to the international ISO
standards and provides measurability and thus possibilities
for assessment and conformance checking. It is not the goal
of this definition to outline what responsibilities the user
has and what responsibilities rests with the developers of
infrastructures and services. One may also argue that a
single definition does not recognize the needs of different
cultural contexts, but in the true spirit of international
standardization the aim is to provide a minimum common
framework to foster international collaboration and
8 Conclusions
Clearly the need to increase the possibility for everybody to
access, interact with and complete his or her goals with
interactive systems is evident and indisputable. However,
the ways in which this could be achieved vary greatly.
Different approaches to accessibility serve slightly differ-
ent purposes, though they all share the same overall goal:
To provide as effective and usable opportunities as possible
for all potential system users, regardless of the challenges,
the users may face.
The wide variety of different concepts do lead to con-
fusion, political struggles and lack of clarity about what is
required to achieve these goals; however, at the same time,
it shows the youth of the approaches and the needs for
further development and research to achieve some form of
common understanding.
This paper serves the purpose of shedding some light on
the methodological, historical and philosophical aspects of
the concept of accessibility and shows the need to join
forces to arrive at a common conceptual framework. A
clear definition promotes awareness, facilitates discussion,
enables implementation and promotes the development of
methods. A clear definition also promotes the credibility
and seriousness of the issues and among other things
acknowledges the diversity of the user population and
knowledge hereabout that is so much needed.
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