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Universal design and inclusive work design

The design concept of Universal Design contributes to a barrier-free environment and thus to an inclusive society and working world. This design principle is explicitly enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).

Universal design aims to develop user-friendly, flexible and aesthetic solutions for all areas of life and for as many people as possible without a specific requirement profile. Since barrier-free aspects and possible combinations with assistive technologies are already taken into account in the design phase, the products are often more cost-effective than special designs suitable for disabled people.

However, due to the heterogeneous target group, a solution for all is not always possible. The UN CRPD takes this into account, according to which universal design does not have to make all functions of a product usable for all people if this is not feasible. Consequently, special solutions suitable for disabled people (assistive technologies) will continue to be necessary in the future.

In addition to the employer's general obligations under occupational health and safety law, companies must fulfill special requirements if they employ people with disabilities. According to § 164 of the Social Code 9 (SGB IX) and § 3a of the Workplace Ordinance (ArbStättV), companies are obliged to design workplaces suitable for disabled people, taking into account ergonomic, barrier-free and individual aspects (see Guiding Principles for Disability-Friendly Design: DIN 32977 Part 1).

However, in contrast to accessibility, universal design is not legally anchored or standardized (see on accessibility: ArbStättV, DIN 18040).

In the long term, however, companies gain cost advantages from forward-looking and comprehensive planning based on the principle of universal design. Easy-to-use work equipment and a work environment in which employees can move without barriers promote the autonomy, health and productivity of the entire workforce.

To embed the Universal Design approach in work design, a multi-level strategy for categorizing products is a good idea. This is especially true for small and medium-sized companies with scarcer resources.

Guiding questions for categorizing products:

  1. Which products are easily usable and adaptable for many employees (for example, adjustable work furniture, software)?
  2. Which products are customizable and enable the use of technologies suitable for disabled people (for example, smartphone with integrated screen reader)?
  3. Which products are specifically designed for a disability (for example, power wheelchair)?

Status: 2019