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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 laid down in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-BRK).

Universal Design aims to develop user-friendly, flexibly applicable 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 combination possibilities with supporting technologies are already taken into account in the design phase, the products are often more cost-effective than special designs for the disabled.

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

In addition to the employer's general obligations under occupational health and safety law, companies have to meet special requirements if they employ people with disabilities. According to § 164 of the Social Security Code 9 (SGB IX) and § 3a of the Workplace Ordinance (ArbStättV), companies are obliged to design workplaces in a way that is suitable for disabled persons, taking into account ergonomic, barrier-free and individual aspects (see Guidelines for designing for the disabled: 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 working environment in which employees can move around without barriers promotes the autonomy, health and productivity of the entire workforce.

In order to anchor the approach of universal design in work design, a multi-level strategy for categorising products is appropriate. This is especially true for small and medium-sized enterprises with scarce resources.

Guiding questions for the categorisation of products:

  1. Which products are easy to use and adapt for many employees (for example, adjustable work furniture, software)?
  2. Which products are customisable and enable the use of disability-friendly technologies (e.g. smartphone with integrated screen reader)?
  3. Which products are specially designed for a disability (e.g. power wheelchair)?

Status: 2019