Principles of Universal Design
Universal Design... incorporates ways of thinking and presenting information, and its principles apply to services in addition to products and environments.
IDA providers and other asset-development programs can give each person an equal chance to succeed by adopting universal accessibility into the fabric of their programs.1
Universal Design began largely as physical accommodation practices that revolutionized the way people thought about access issues. North Carolina State University's Center for Universal Design defines the concept of universal access as, "The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." Universal Design is not just about physical accommodations. It incorporates ways of thinking and presenting information, and its principles apply to services in addition to products and environments.
Adopting Universal Design will help make program services more inclusive. Universal access benefits those who identify as being disabled, individuals who have a disability but may not identify as such, and the organizations that adopt accessibility principles. When an IDA provider adopts Universal Design, people with disabilities have access to a viable tool for addressing poverty and promoting independence, and asset-building programs meet the needs of all constituents, leading to better outcomes for their clients that ultimately validate the program to stakeholders, including program funders.
Seven Principles of Universal Design
North Carolina State University's Center for Universal Design identified seven principles of Universal Design.
Example: All participants that walk through the doors of the IDA project are offered reasonable accommodation that may include accessible documents, special seating at workshops, flexibility in the scheduling of meetings, and accessible premises, as opposed to offering accommodation only to those that appear disabled.
Example: An individual with a cognitive disability may not be able to accomplish all of the tasks that are required to complete the financial education classes. Flexibility in the delivery of information, accommodations (e.g., a friend, family member or personal care attendant could be allowed to attend and assist), or graduation requirements may need to be increased.
Example: Financial education training is delivered using a variety of learning styles: kinesthetic, auditory, and visual methods. If using a PowerPoint presentation and a participant is blind, make sure to read the entire slide and/or ask what type of alternative formats of handouts are preferred. Also, provide real examples and opportunities for participants to apply concepts to their own experiences as well as visual images, such as graphs, charts, and pictures, to break down ideas.
Example: Accessible documents may include Braille, large print, audiotape, and computer disk. Accessible modes of communication may include sign language interpreter services or speech interpreter services. This also includes providing hard copies or emailing documents prior to the meeting if requested by those that need extra time.
Example: When personnel who do not need to know about the disability of the participant or when other organizations have access to this information it can harm the individual. Stigma of disability is still very real. Despite the Americans with Disabilities Act and other progress made in disability civil rights, people are still wary about sharing their disability experience publicly. Privacy should be respected at all times.
Example: The designated disabled parking spaces should be as close as possible to the nearest building entrance. If there is more than one entrance to the building, provide an accessible space at each entrance, even if the entrance is not accessible. Not everyone that needs an accessible parking space is a wheelchair user. Many individuals can climb stairs, but may have difficulty walking long distances.
Example: Personal assistance, service animals, and assistive technology are some examples of accommodations that the individual may personally arrange or may need help from the IDA provider to arrange. But remember: Even individuals with the exact same disability may prefer different ways of being accommodated. Not all people that are hard-of-hearing know or prefer sign language and not all blind individuals read Braille.
These seven principles have broad implications in the field of asset-development program delivery. In assisting individuals living in poverty to acquire assets, program and premise universal accessibility give each participant an equal chance of success.
1 Note: This fact sheet was adapted from "Integrating Universal Design Principles in Asset Development Programs" Dede Leydorf (2004). World Institute on Disability. Available on-line at: http://www.wid.org/publications/integrating-universal-design-principles-in-asset-building-programs/